On the day that Chancellor Alistair Darling presented the budget, hundreds of thousands of civil servants in the PCS union returned to their picket lines.
A third day of strike action disrupted jobcentres, HMRC offices, driving test centres, ports and other government workplaces the length and breadth of Britain.
Many of the morning PCS picket lines faced intimidation by management, who “policed” the pickets, looking for any infringement of the anti-union picketing laws.
Phil, a Department of Work and Pensions employee, described the situation on his picket line as “harsh and draconian”.
The one day strike aimed to further pressurise the government into reversing the drastic cuts it made to civil servants' redundancy packages.
The cuts were made without any consultation process and are a desperate attempt to help reduce Britain’s £178 billion budget deficit, which stems partly from the government's decision to participate in the global bailing out of the banks.
As Suzzane Murray, a Northern PCS rep stated about the government: “they are not showing us [civil servants] nearly as much respect as they are for the bankers”.
After the morning pickets, many PCS members met up for regional rallies and marches. Bournemouth witnessed its first ever PCS demonstration and MPs were lobbied en-masse by union members in the Midlands.
PCS members in the North East converged on Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s office in South Shields to hand in a petition, before breaking off into smaller groups to leaflet every household in the sea-side town.
The messages on these leaflets read “We are not to blame “Darling”- protect public services”. Alan Price, an employee of the Land Registry, told me at the South Shields rally: “we’ve got to try every avenue available to get the message across to the general public, many of whom sadly seem to have a jaundiced view about civil servants”.
The cuts to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme will result in civil servants losing tens of thousands of pounds in the event of them being laid off work. Many PCS members, such as Julie Young, see it as the government preparing for post-election “job-cuts-on-the-cheap”.
PCS statistics show that civil servants do not get an easy ride, with almost a fifth earning less than £15,000 per year and over half earning less that the UK average of £23,000 per year.
PCS knows its members are not alone in facing cuts caused by the recession. Many of its members see their strike, the BA strike, and the overwhelming votes for strike action made my British Gas employess and railway maintenance-and-signal-operators as part of a much broader fight to protect workers rights in Britain.
As Alan Ingram, chair of Gateshead and South Tyneside PCS observed, “we are fighting for different issues, but together we are all trying to fight for the working man and woman’s rights”.
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