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23-10-2013

How civil servants should fight government attacks on welfare

How civil servants should fight government attacks on welfare

The PCS union has been criticised on Twitter for not fighting attacks on welfare by simply refusing to implement them. PCS vice president John McInally responds.


When people are being battered by government policies they look for a solution. It is understandable to say the people that implement it just shouldn't do it. But it is misguided. We need to ask: "Is this strategy likely to win?"

The Tories want to strip away from our society any concept of social security - the idea that working people who find themselves unemployed or ill should have some kind of safety net.

The ruling class and corporate interests have decided that the welfare state is a luxury they cannot afford because it means they cannot maximise their profits.

It is a calculated strategy by the ruling class to strip away all the rights and conditions that we've won as a movement over many generations. If you don't understand that, you will not know how to fight the attacks.

So it's not a moral argument, it's a political question. The Labour Party has gone over to corporate interests as well so there's no one in the parliamentary political classes speaking out for the broad mass of people.

Labour used to draw certain lines in the sand which the Tories and big business couldn't cross, principally in relation to the NHS and the welfare state.

Now New Labour has no more lines. All the current attacks were in one way or another started under the Labour government.

It was James Purnell, a Labour minister, who said: "There's more to life than moving from the bedroom to the sofa".

That type of language is now "strivers or shirkers" and what we're hearing from Cameron now is: 'If you're cold just put on an extra jumper'.

Against all cuts


Our union argues in the trade union movement that there is an alternative to austerity. We oppose all cuts and privatisation.

It is our policy not just to support the anti-cuts movement but to go out and actively build it.

PCS has always opposed sanctions. That is not the way to get people back to work. We pose the alternative of a social security system which supports people, not one which grinds them into the dust.

The idea that people are lying around on the dole not wanting to work is one of the biggest lies ever told by any politician.

At the moment there are between five and six million people unemployed or underemployed while there's only half a million job vacancies.

Our union and its predecessors like the CPSA has worked very closely with claimants' groups, unemployed workers' centres, etc.

We are working with DPAC and the Black Triangle and we have put out a joint statement (below).

If we're going to fight these attacks, which are attacks on our whole class, we have to be united. What the Tories want is division.

That's the problem with those who say a few thousand PCS members can refuse to implement these attacks.

If we gave an instruction not to implement, the government would declare the action illegal. They would have no hesitation in sacking people and therefore driving to replace a union organised workforce with a non-union workforce.

The only way of dealing with sanctions is if we have a united campaign, driven by the TUC and based in the trade union movement and in the communities. One union on its own cannot turn this over.

Organised workers


Some say the trade union movement shouldn't represent certain groups of workers like prison officers, police, army and this argument is being extended to civil servants and especially those in the DWP.

Any socialist would reject that argument. Wherever workers are organised it's the job of the trade union movement to fight over issues like pay and conditions, but also to win the workers to the ideas of our movement including decent social security.

It's a scandal that low-paid union members are being singled out for attack from some groups. It was PCS members who raised the question of sanctions in the first place and fought for the issue to be tackled through the trade union movement.

Atos has almost become a symbol of everything that's rotten with the government's welfare programme - through the work capability assessments.

But we let the Tories off the hook if you just concentrate on Atos. The real issue is privatisation.

PCS members don't carry out assessments. They're mainly low-paid admin staff, some of whom have been privatised two or three times. They need the support of their trade union.

When and if Universal Credit comes in, 5-6 million people in work will be eligible for it. 40% of DWP staff will be eligible.

So we, through taxes, are subsidising low paying employers, including the government, to the tune of billions a year. That's why PCS has raised the call that "Britain needs a pay rise".

The Tories' hate campaign against disabled and unemployed people is at the sharp edge but millions more in work are being attacked by these welfare changes.

How do we fight this? PCS is fighting for coordinated industrial action across the public sector, taking in the private sector where there are disputes. We argue now for a united battle against the pay freeze.

A joint PCS, DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), and Black Triangle statement about campaigning against and in defence of the welfare state can be found here: http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/9D5169BA-F1FA-40AF-B03E6904B252800B

Youth Fight for Jobs statement 'No to divide and rule Why we should support PCS' can be found here: ../?p=857