Dave Semple, PCS Scotland Chair (personal capacity)
Last year saw the UK government forced to beat a partial retreat on the universal 1% pay cap that has been applied across public services since 2012. Prior to 2012, the Tories had completely frozen public sector pay.
In 2017, small amounts over the cap were offered to police and prison officers, while the government played for time with bigger areas like the NHS, declaring that we must wait for the pay review bodies to report.
In the civil service, which has no pay review body, members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union dismissed this cynical attempt to divide public sector workers with an overwhelming 98.9% vote against the pay cap.
On a 48.8% turnout, the largest in any national ballot in the history of PCS, 79.2% stated clearly that they would be willing to take part in industrial action to smash the cap. This huge vote followed a victory in court which defeated Tory cuts to civil service redundancy payments.
Discussions with the Treasury about ending the 1% cap in the civil service are happening in the early months of 2018, at the same time as pay review bodies for other public sector workers are considering what to offer. The TUC has missed a trick in delaying a planned march until May 12th, under the slogan “A New Deal for Working People”.
A million-worker demonstration from across the UK right now could have played a major role in smashing the Tory pay cap. Parallel to pay cuts have been relentless cuts to staffing and the services offered to the public.
HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions are each closing more than a hundred offices, including in economically deprived areas such as East Kilbride and Cumbernauld.
Already in 2018, the National Audit Office has castigated the cuts to HMRC as unsustainable, particularly in light of the Paradise Papers, which reveal the scale of UK tax avoidance. PCS members know, however, that 2018 could be the year to turn everything around. While the union’s left-led National Executive Committee has argued vociferously for coordinated action across all unions hit by the pay cap.
PCS reps members have solidly resisted every attempt to strangle their union, whether through the civil service recruitment freeze, the removal of paid time used by reps to defend members, or by the government blocking members from paying their union subs through salary check off.
The enormous pay ballot result in 2017 shows the unity and willingness to struggle which has been built by the socialist leadership of the union at all levels.
build for action
Building on that result across all public sector unions and within PCS must be the priority of every member and rep in PCS in 2018.
Across unions, it must be made clear to the government that workers will stand united for a pay rise that addresses a decade of cuts, and all senior reps will be working to build links with the other unions. Within PCS, every office and every branch, whether in devolved areas like the Scottish Government or in UK Civil Service departments, must be ready for a statutory ballot in 2018. Together we can win.