No lead from Socialist Party

Car park meetings of Public and Commercial Services Union members have been held at nearly 100 department for work and pensions (DWP) offices in London to discuss proposals for strike action. Members have been voting in favour of regional-wide, discontinuous strike action at a ratio of 13 to one - a result described by PCSU general secretary Mark Serwotka as "fantastic". Officers from the Left Unity-led DWP group executive committee (GEC) have been more cautious and are reluctant to proceed with a ballot. Socialist Party members dominate Left Unity on the GEC and the union's national executive committee. The Socialist Party works in alliance with the Stalinist 'Unity' faction and members of the Socialist Workers Party. London region PCSU is led by Socialist Caucus supporters: the group that launched Mark Serwotka's successful challenge for the union's top job. A campaign that was fought in the teeth of opposition from the Socialist Party. The need for strike action in the DWP is very real. In March 2004, when 40,000 job losses were announced, 10,000 cuts had already been made. One year later a further 12,000 have gone. In London 2,300 jobs have been lost since 2002 and a further 2,000 are to be cut by March 2006. Many workers are claimed by the employer to be in the wrong grade (200 administrative assistants, the lowest civil service grade, who are deemed "surplus to requirements") or in the wrong place (400 administrative officers, whose work will be relocated and cannot travel to the new benefit centres) or they are simply being told their workplaces are to close to create jobs outside the region (Over 500 jobs in Bromley call centre, Sutton disability benefit centre (DBC) and the three 'job centre plus' call centres). With no redundancy money and few redeployment options, union members are being forced out of work by managers threatening unacceptable options, such as compulsory transfers, or disciplining and sacking them because they have 'poor' sick records. Socialist Caucus supporters in London have been working round the clock all year to mitigate the effects on members' jobs and have achieved some success through negotiation. Kennington Park call centre has not closed, as alternative work has been found. Harrow call centre will now stay open and members at Ilford will transfer to other work at the same site. Fifty-five out of 70 call centre workers at Bromley have been redeployed, with the remaining 15 opting to leave on a voluntary package. A hundred workers from Sutton DBC have been redeployed, with 250 opting to leave. These achievements, however, have not stopped the further 2,000 job cuts faced in the region or the obvious drastic effect on services they will produce. Further cuts will be announced in 2006, unless the union takes industrial action to stop the onslaught. The key problem for the campaign is the Socialist Party's reluctance to ballot members in London or elsewhere to fight the cuts. SP members in PCSU are cautious and extremely conservative. They do not believe the government can be beaten and constantly argue for a public sector-wide alliance and that only industrial action across the unions can stand any chance of success. In DWP they argue that support for action is uneven, and it is not possible to coordinate resistance across the DWP because the attacks are so diverse and so different depending on where you are in the country. This is, of course, nonsense and an excuse for inaction rather than a political analysis. Socialist Caucus supporters have been listening to this defeatist claptrap from the SP for 20 years. The difference now is that people are losing their jobs and the SP is in the leadership of the union rather than a posturing opposition. Had a rightwing leadership been blocking a strike ballot when they were in opposition, SP members would have hit the roof denouncing the bureaucracy. Yet if any activist criticises the current leadership, they are harangued and branded traitors. Socialist Party members also argue that they always support branches, and in this case regions, who call for industrial action. Not so with London. The other danger for the SP is that a successful ballot and strike action will expose the lack of activity from the group. South East region is also requesting a ballot and some reps in the North West and Yorkshire have been lobbying for action, as more job cuts are announced in their regions. It is crystal clear that concessions available through negotiations with the employer will be inadequate. A 'no compulsory redundancy' agreement, for example, only removes that particular threat: it will not stop the cuts. The London ballot must be held and action has to be called. It is somewhat ironic that when Mark Serwotka, then a Socialist Caucus member, stood for president of what was then the Civil and Public Services Association in 1993, Socialist Party members claimed he would personally be responsible for 100,000 job losses in the civil service because he was standing against their candidate. In 2005 Mark is general secretary of PCSU and SP members dominate its bureaucracy; 100,000 job cuts have actually been announced, yet the Socialist Party is not prepared to lead action against them l Tony Reay PCSU London regional secretary (personal capacity)