The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 20th February 2004

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by Daphne Liddle

NINETY THOUSAND civil servants took strike action last Monday and Tuesday in the biggest industrial action of its kind for well over a decade in a dispute over abysmally low pay.

 The strike closed hundreds of job centres and social security offices and led to around 50,000 driving tests being postponed.
 Those job centres and benefit offices that did open – staffed mainly by blackleg managers – could only offer a severely reduced service. Off-the-record reports suggest that these managers were shocked by how few strike breakers there were to report for work.

 Reports from picket lines indicate that many who had turned up to work changed their minds and joined the strikers.  PCS  says it has recruited thousands of new members during the dispute.

 Veteran union activists say they have never seen such support for a strike. Middle and even senior managers are also supporting the strikers in unprecedented numbers.

 The strike was provoked by a pay offer so low that it offered most of the rank and file less than £1 a day extra and included a pernicious and divisive performance appraisal system.

 Such systems always work in the bosses’ favour. Effectively they mean that one person’s pay rise is another’s pay cut. They pit worker against worker competing for a shrinking total package.

 The appraisal mechanisms are subjective, allowing for discrimination and favouritism.

 A ballot conducted by PCS last December showed that 94 per cent of employees in the giant Department of Work and Pensions rejected the offer.

 Stella Dennis, PCS president of the DWP group, told a pay rally: “Starting pay in the DWP is £10,300 per annum, with thousands of our members claiming the benefits they actually administer.

 “The eight members of the ‘Executive Team’ that run the department now pay themselves over £1 million a year of tax payers’ money. It’s indefensible.”

 Several other major civil service departments are also engaged in similar pay strikes.

 Last month workers in the Home Office, the Prison Service, the Treasury Solicitors and the Department of Constitutional Affairs took strike action.

DWP workers suspended their planned action to allow for more negotiations. But management failed to produce a better offer and so this week’s strikes went ahead.

 PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This strike has been incredibly well supported, eve more than we expected. It clearly demonstrates members’ anger at the levels of poverty pay and unequal salaries in the civil service.

 “Civil servants are sick of the lack of recognition for their hard work. The deliver front line public services but are regularly exposed to contempt from politicians who fail to understand the important work they do.

 DWP management says it wants strikers to return to work. But the union has suspended strike action once already and therefore a resumed negotiation must this time be meaningful and without pre-conditions.”

The dispute is happening against a background of threat of huge cuts in the numbers of front-line civil servants.

 A Government review has suggested 80,000 job cuts and hinted that in the future better pay offers may result from accepting the cuts.

PCS reacted angrily. Mark Serwotka said: “On the day when 10,000s of civil servants are striking for a fair pay deal this comes as a real kick in the teeth.

 “This is an extraordinary attack o the civil service. Any job losses on this scale are totally unacceptable.

 “The Government should be defending and improving front line services and we are worried that cuts on this scale are likely to damage delivery of key Government services.”

 Serwotka is now calling on Government ministers to intervene in the pay dispute to avoid the necessity of further strike action. 


Boycott the European elections

TONY BLAIR is at a Euro-summit with Chirac and Schröder to try to restore British imperialism’s relations with France and Germany. And while Blair lords it in Berlin the EU establishment is trying to breathe new life into the European elections – a non-event that comes up again this June.

The European parliament exists to give the illusion that the European Union is under some sort of democratic control. In practice the EU parliament, like the Commission and the other institutions of the Union, is a by-word for undemocratic practices, corruption, nepotism, and waste and fraud on a massive scale.

European social-democracy together with Europe’s bourgeois parties and some of the revisionist communist parties have long embraced the European parliament to jump on the gravy train. Socialist principles have been dumped in favour of the immense salaries of the European MPs and the juicy grants and projects – largely paid for by VAT – to support this farcical parliament that does nothing and has no powers.

They claim that the European Union can be reformed but the European parliament can’t reform the EU’s institutions. In fact the only way the EU can be changed is by tearing up the Treaty of Rome that established the Common Market in the first place.

Throughout Europe there is indifference and often outright hostility to the European elections. This was shown by the conscious decision of the vast majority of British voters to boycott the last elections back in 1999. Little more than a fifth of the electorate bothered to vote despite the blandishments of the bourgeois parties and the appeal of proportional representation to minority movements. In many working class areas the turn-out was even lower.

Now we will be asked to send another army of time-servers and party hacks to the Strasbourg parliament in June. Communists must work to ensure an even lower turn-out this time round.  Boycott the EU elections and expose them for what they are.

Religion in schools?

Government plans to introduce “atheist” lessons in school to broaden religious education have enraged religious fundamentalists while welcomed in some quarters as a step in the right direction.

The introduction of scientific and materialist philosophical thinking into the school curriculum is certainly long overdue. But it ignores the major question of why we have any religious knowledge talks in school at all. While there is no doubt that dull diet of compulsory prayers and religious education in our schools has contributed to the mass decline in church-going since the Second World War that’s no justification for continuing with the practice – nor indeed is that the intention of its supporters.

There should be no place for any religious education in school, be it the official Anglicanism or the “comparative” beliefs of other creeds. It doesn’t bring children together nor does it help integration or greater understanding. What it does do is help legitimise bigotry and sectarian ideas.

Religious education should be the responsibility of believers and their institutions alone and carried out on a voluntary basis.

 Progressive teachers and educationalists must step up the campaign for a totally secular education system in Britain. That’s the answer.

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