The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 20th February 2004
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90,000 CIVIL SERVANTS STRIKE
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.
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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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