OVER 500 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) came out on strike this week at the agency’s main Swansea centre.
The DVLA site has been at the centre of continuing Covid infections throughout the pandemic with management insisting that over 2,000 staff go into work every day, despite the centre having the biggest outbreak of Covid in an office workplace within the UK.
Over 600 staff at the centre have tested positive for the virus. The callous disregard for the lives of workers at the centre provoked an uproar of anger from PCS members who voted overwhelmingly for strike action to force changes and to recompense those forced to put their health on the line for the Department for Transport (DfT) agency.
Twice PCS members have taken days of strike action this year resulting in the management entering into ‘intensive talks’ over Covid safety.
Last Friday, the PCS negotiators were confident they had struck a deal after a meeting with senior management including the DfT permanent secretary that would have ended the dispute.
However on Tuesday, the union received a shock to discover that the DfT had reneged on the deal despite the fact that they had helped draft it.
In a statement, the PCS said: ‘In an unprecedented development in over 20 years of civil service negotiations, PCS has accused ministers at the highest levels of government of scuppering a deal to avert strike action at the Swansea site,’ and that this was done without any explanation as to why the deal had been ditched at the last moment.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘We strongly suspect senior ministers at the DfT have interfered with the progress we were making and want to make some kind of ideological stand against PCS, at the expense of coming to a just settlement both the union and DfT senior management were happy with.’
Serwotka went on: ‘They have grossly underestimated the resolve of our members in DVLA and have only emboldened them to take targeted and sustained action in the months ahead until they win. PCS is fully prepared for months of strike action, and we urge the government to re-think its position.’
Tearing up negotiated settlements is not merely an ideological stand by Tories against the PCS but a statement of intent by them that there will be no agreements for the reason that capitalism is not in a position to compromise at all with the working class over issues of health and safety and crucially on the question of imposing a pay freeze on over 1.3 million public sector workers.
The Tories will not re-think its position in the face of limited strike action. It is driven by the requirements of capitalism to re-open the economy regardless of risk and to force through austerity cuts to pay in order to pay off the UK debt that stands at over £2.3 trillion.
This massive debt was vastly inflated to support the failing capitalist economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the Tories are determined that the working class pay for it through austerity and mass unemployment.
There will be no compromises on this imperative to dump the capitalist crisis on the backs of the working class. Reneging on the PCS agreement is a salutary lesson to the trade unions and the working class, namely that the era of negotiated settlements is well and truly over.
The trade union movement in Britain has over 6.4 million members and more joining every day. The working class has the power to shut down the country with a general strike.
This power, much greater than the Tories or the capitalist state, must be organised to go forward from limited strikes to a general strike to kick out the Tories and advance to a workers’ government and socialism.
This requires building the leadership of the WRP throughout the unions to take the fight by workers to the point of overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with a planned socialist economy that will provide for the health, jobs and decent pay of all.