‘WE NEED TO UNITE WITH OTHER PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS’ – hundreds of thousands of civil servants strike

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Up to a quarter of a million civil servants were out on strike on Wednesday, expressing their anger at the threat to thousands of jobs.

Strong PCS union pickets formed outside the Houses of Parliament, Customs and Excise, the National Museums, Home Office, Job Centres and many other government departments.

Marcus Mattis, on the picket Line outside the Jobcentre Plus at Kings House Harrow, North-West London, told News Line: ‘We have to regroup and have discussions on future strategy so we can win our dispute.

‘We need to unite with other public sector unions.’

Sujata Naik, PCS member on the Wood Green Jobcentre picket line, said: ‘I think people should realise what is on the political agenda, including the ignorance of the designers within the government structure.

‘Once they break up the public sector, upon which millions of people rely, we won’t be able to get it back.

‘The shape of the economy is such that unemployment now touches everybody at some point, directly or indirectly.

‘I would like to see a public sector alliance. There is a lot of wastage of public funds but it is not on the workers. They should look elsewhere, like in their own pockets.’

At Hayes Jobcentre in west London, PCS health and safety rep Colin Simons told News Line: ‘We’ve chosen to strike on Budget Day.

‘We’re united in opposition to this government’s policies of cuts to public services. Postal workers are having their rights taken away just the same as BA cabin crew. We support their struggle.’

PCS member, Hanisha, said: ‘It’s all about cuts in budgets. Public sector workers should all get together to fight them together.’

PCS member Raspal said: ‘Darling is cutting services and also redundancy payments for staff who have worked over 20 years. It’s a real kick in the teeth.’

At the nearby Southall Jobcentre, PCS branch chair for West London, Theresa Raftery, said: ‘We’re just annoyed that they’re trying to take money from low-paid workers in this crisis, rather than from the bankers and fat cats that created the mess.

‘It’s tens of thousands of pounds that they are taking from some of us. If they were to make me redundant, it would be over £30,000 cut from my redundancy package.

‘Of course, it makes it easier for them to privatise our work and cheaper to get rid of us. The whole public sector should all stand together to defend public services.

‘There should be national strike action across the public sector to show unity and solidarity.’

Southall PCS rep Barry Murphy said: ‘The whole trade union movement should show solidarity to the public sector. The Royal Mail are supporting us today.

‘They turned up but then turned away from our picket without delivering. We’re getting lots of support from the public.’

Clair Keenan, from HM Revenue and Customs, said: ‘When people elected Tony Blair and the Labour government, they did not expect them to break any link between the Labour Party and the labour movement.

‘This is such an important struggle, not just because of our jobs, but because we fundamentally believe they are trying to asset strip the public services.

‘We bring money into the Treasury. We investigate businesses who are not paying tax.

‘If they get rid of us, people paying a fair amount of tax like employees will be paying while the fiddlers will get away with it.’

Civil servants rallied at Parliament Square on Wednesday midday as the Chancellor Alastair Darling was announcing the Budget.

Mark Serwotka, the PCS general secretary, said: ‘We send our greetings to the BA workers, who are being attacked in the media and give them 100 per cent support, along with the gas workers and the RMT who are all balloting for strike action to defend jobs, safety and working conditions.

‘Rich people and businesses are out to cut jobs.

‘We are united in PCS but some of our colleague unions are standing with management.

‘We will not stand by and let our members be sacked on the cheap, and lose our jobs and our contracts.

‘Our members deliver every day. We will continue to do what we do best, serving people of the country and providing public services.’

Tony Arnold said: ‘It is fundamentally unfair that the banks have borrowed £180 billion.

‘We are going to pay for it, through massive redundancies a few months down the line.

‘The spectre has changed. They want to scrap the contractual right to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme because they are preparing wholesale sackings within the service.

‘Any new administration that comes in after the elections will have to take stock, and it is likely to be a hung parliament.

‘The next government can’t just bulldoze their way through,’ he said.

Mumeen Arimeg and his delegation from the Jobcentres in East London said: ‘Under the current political system whichever party comes into power in the next election, it will not change the status quo, it will only change in minutia.

‘In order for genuine change to come about people have to awaken and take responsibility for their own future and act.

‘We cannot continue, every year electing individuals who then act on their own behalf’.

Vasilitis Syladis, from the Greek Union of Intracom Factory Workers, brought greetings to the strikers.

He said: ‘We are resolute in supporting all the struggles. This is not a struggle for one country.

‘The (capitalist) system does not work. The ordinary people are not responsible for the financiers.

‘Over half of Greece have come out on general strikes, and on Thursday we will be striking again.

‘I say beware of elections. The government ministers, bosses and employers will come after you again, to cut your income, cut your pensions and take your jobs.

‘We will not pay. We will not allow them to do what they want. Let us fight and win.’

Afterwards he told News line: ‘We need to organise to replace the Papandreou government.

‘The present leadership in the unions are pro-government. The current leadership is being forced by the grass roots.

‘With a new leadership in the unions we will eventually replace the government with a provisional government which represents the workers.

‘But first we have to tackle the leadership in the unions. Even without them there is an informal reorganisation of the grass roots.

‘We have to sustain the general strike and the particular strikes and demand drastic change.

‘We need changes to the taxation. Many big business in Greece are excluded from paying taxes.

‘The government is borrowing 28 billion euros, but they have to go through private bankers, who can borrow at one per cent interest but who charge six per cent when lending.

‘This is usury, they are making profits on the back of the Greek people.

‘We demand the banks are nationalised – expropriated with no compensation,’ Syladis said.

Graham McKenzie working in the Home Office said: ‘It is terrible the way the government is using civil servants to bail out the bankers. Like a sacrificial lamb.

‘We are fighting to defend our jobs and our futures. It is essential that all workers unite to ensure their interests.

‘Whatever party comes in, it will be bad for the working people.’