PCS strikes, picketing and next steps
(There’s still more to come from International Women’s Day celebrations, but as this is topical, I thought I would get it out now).
Yesterday morning I walked around the local workplaces represented by PCS and joined the picket at one, to show support for the 200,000 workers who have been on strike these past two days.
Where we stayed for longer than five minutes, the atmosphere was light, even when discussion turned to the terrible and increasing workloads and deliberate scaling down of staff numbers. Key issues on the strike included the structure of jobs, and obviously the pensions currently under attack.
I even witnessed a beautiful moment of solidarity action, where a CWU member, having been informed of the strike, refused to deliver the mail and took it back to the local distribution centre.
What I was surprised at was that of the four staff on the picket, one was the organiser and at least two of the other three had been brought on to the picket that morning, with no prior planning. Indeed, from what I understand, one member had only been signed up to the union that morning and one three weeks previously in anticipation.
This is an encouraging development. PCS is regularly to the forefront of fights against the job-shedding, pension-slashing agenda of the government. Previously un-unionised workers being won over is a big step, and proves the truisms first established by the RMT: a union willing to go to the wire will pick up support and members.
It is inaction that atrophies the muscles of the labour movement. Not to say, as I have heard said, that this always and forever means employing the nuclear option of strikes. Without concrete gains this will simply exhaust the sentiment of workers, and it would be simplistic to assert that unions have no alternative means of achieving things for their members.
The next step is spreading this to other PCS-aligned workplaces, and increasing union density in the ones which did establish active pickets. Crossing pickets made a number of workers distinctly uncomfortable yesterday, as it will today, and they can be won over. The strike ends today and it is the next step which is important.
Organizers and branch secretaries will go back to work, and the onus will be on them to convince more people to join the union.If they looked to their left, they’d find socialists who would be happy to help, under the direction of elected union officers.
Between London and Brighton, the two militant centres in the south east, there were pickets but there were no marches or rallies (that were advertised on the PCS site at least) and in an area targeted for the removal of jobs, because the London-weighting of payment is considered too expensive, that’s significant.
Linking workers together is a basic feature of unions, and the sort of planning that goes in to a march or rally is an excellent way to engage with uncommitted PCS workers.
Several teams of roving union stewards should be tasked with hitting every workplace in their area, jacking up union numbers, convincing people to put in the effort to get a rally together and give a strike a better atmosphere than half a dozen people standing around in the freezing cold, carrying the odd placard or too.
Even if the strike doesn’t succeed, or threatens to drag on, at least the basis will have been led for future organisation. This organisation wasn’t absent on the pickets, but it can be better – and next time there can be active pickets at all the PCS workplaces in the city.
There’s also a clear need for a Canterbury District Trades Council, which could have aided in solidifying the strike and maximising the disruption necessary to force the government to retreat. It is in these directions which socialists should direct their efforts, picking up contacts and supporters along the way.
Further reports from pickets across the country can be read here.