Mark Tyers has written a very good report of yesterday's 200-strong Newcastle rally in support of striking civil servants. It appears at Counterfire, as part of the site's coverage of the dispute.
“Today is a day born in struggle”- Martin Levy, local UCU leader, in reference to international women's day.
A sun soaked Greys Monument welcomed the two-hundred or so civil servants and their supporters who had made the trip from their freezing cold morning picket lines for the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) rally in the heart of Newcastle.
They gathered to listen to the messages of support, solidarity and hope that the speakers from various local public sector trade unions branches had to offer. But mostly they came together to express their sense of outrage and injustice at the changes the government has made to their redundancy packages, with the aim of forcing the government into negotiations with the PCS on the issue.
As Ian Runciman, an employee of the Ministry of Defence, put it “we're here to defend the terms and conditions of the contracts we signed”.
The controversial changes, which take effect in April, were made by the government without engaging in any form of negotiation with the PCS and have resulted in civil servants losing up to a third of their redundancy entitlements which they receive in the event of them being laid off.
For many PCS members like Spencer Davies, an employee at Benton pension centre, these reduced redundancy payouts were “the last straw”, coming as it has on the back of changes to their working conditions, including increased workloads and threats to their flexible-working-hours arrangement.
The desire to strike on PCS members parts has been further encouraged by the promise, made by Labour, the Tory's and the Lib Dems, of “savage” attacks on jobs, pay and conditions in the public sector after the general elections. These attacks on workers are being promised with the aim of reducing government expenditure in order to enable the reduction of the nations huge debts caused by the bailing out of the banks in April 2009.
Indeed for many of those present at the rally, the unilateral changes have been taken as a preliminary move in realising this programme. As Ian Shipley, an HMRC employee, stated “they [the government] are trying to get rid of people who work hard on the cheap”.
The seriousness of the redundancy cuts and the prospect of thousands more civil servants losing their jobs after May was not lost on any of the strikers present. Stephen Johnston, also an HMRC employee expressed his satisfaction that his union has “stuck to its guns” and not cancelled the 48 hours strike “at the 11th hour”.
The morning pickets, held outside local Job Centres, HMRC, Ministry of Defence and other civil services offices had been “largely solid” and saw a “fantastic turnout” considering the cold conditions stated Angela Appleby, an employee at the local Land Registry office, with the scabbing largely and predictably coming in the form of the managers.
Strikers were keen to emphasise that the decision to take the 48 hour strike was not made lightly, but that it demonstrates the commitment the vast majority of PCS member have into to forcing the government into negotiations on their redundancy package.
In order to maximise the chance of the strike being a success, local union leaders were keen to emphasise the need for cross-union solidarity.
As John Woodhouse, the local CWU rep noted “An attack on one of we is an attack on all we..stick together...together we can win”.