PCS Parliamentary Group keeps the political pressure on DWP

Left Unity members in Glasgow organised the city-wide meeting to oppose office closures. Similar meetings are being organised around the UK.

A third backbench debate has been secured by Chris Stephens MP, chair of the PCS Parliamentary group and MP for Glasgow South West. MPs in Glasgow reacted angrily against government plans to close half the Jobcentres in Glasgow and were thoroughly briefed by the PCS DWP Group Executive Committee (GEC) and by officers from the branches involved.

Across the UK, branches and the GEC are engaged in work with MPs to keep the political pressure on the government over the office closures that do not help claimants or staff, but will in fact harm the services DWP delivers and will potentially result in job losses for an estimated 750 DWP staff, according to the Minister.

Hansard’s record of the backbench debate on Thursday 16th March show that the many points being made by PCS – including against sanctions, against additional travel, against the loss of experienced staff, against the local economic impact of closures are all receiving close attention from MPs. And the government continues to have no answer.

Copied below are some excerpts from the debate. Barrow, Coatbridge, Alexandria, Cambuslang, Castlemilk, Langside and other sites all receive specific attention from MPs, and this is all good news. The PCS Left Unity-led GEC will continue to utilise every means at the disposal of the union to push the government back, in their narrow, austerity-driven office closures programme.


“The House is rightly exercised—as are many hon. Members—by the haphazard nature of the closures and the lack of evidence or rationale to support them, other than that they will save money in the short term. The lack of an adequate equality impact assessment is particularly damning. The closures have been presented by the Government as a straightforward process of rationalising the estate—that is, as sensible, considered and thought through in great detail. I would suggest otherwise, however. Far from this being a planned process to make the most of the expiry of contracts to improve services and locate them where they are needed most, it is a cost-cutting, penny-pinching cuts programme being done with poor to non-existent consideration of local conditions.” Chris Stephens, SNP, MP for Glasgow South West.

“For the record, we should remember that at least 30,000 people have lost their jobs in the civil service, and this is part of that. He spoke about the increasing workload. Citizens advice bureaus have reported that their workloads have gone up by 88%, in particular because of personal independence payment claims. Tile Hill jobcentre in my constituency is being closed, so people will have to walk miles or get buses. Importantly, a lot of them suffer from disabilities, so they will be at a disadvantage.” Jim Cunningham, Labour, MP for Coventry South

“Finally, I want to highlight the link between the push to digital services and office closures, when it becomes much more difficult to find a person to talk to in a public office. I have spoken recently about the unfair telephone tax, where the most vulnerable are hit with call charges for contacting the DWP and other government services. The DWP is a long way from being digital by default. A vicious circle is emerging, whereby access to advice and support is being blocked to those who need it most. Every Member here can testify that our offices are now providing more and more of that support through our constituency casework. Widespread jobcentre closures will only increase the workload on other staff in the DWP, giving them less time to spend on individuals.” Chris Stephens

“I was interested to read an article in the Evening Standard on 31 January by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about the disability unemployment rate in London, in which he wrote:

“The gap between the number of disabled people in work compared with the employment rate of non-disabled people in London is around 28 percentage points—a figure that is frankly unacceptable in 2017.”

“I agree with the Secretary of State about that, but it is a bit rich for him then to say:

“We’re building a locally-based system that works with businesses in the area and can offer people intense support”.

“I think that is a bit rich, because in London the DWP is proposing to close one in three jobcentres: 22 of the capital’s 73 existing jobcentres. Of the 22 that are closing, 15 are located in boroughs with a higher than average claimant count, and, as we know, London has a higher than average claimant count than the country as a whole. I am also concerned that the rate of unemployment among young people, the disabled and those from black and minority ethnic communities is higher in London than the national average. In fact, Office for National Statistics data from last September showed that BME unemployment in London stood at 9%. Ministers should review the criteria they use to determine the closures.” Heidi Alexander, Labour, MP for Lewisham East.

“One of the puzzling things about the closure programme is that the Government also want to increase the workload of jobcentres and want some people to go more frequently. They also want to introduce conditionality for people who are in work. It is difficult to see how those additional tasks can be managed at the same time as shutting down so many jobcentres.” Stephen Timms, Labour, MP for East Ham

“I fully appreciate the need for any Government to spend public funds wisely, but the decision to slash the number of jobcentres will most definitely have a negative impact on my constituents. The most obvious consideration is the additional travel costs that service users will face in getting to their appointments. This will barely register as small change for a UK Government Minister or indeed an MP, but it is an unwanted additional expense for someone already struggling on a low income. Constituents will also be burdened with increased travel times, which in turn puts them at an increased risk of being sanctioned under the DWP’s draconian and uncompromising rules. Again, the Minister may say, “It’s only three miles’ difference. What’s the big deal?” (…)

“A report from the Disability Benefits Consortium found that 93% of respondents to a survey of service users thought that the process for applying for PIP was stressful: 80% experienced difficulties in completing the claim form, while 82% felt that the application process had a negative impact on their health. Will Minister explain how closing one of my constituency’s two jobcentres will improve that experience for service users?” Ronnie Cowan, SNP, MP for Inverclyde 

“At least one thing can be said of the Department: it is consistent in its handling of the matter. Right from the start, it has been a shambles. As we have heard, after the news broke in the press that half Glasgow’s jobcentres were to be axed, it took seven hours for the Department to write to the affected MPs and inform us. It did not see fit to inform us or even consult us; nor did it bother to speak with the devolved Administration in Scotland. (…)

“I wonder whether the Minister knows, for instance, of the issues affecting Cambuslang in my constituency, where the Main Street jobcentre is due to close next year. Is the Department aware that Royal Bank of Scotland closed its doors there just months ago, that local traders have subsequently suffered a reported 30% drop in footfall, or that the two remaining banks, TSB and Clydesdale, have announced that they too are to close in the coming months? Has it considered at all the cumulative impact that those closures will have along with the closure of a major resource such as the jobcentre? I am guessing the answer to all of those questions is no. Perhaps if Ministers had bothered to consult me, they would be better informed. The Department will have seriously to make up for its former ignorance by consulting service users, local stakeholders—such as the local Church of Scotland minister Neil Glover, who has spoken out against the jobcentre closure and described it as a moral issue— and elected representatives, and by working with the Scottish Government. Scottish Employability and Training Minister Jamie Hepburn has written to and met Ministers from the Department, not only to express grave concerns but to seek clarity on the issue. He has requested that UK Ministers meet benefit recipients and others from the communities that will be affected by the proposals.” Margaret Ferrier, SNP, MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton

“As to digital interactions, the ward in which Eastern Avenue jobcentre is to close is one of the most deprived in the country; 74% of people there are in the 10% most deprived in the country. Many of them do not use the internet at all, let alone have the capacity to apply online—there are very high levels of digital exclusion. Ironically, the council is currently doing some work on digital inclusion, commissioned by the DWP, around Eastern Avenue jobcentre; that work will have to be halted. Again, there does not seem to have been any recognition or cognisance of the impact that the cuts will have on that work.

“Whether or not the estate is underutilised at Eastern Avenue—or indeed at Cavendish Court, where the Government are expecting claimants to move to—is open to question. I have been to both jobcentres and there certainly does not seem to be any underutilised space—Cavendish Court in particular is bursting at the seams—but we do not know, because the Government have not published any of the evidence and do not seem to have done any of the work behind it. I met the manager for my region, North, East Yorkshire and the Humber, after the Minister advised me that that was the best way to proceed. It was not her fault, but I am afraid the manager had absolutely nothing to add to what the Government had already published.” Louise Haigh, Labour, MP for Sheffield Heeley

“Coatbridge is a local DWP back office that employs about 250 people and is facing closure as a result of these cuts. I have been in contact with union representatives about the closure since the announcement was made and I recently attended the annual general meeting of the local branch of the Public and Commercial Services Union to discuss the impact of the closure on its members and on the local community. I was particularly concerned to be informed by the union that the DWP’s announcement was made without any consultation with the workers or the union at all. The DWP did not inform me of the lack of consultation when I was contacted about the closure. Although the DWP has stated that the closure will not involve any job losses, it has indicated that the jobs in question will be moved to alternate locations in central Glasgow or Motherwell, both of which are approximately half an hour’s drive away—and that is if we assume no traffic delays.

“Coatbridge is a community filled with young families. Many people base decisions about who they work for on the location of their potential workplace: they choose to work in locations that allow them to drop their children at school in the morning or be near an elderly or poorly relative. There is also the issue of additional travel costs for the predominantly local staff to and from Glasgow and Motherwell—again, colleagues have covered that well, so I will not repeat the points they made. For many workers affected by the cut, the loss of that essential proximity to home, the additional travel and the associated costs may mean that they need to seek alternative employment. I can hardly see how a Government can describe themselves as pro-family when they put so many in such a precarious position.

“The union members I spoke to were concerned about the dilution and inevitable reduction in the quality of services provided to service users that the cuts will cause, as was well articulated by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan). The closure will affect not only current employees and their families but local businesses”. Philip Boswell, SNP, MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

“I was genuinely taken aback when I went to see the Minister and the civil servant who was there to support him did not even know what benefit was processed in Barrow. That is lacking in and of itself when we are talking about 80 people in my constituency who are losing their jobs. As the Minister for Employment, he will have some understanding that when skilled office jobs are eliminated in a geographically remote constituency such as Barrow, they have little prospect of being replaced by something else, and people cannot realistically travel to another place two or more hours away. (…)

“Due to the nature of the benefit, closing Phoenix House and taking the facilities somewhere else in the country, inevitably employing new people, will do damage to the service provided. The centre processes industrial injuries disablement benefit. The team say proudly that they have more than 100 years’ experience between them of processing that benefit. Due to that build-up of expertise, the Barrow team has taken part in a process that has reduced the processing time for that benefit from 175 days to 33 days. That is an achievement and welcome in itself, but we must also take into account who receives the benefit. It goes to people who have developed terrible conditions. Many of them, such as those suffering from the likes of asbestosis, are terminally ill due to negligence in past decades. That is why they have been given compensation in the form of the benefit. The whole point of focusing on driving down the time that it takes for them to get it is that it makes the difference between them receiving it while they are still alive and receiving it after they have died.” John Woodcock, Labour, MP for Barrow and Furness

“I also thank the PCS Scotland union for the excellent job that it has done assisting Members of Parliament throughout the country, and particularly in Glasgow, where we heard the rather unwelcome news just before Christmas that the Government intend to reduce the jobcentre estate by half, from 16 jobcentres to eight, two of which—the Castlemilk and Langside jobcentres—are in my constituency. (…)

I would ask the Minister why, despite several genuine and friendly invitations, he has not taken any time at all to visit any of the jobcentres in Glasgow that he wishes 207WH Jobcentre Plus Office Closures Jobcentre Plus Office Closures 16 MARCH 2017 208WH to close. I do not know what he thinks will happen to him if he comes, but I can assure him that either I or one of my hon. Friends from the city of Glasgow will look after him. He will be okay. Even at this late stage, I implore him to visit a jobcentre in Glasgow to hear what the staff and the users have to say.” Stewart Malcolm McDonald, SNP, MP for Glasgow South.

“[T]here are special circumstances that set the Alexandria jobcentre apart. The catchment area shares similar characteristics with others earmarked for closure. There are high levels of deprivation and unemployment, which, as in other urban areas, must be taken into consideration. The Alexandria jobcentre differs, in that it serves a population that is not only urban but suburban, in the true sense, and a rural community, which results in a set of unique challenges for those living in those communities, especially given that the area includes the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park boundary.

“An argument put forward by the DWP to support its proposal is that it is now easier to access jobcentre services, whether over the phone, online or in person. Let me take those in order. For citizens living in rural areas, the practical challenges are many. People whose line connections depend on weather conditions, which in my constituency are temperamental at best, do not have easy access to services by phone, as the Department argues. Given BT Openreach’s dubious record in elements of the rural sections of my constituency, there are difficulties in online connectivity.” Martin Docherty-Hughes, SNP, MP for West Dunbartonshire

“Many questions still need to be answered. The Government appear to believe that the current levels of employment and the introduction of universal credit mean that more than one in 10 Jobcentre Plus offices can be closed, regardless of the impact on the local community. According to House of Commons Library analysis, 33% of jobcentres in London, 18% of jobcentres in Scotland and 16% of jobcentres in the north-west will be lost at a time when communities are already under real pressure due to seven years of Tory austerity.

“Jobcentre Plus faces considerable challenges in the immediate future. From this April, it will play a much greater role in directly providing employment support when new referrals to the Work programme cease. From the end of this year, the Work programme and Work Choice will be replaced by the Work and Health programme. Most people claiming JSA are currently asked to take part in the Work programme, while Work Choice provides specialist employment support for disabled people.”

“More difficult journeys also increase the risk of claimants being sanctioned by staff for being late for or missing appointments. Will DWP issue guidance that, when considering sanctions, jobcentres should take account of increased journey times due to closures? There is already a backlog of sanctions, which in some cases is leading to money being withdrawn from claimants months after non-compliance, even though claimants may in the meantime have done what they were asked to do.” Margaret Greenwood, Labour, MP for Wirral West

Damian Hinds, as Minister for Employment, has a lengthy response which is included in the document linked to above.

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Left Unity has an organising record to be proud of, but much more to do

Marie (pictured, right) at the rally to save DWP Vinovium House, in Bishop Auckland, Saturday 18th March 2017

Marie McDonough, PCS DWP group organiser and DWP City of Sunderland branch Secretary writes.

Union organising is a key socialist principle that Left Unity is founded on and committed to.
2016 was a year when the Left Unity DWP Group has an organising record to be proud of but we are clear that there is still much more to do.

The backbone of organising is having trained reps in the office. The Left Unity GEC trained 160 new reps and 56 reps on personal cases.

There are now 1698 individual PCS reps in the DWP doing a job for the union and for members. Whilst this figure is very slightly down over the year, the key figure is that over 96% of members work in an office with a PCS rep to lead campaigns, tackle management and help members with problems.

To do their job our reps need information. The Left Unity led GEC has collected the personal data of over 80% of our reps and over 60% of our members so that we can get union information to them without relying on DWP email.

To be credible the union must reflect the diversity of the membership. Under the Left Unity led GEC for the first time ever, virtually 50% of PCS reps in the DWP are women. A figure replicated at group level by the election of our current GEC.

All of this good, sound organising work means that the DWP Group has been able to play a leading role in national campaigns on the CSCS and job cuts.

The Left Unity led DWP GEC is proud to have worked with Regional Organisers and branches to make our union well organised throughout 2016. The credit for much of this great organising must go to those regions and branches for working with the Left Unity GEC.

Despite these real achievements membership density has fallen after the end of check off to around 60% and this is where there is still much to do.

The Left Unity led GEC fully recognises and acknowledges the seriousness of the problem and has already taken plenty of steps to help branches recruit non-union members –

• We negotiated better rights for reps to recruit desk to desk for the first time.

• Branch briefings have been issued with recruitment materials

• A new hub has been put on the PCS website with recruitment and guidance

• Full Time Officials are being used to support branches

We are not complacent, we have been honest with branches about the problem and recruitment to PCS is now starting to pick up in early 2017.
Left Unity is clear that we have, and will continue, to provide help and support for branches but in the end recruitment can only be done on the ground in offices by our reps making it a priority.

Every branch and every rep must treat recruitment as their overriding priority. Personal cases are important but the real strength of the union comes from high membership density. There is much more to do, but by working together we can build our membership back up to the 70% that was common before the end of check-off.
Support Left Unity, Support a serious organising agenda that delivers for members and strengthens our union.

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DWP members are very much part of the National Pay Campaign

Martin Cavanagh on pay in DWP

DWP Vice President and NEC member Martin Cavanagh writes about how DWP members still have a battle to fight on pay, despite Employee Deal.

The DWP Left Unity leadership have been clear from day one of the Employee Deal, that our members would still play an important role in the National Pay Campaign launched by the National Executive Committee (NEC).

We have been clear at both NEC and Group Executive Committee (GEC) meetings that not only would this be the case, but that it was vitally important that members in DWP play an active part in the campaign, which will see a day of protest across the country this Friday (31st March).

Despite this unequivocal message our political opponents in Independent Left have cynically produced an article suggesting otherwise. They have claimed that a recent group circular “stops most of us from getting involved” and goes on to say “the vast bulk of members in the DWP will not be involved in the national pay campaign”. Not only is this cynical, leading members of IL were present at both NEC and GEC meetings when this was discussed, it is blatantly untrue and shows the lengths they will go to mislead our members into accepting their line.

A further group bulletin was issued today highlighting exactly why this important national campaign was very much a DWP issue and highlighted the reasons why all members in DWP should join in the protests this coming Friday and why branches should get involved.

Unlike the IL article, which solely criticises an earlier bulletin and does nothing to try and convince members of why they should participate, the LU leadership of the GEC has articulated exactly why we should all get behind the campaign. It is typical of IL to criticise rather than offer any ideas of their own, and shows contempt for our membership, who have always stood up and been counted when it matters.

The article repeats what the LU GEC stated last year, when we completed the widest ever direct consultation with the DWP membership, in highlighting the issues faced by those members who fared less well out of the Employee Deal, but significantly it fails to mention any of the real gains in pay our members received as a result of LU led negotiations. In reading their propaganda you could be forgiven for thinking the 15-20% increase in many members’ pay over four years, the return of real pay progression and the negotiated spot rate didn’t form part of the Collective Agreement.

Incredibly the IL article asks if the PCS DWP pay team will “recommend pulling out of the Employee Deal on the basis it doesn’t deliver the 1% plus to all members?” failing to address what would happen if that approach was taken. Left Unity are clear that had we failed to negotiate last year’s agreement the significant pay increases the majority of our members received, the introduction of a spot rate and the return of pay progression, would not have been achieved. We are equally clear that the 0.25% paid to members who chose to opt-out of the deal would have disappeared, with 0% a very real possibility.

The LU led GEC will not be withdrawing from the ED Collective agreement that members overwhelmingly voted for last year. Instead we will concentrate on campaigning to bring up the rates of pay for those who didn’t do as well out of the agreement and on fully implementing the terms of the Collective Agreement with regard to working patterns.

The Left Unity PCS pay negotiators have already used the terms of the Collective Agreement to raise the issues of pay for members who opted out, work in SLPZs or are on or near the max, who will suffer as a result of the recent rises in inflation.

Left Unity, unlike Independent Left, will not accept defeat and claim the national campaign is dead in our department. Instead we will continue to campaign on these issues for members and Friday 31st March is part of that campaign.

Equally we will not be so dismissive of the need to pursue decent increases for our members in grades SEO and above, which barely gets a mention in the article. Somewhat of a surprise given the IL DWP candidate for Group President is in fact an SEO.

Left Unity in DWP achieved a major breakthrough last year on pay, addressing the pay inequality with other government departments, but there is much more to be done. We must continue to both negotiate and campaign, with the aim of improving pay, breaking the Government pay cap and introducing pay progression for all our members. Until that is achieved activities like Friday’s protests are an integral part of our campaign strategy, and we are confident members will overlook the negativity of the IL argument and will join with tens of thousands of fellow Civil Servants this Friday in solidarity.

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PCS Left Unity says: Join the Pay Protest 31st March – say no to the pay cap

Break the 1% Pay cap

The Democracy Alliance-led NEC calls for all reps and members to get involved in the fight to break the cap

No wonder we are angry! Austerity and hardship for us – the highlife for the 1%.

George Osborne, ex-chancellor and architect in chief of the pay cap, has just been appointed editor of the London Evening Standard, salary unknown. He will remain as an MP pocketing £74,000 pa for this, £800,000 for 15 speeches, £650,000 for spending 1 day a week with an American bank, oh, and let’s not forget £40,000 from the family business. The picture for public sector workers could not be more different.

•​ The Independent think-tank (Resolution Foundation) says the wages of 5.4 million public sector workers are worth less now than in 2010 and if things carry on as they are that by the end of the decade wages will on average be £1700 lower than in 2010.
•​ PCS’s own independent research shows that civil servants’ average earnings have fallen by 8% and if things carry on as they are that by the end of the decadeaverage civil service pay will fall in value by 20%

These staggering statistics underline the reason as to why the pay cap must end and why PCS are entirely justified in submitting a claim for 2017 for a pay increase of 5% or £1200, whichever is the greater, a living wage of at least £10 per hour for all and the return to national bargaining for all staff in the civil service and related bodies.

The union needs to consider all options available to it including building co-ordinated action within and between groups and public bodies as part of a civil service wide campaign against the pay cap.

Our pay misery is shared by all public sector workers. Which is why PCS has called on the TUC to implement the policy agreed at its 2016 conference to back and coordinate action across public sector trade unions to bury the pay cap. This government did a U-turn on self-employed National Insurance increases. Action by unions across the public sector can achieve a similar result in abolishing the pay cap imposition.

On 31st March, get involved in pay protest action. Demonstrate our anger and determination to achieve justice on pay and break the pay cap.

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LU statement on state collusion against trade unionist activists

John Macreadie

John Macreadie, Terry Adams and other activists were hated by the Moderates in CPSA because they could organise members, campaign and win.


On Monday 13th March, The Morning Star newspaper led with an article entitled “Thatcher’s War on the Unions”, based on Cabinet Office papers released under the 30 year rule. The article details, how the Thatcher Government in collusion with Right Wing Union leaders plotted to overturn the election of John Macreadie as General Secretary of the Civil and Public services Association (CPSA) in 1986, forerunner of PCS. John was a supporter of Militant (now Socialist Party) and Broad Left (now Left Unity).

Left Unity members will be angered and outraged by these revelations. Scandalous about John Macreadie as they are, the likelihood is that he was not the only civil service union left activist to have been targeted in this way by security forces/government members. There is evidence of state interference in the running of free and independent trade unions.

Before the left won power in PCS, the CPSA national executive was controlled by the right wing “Moderate” faction.. The “Moderates” had proven links to the state, security services and big business, They maintained control by abusing democracy and colluded with the government in attacking left activists, including sackings and victimisations. The Moderates systematically misused the union machinery and worked with the right-wing press to run smear campaigns to attack the left in CPSA.

At the time, current PCS Ass Gen Sec, Chris Baugh, was named in The Sun newspaper along with John Macreadie and 4 others including Doreen Purvis one of our current Member Trustees, as dangerous subversives. Allegations were made by John Ellis, CPSA’s right-wing General  Secretary in a blatant attempt to encourage the government to move against John Macreadie who had been elected Dep Gen Sec, and  other named activists. The Broad Left had won control of the NEC in May 1987.

So, what else was the government up to and who else did they target? Cabinet papers released in 2014, again under the 30 year rule, revealed discussions between the Secret Service, Cabinet Secretary William Armstrong, and Ministers about how they might carry out a “purge” of CPSA left activists and supporters of the Militant.

What is of concern to us today is that these scandalous witch-hunting activities have almost certainly not ceased. The left will be targeted as we are committed to defending jobs, conditions and services as we argue for an alternative to the profit system. For example it was only in 2015 that union busting plans were leaked, referring to Left Unity and showing HMRC had targeted PCS and in particular its left activists with further evidence emerging that they were colluding with right wing activists in a failed attempt to set up the scab RCTU. We must continue to resolutely oppose such attacks.

We demand that an independent public enquiry set up to expose the extent of these outrages. It must identify those responsible, and the individual left activists affected including an assessment of the damage done to their careers. In the light of what we know about the police spying on trade union and political activists, as we saw at Orgreave and the massive blacklisting of trade unionists in the construction industry, we should work with other unions and PCS should seek co-participant status in the Pitchford inquiry. The time has come to open the secret anti-union files to public scrutiny. .

Left Unity stands for the right for trade unions to be run democratically by their members and free from interference from the state and the employer. We urge all members and activists to unite on this issue and reaffirm this right at our ADC in May.

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March to defend DWP Vinovium House, Bishop Auckland

Group President Fran Heathcote speaks at a rally in Barrow against the closure of that office. Local branch secretary Kris Houghton (pictured) and other reps were supported by the Barrow Trades Council and other unions.

The Left Unity-led PCS DWP Group Executive Committee continue to provide full support to branches and offices campaigning against closure. Vinovium House in Bishop Auckland is one of the eleven hotspot sites across DWP in Scotland, England and Wales where redundancies are feared.

Durham County branch have been mounting a determined campaign to mobilise members so that the employer is in no doubt that there will be a fight, unless the concerns of members are addressed. Specific negotiations are on-going with DWP, to protect the hotspot sites. Below is the leaflet being used for the demonstration planned for Saturday 18th March.

Bishop Auckland joins Glasgow branches and Cumbria branch, who held demonstrations on 11th March.

Also included below is the text from the local MPs press release, which shows that political pressure from PCS members locally continues to yield results. DWP must take full account of local circumstances and change their proposal to close Vinovium House.

Bishop Auckland office anti-closure campaign

Helen Goodman MP raises serious concerns in Parliament around DWP office closure in Bishop Auckland and the effect on families.
No Job Centre Closure – March in Bishop Auckland on 18th March

Speakers: Helen Goodman MP, Joy Allen Bishop Auckland Counsellor and Charlotte Metcalf PCS DWP Durham Branch Secretary
Assemble 11:30 at Vinovium House for March – Rally 12.30 Market Place

Helen Goodman MP, parliamentary representative of Bishop Auckland has raised serious concerns around the proposed closure of local DWP offices. Responding to Damien Green MP, Minister for Employment.
Ms Goodman raised in Parliament last night during an adjournment debate the plight of families affected by the ‘highly controversial’ reforms to Child Support introduced by the Government last year which have left 1.1m cases in the CSA system and arrears totalling £3.4bn:
”It is vital for those million families’ welfare –probably 1.5 million children that this money is recovered and paid to them. There is no published plan for how the debt cases will be administered at Vinovium House if the closure goes ahead. The team at Vinovium House had secured the debt work until 2020.
”What exactly is the Department’s plan? How does it intend to run it or is the plan to let the old child support system wither on the vine, irrespective of the impact on the 1 million families receiving their money?”
Also advocating for children and families in poverty, Helen said:
“Child poverty is increasing under this Government, and further delays in Department for Work and Pensions systems for child support will undoubtedly tip some families over the edge.” “

There has been no proper equality impact assessment of the proposed closure. 64 staff are women, the vast majority of whom work part time close to home as they have caring responsibilities for children in nearby schools and elderly parents.
Helen’s speech highlights the impact on these families:
“The Tory party claims to be the party of the family. This change will adversely affect at least 85 families and will have a devastating impact. The underlying issues are travel times and costs, the lack of affordable childcare and the fact that most people who work at Vinovium House combine their job with some caring responsibilities. Many work part-time close to home, as they have caring responsibilities for children or elderly parents.”

In a letter to Employment Minister Damien Green MP, Helen outlines how the loss of the DWP office will be a blow to the local community and economy of Bishop Auckland.
“We have already lost our courts, HMRC offices and driving test centre. The staff are extremely well respected – they were a top 5 office when they administered incapacity benefit and are currently the highest performing office. They are 100% committed to the local area shown through the phenomenal fundraising that they do for the area which reflects positively on local perception of the Department for Works and Pensions. Recent receipts show that staff at Vinovium House have contributed over £4,000 in the town centre in the last two weeks …so the local shops would suffer.”
The local DWP group has calculated that the receipts for the local area would equate to £95333.33 lost to the local economy in a year should the DWP staff be removed from the DWP office in Bishop Auckland.
Helen raised the matter in the Adjournment debate yesterday:
“The one-to-one interviews currently being conducted are a sham. Staff are being asked to say whether they are willing to be transferred to other jobs or to leave on voluntary redundancy but they are not being told where else they might work”
• Ms Goodman challenged Caroline Noakes, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Welfare Delivery to do more to understand the impact of the proposed changes.
“I strongly suggest that the Minister’s officials stop looking on Google Maps and that she send them up to the north to start looking at the geographical problems. Let them try to get a bus at 8 o’clock in the morning to Washington, near Sunderland, or to Newcastle, and get back in time ​to collect children from school at 3 o’clock. It is frankly impossible.”

Helen went on to say:
“The DWP guide for staff travel is 1 hour, how many sites are available for staff to transfer to within an hour of travel by public transport?”
Caroline Nokes MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in her reply acknowledged:
“DWP staff are our most valuable asset” and conceded “the High performance of the staff at this location”. She added that “Closure of Vinovium House is still only a proposal at this stage and we are continuing the consultation process with our staff to assess how each might be affected”
However, in a letter to Damien Green, Helen Goodman questioned the reassurance of this being ‘only a proposal’ given that the Medical Service examination staff are currently being informed of a new place of work.

Editors notes:
1. Details for the march including speakers: Gather at 11:30 outside of Vinovium House, 12:00 start of the march, 12:30 Rally at the market place. Speakers will include Helen Goodman MP for Bishop Auckland, Joy Allen Local Counsellor, Charlotte Metcalf PCS Branch Secretary for DWP Durham Branch
2. The EDM tabled by Helen Goodman MP is here: https://www.parliament.uk/edm/2016-17/1001
For more information on the Campaign to stop the closure at Bishop Auckland contact
Steve Swainston on : 07968 830 215 or email voodoosteve[at]gmail.com

Posted in Uncategorized

Thatcher plot against the left in CPSA

Thatcher plot to crush union leader

Morning Star front page

One of the predecessor unions of PCS, the Civil and Public Services Association (CPSA) was famous in the trade union movement as a battleground between the right-wing of the labour movement and the left wing. Today’s Morning Star throws light on what went on.

Secret meetings between leaders of the unions and a hated Tory government, to discuss how to deal with members of the Militant (now the Socialist Party) like John Macreadie were just the tip of an iceberg that involved collaboration to get union reps sacked when they led strikes. These union reps weren’t troublemakers or spies, they were ordinary members organising in their workplace.

Referenced in the article is John Ellis’ famous smear in the Sun on September 18, 1987, which attacked “lefties” in the union. The “dirty half dozen” included current PCS Assistant General Secretary and LU member Chris Baugh. Chris’ hard work on the NEC has been instrumental in securing a collective agreement protecting apprentices in the Civil Service from the current Tory government.

Thanks to the work of the Broad Left in CPSA, and PCS Left Unity, the union is open and democratic. The number of unelected senior positions has been whittled down dramatically, and elected lay reps exercise control of the union at all levels. We have an elected left General Secretary proud to stand up for our members rather than attacking them in an anti-worker rag like the Sun.

Instead of having to spend our time fighting against our own union, to force it to take the concerns of members seriously, the NEC and Group Executive Committees are instructed by annual conference. The Left Unity members elected to NEC or GEC carry out these instructions as a matter of principle.

Famously, one year, the old right wing leadership of the union conspired to settle a pay claim by balloting members whilst the activist reps were at conference and voting to oppose settlement of the claim. The continuing success of PCS Left Unity in the elections each year is what ensures that this never happens again.

Thatcher’s attitude shows how dangerous the government thought the socialist left in the Civil Service. That hasn’t changed, as the attack on members paying their subs by check-off shows – a union busting tactic that was also considered by Thatcher.

The clear threat posed by the Left-leadership of PCS is shown in the withdrawal of facility time for members of the NEC. It is shown in the documents leaked from HMRC that outline a conscious union-busting strategy. It is now further shown in the attempt by Civil Service departments to not recognise the union in the privatised areas that are being renationalised. Instead of bringing these workers back into the Civil Service, with full union rights, the government wants to override TUPE laws and de-recognise PCS in these areas. The union’s Left leadership and reps will campaign fiercely against this.

There should be one, united left in PCS. The right to tendency in PCS Left Unity ensures that minority opinions on the left are heard, where consensus cannot be arrived at. The annual elections to LU national committee, and elections to the slate of candidates put forward for NEC and GEC and other posts ensure the maximum possible unity, and protect the activist, lay-led traditions of the union.

We call on members to vote for all Left Unity candidates in the coming election. We call on all socialists and activists intent on opposing Tory austerity and building the fight back to join PCS Left Unity.

Posted in Elections

London Mayor opposes DWP office closures

PCS’ DWP group executive committee has received a copy of the letter from Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, to Damian Hinds, Minister of State for Employment, on the closure of the DWP offices in London. In particular, the London Mayor has opposed outright closure of jobcentres as a failure to “address inequality and tackle disadvantage” in the city.


Letter from Sadiq Khan

Letter from Sadiq Khan

The letter echoes the demand put forward by the GEC and taken up by MPs, MSPs, AMs and local councillors to properly assess the impact of closures on the disabled, and to run a proper consultation, though it falls short of the union’s demand to guarantee no compulsory redundancies.

Our Left Unity-led GEC continues to use all avenues to organise and fight against the massive attack on our staff, in Jobcentres, Service Centres and especially the 2,000 corporate centre staff who don’t work in or near proposed “corporate centre hubs”. That there are no hubs proposed in Wales, Scotland or huge swathes of England risks these jobs, and guarantees a huge impact to DWP, if the staff are forced out into other roles, despite being specialists.

The GEC has organised a lobby of parliament on 28th March, and on Saturday, marches and demonstrations will occur in multiple parts of the UK to protest the plans, including Glasgow, Sheffield and especially in Barrow, where 80 staff could lose their jobs if DWP don’t withdraw their proposals. LU member and DWP group President, Fran Heathcote, will be speaking at the rally in Barrow to give the clear message that this GEC is fully opposed to compulsory redundancies and that the employer can be pushed back.

There are 11 hotspots around the UK most at risk of job losses and a reps meeting from these sites has now been called to discuss how to build the campaign.

Posted in Uncategorized

Our NHS is not for sale – unions must fight back

NEC members march with the NHS demo, Saturday 4th March 2017

DWP Group Executive Committee members Martin Cavanagh and Angela Grant, and PCS activist Nicola Wild march with the PCS contingent on Saturday’s NHS march.

Written report from PCS Left Unity member Angela Grant
Vote for Angela for NEC and DWP Assistant Secretary

Arriving at the “Save our NHS” demo, I was first in awe, and absolute elation, at our ability to mobilise such numbers whilst workers are still suffering from enforced pay restraint and benefit cuts, not to mention being smothered by a huge blanket of lethargy.  The second thing to catch my notice was the how loudly people were chanting, “our NHS is not for sale”.

Fact is, over 50% of our NHS clinical services have already been sold off to private- for profit – investors.  Some of our GP surgeries are partly privatised; a GP referral might now see us being treated in a clinic that, although still badged NHS, is run by profiteers – and that means that all moneys that should be regenerated by our NHS, reinvested into our services, is being syphoned off into the pockets, and the overburdened bank accounts, of the CEO’s of private companies.

How many of the general public know that?  Not nearly enough!  Nothing on the “News”.

But people “know” from mainstream media that “immigrants are bleeding us dry”. Nothing of immigrants being used to build our health service, the 1948 Government asking Caribbean workers to come bolster our system, helping create the great institution we have today. Nothing of the 73,000 women that presently work in our health service, who were trained in their home countries at no cost to us, who have brought their skills here to save lives in our hospitals.  None of that.

We must change the rhetoric!

To blame immigration is to let this and previous governments off the hook for the heinous decimation of our services, for reducing NHS funding to a point where the system is collapsing and the smoke and mirrors spin allows people to believe private companies are the only way out – pitting our NHS against the private sector in a bid for contracts it can ill afford due to the aforementioned cuts to funding.

Our union’s Left Unity-led NEC continues to take the fight for jobs and services to Government’s door, we have called on other public sector leaderships to stand in solidarity, and the TUC to coordinate action to help us win this war. But, rather than move to action, their lack of response has created a vacuum, a black hole which continues to swallow not just our access to free healthcare, but all of our hard won protections such as social security and even our children’s education, as class sizes rise and money available for school books falls sharply. This year we need to re-elect the fighting leadership of our union, and we need other unions to do the same and join the struggle.

So, why do we march? Because, out there with other unions and campaigning groups, PCS can inform, educate and raise public awareness of the issues at hand. And yesterday we did just that.

We took our banners and our flags to London, gave a show of strength with our brothers and sisters across the movement, and we brought to life the words of Nye Bevan:

“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.”

We’re here, and the fight goes on!

Posted in Uncategorized

Mark Serwotka speaks: the time for coordinated action is now

PCS is the outstanding advocate amongst the trade unions for a workers’ movement which is prepared to fight back against austerity. At every point, the elected leaders of PCS have stood up to attack the cuts to public services implemented by the Westminster political caste – and their epigones in council halls and devolved national parliaments. Yesterday was no exception. Thousands of PCS activists – with the full support of their union – joined the demonstration called to highlight the terrible state of the NHS under a pro-privatisation, pro-austerity government. Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS, one of the few socialist general secretaries in the trade union movement, spoke to the rally in London.

Mark reiterated the view of the PCS National Executive Committee: that all unions must unite and fight back against austerity, especially against the pay caps imposed by the Tory government. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, under pressure to fund social care and NHS services, has already said that there will be no “spending spree”, and has asked all government departments to find an additional 3-6% of “savings”, i.e. budget cuts.

Meanwhile, councils, at the absolute limit of what they can do without the wholesale shut down of services, have begun to plan for significant rises in council tax. This is just a different way of hitting working class people – instead of taking it out of pay packets directly, through wage freezes and cuts, it will come out as tax. The policy of PCS – proposed by the socialist-led NEC and backed by conference – is that councils should use their reserves instead of cutting services or raising council tax, and should launch mass campaigns to force the government to back down on its austerity agenda. A mass programme of coordinated industrial action would be the most powerful weapon, as part of such a campaign, which would have the support of millions of workers.

Coordinated action by Aslef and the RMT against Southern Rail, on staffing, driver-only trains and health and safety show the scope for action across the private sector too. Mass, sustained, coordinated action that started in the public sector, if nurses, civil servants, council workers and teachers struck together, would not stay there. Hundreds of thousands of shop workers, care workers and other unorganised workers would see the opportunity to rise from the conditions of poverty pay in which they are kept by the bosses.

Pressure on the viciously right-wing, anti-democratic leaders of USDAW and other unions would rise. USDAW is the shop workers union and works in “partnership” with employers like Tesco. However, candidates like Robbie Segal, herself a Tesco shop worker, have run for President of the union and got 40% of the vote. A united campaign in the public sector would almost certainly produce amongst shop workers a demand for the bettering of their appalling conditions and pay. The most right-wing union in the TUC could become the most left-wing.

Demonstrations such as yesterday’s magnificent march in London are a lever. They can raise the confidence of workers to take on the bosses. They also put pressure on union leaders whose strategy is to batten down the hatches and hope for a Labour government. This is not enough – and ordinary members who attended the march yesterday will take away the clear message that more can be done. Members of PCS will know and be involved with the battles across the union, in the civil service – on office closures, for fair pay, for better staffing. What is needed, to decisively win on the issues which affect the whole public sector, is a campaign between the key public sector unions.

Mark also spoke about the terrible and cynical use of the status of EU migrants currently in the UK, as a bargaining chip with the European Union, in order for Britain to get a deal that allows it to stay in the single market.

PCS Annual Delegate Conference endorsed the strategy put forward by the National Executive Committee, in the run up to the EU referendum. Rather than go for an “in” or “out” strategy, the NEC ran a “we inform, you decide” campaign. This recognised the huge division amongst PCS members on the subject. In other unions, some right-wing leaderships decided to back the “In” campaign without members getting a say, much like they did over the Scottish referendum. The NEC position agreed by Conference recognised there were valid arguments on both sides.

For those members leaning towards an “In” position, there was huge fear about a Tory bonfire of health and safety and other regulations, which many member saw as protected by EU legislation. For those leaning towards an “Out” position, the role of the EU in smashing the elected left wing government in Greece and the debt-bondage to which the European Central Bank reduced Portugal, Greece, Spain, Ireland and Italy were reason enough to leave. What the NEC was absolutely determined to do was challenge the anti-immigrant lies being spewed.

A booklet on Brexit has been produced, which tackles the myths in the right-wing press, about how immigrants and refugees are the cause of the problems faced by British workers. At AGMs across the UK, these booklets have been distributed and have proved very popular. Any rep can get copies by getting in touch with their PCS regional office. The cause of the failing NHS, failing social care services, rising costs of public transport, unemployment and so on rest with government cuts. It rests with Vodafone and the other tax dodgers. It rests with the capitalist class, who sit on piles of money worth billions of pounds, refusing to invest it because it will not bring them profit.

In this way, the richest in the UK – and the world – are choosing private profit before the needs of real people.

Unions must unite and fight against that. Under the Democracy Alliance, which is a coalition of the PCS Democrats with PCS Left Unity, PCS has had a leadership which plays its role,which ensures the union is a lay-led union – run by the members and their elected reps, and which puts the full support of the union behind the campaigns which aim to defend the rights of members at work and in their communities. We urge all members to vote for the Democracy Alliance in the 2017 elections – but to go further as well and JOIN PCS Left Unity, the socialist group in PCS.

Posted in Uncategorized