Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has set a June 30 deadline for Secretaries of State to present plans to cut jobs in their departments, as part of a plan to cut 91,000 civil service jobs .
The Civil Service covers all aspects of public service and government policy support, encompassing the daily necessities of millions of people, including social benefits, passports and vehicle registration. Final decisions on a three-year cutting program are scheduled for the fall.
Johnson announced the jobs massacre a fortnight ago, calling for a one-fifth cut in the civil service workforce, from 475,000 to 2016 levels. In 2016, after five years of coalition austerity Conservative-Liberal Democrats under David Cameron, the civil service employed 384,000 people, the lowest number since the end of World War II.
Nothing is on the table. Rees-Mogg, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Effectiveness, has suggested the ‘easiest way’ to deliver the job cuts is through a blanket recruitment freeze, as up to 38,000 staff leave the public service every year.
A move towards that was this week’s announcement that the ‘rapid flow’ civil service must shut down for at least a year. The program offers a fast track to leadership positions, with more than 3,000 graduates joining through this route over the past three years. The decision to freeze the program was pushed by Johnson and agreed at a Cabinet Office meeting on May 19.
The scale of the cuts will gut and destroy services. Two months ago it was announced that 42 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) offices will close, 13 with “no other strategic locations nearby” for staff.
An ideological element is undoubtedly at play, with the Conservatives intent on destroying “big government”. The Daily mail quoted government sources complaining that civil service numbers have exploded due to Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic: “We cannot let this bigger state become the new normal. Meanwhile, Labor will continue its role of “constructive opposition”, helping Johnson and his cronies to complete the Thatcher revolution.
Johnson and Rees-Mogg have cynically touted their civil service cuts as a measure to help those battling the cost of living crisis. This from a government that has even refused to reinstate the £20 weekly boost to the main Universal Credit benefit, put in place during the pandemic but scrapped last October. The Resolution Foundation has estimated that an additional 1.3 million people, including 500,000 children, will remain in poverty this year.
As more people are pushed into poverty, the DWP plans to employ fewer staff to help them. Therese Coffey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has unveiled her department’s 2022-2025 plan which includes a 12% reduction in staff funding.
In opposing the job losses, workers are embarking on a struggle not only against the Tories, but also against the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS). The PCS, with 180,000 members, is the largest union in the sector, with tens of thousands of members in the civil service.
In a consultative poll held earlier this year, PCS civil servants voted by an 81% majority that they would be ready to strike after rejecting a wage offer of just 2% as well as attacks against their pensions. However, after years of the PCS refusing to fight anything, including throughout the pandemic, members expressed frustration with a turnout of only 45% below the 50% required for for a ballot to be recognized under anti-strike laws.
The PCS is trying to stifle industrial action and separate the fight over wages and pensions from any fight against the 91,000 job cuts.
At its conference last week, the PSC introduced an emergency motion on wages and pensions, stating only that “the conference agrees that we should work towards a national statutory ballot on industrial action early in the year. fall, and that the form and scope of the should take into account the results of the advisory vote. With criminal complacency, he said, “The conference directs the NEC to: Declare a national dispute over wages, pensions and CSCS… [Civil Service Compensation Scheme]: Hold a legal ballot for industrial action starting in September 2022.”
On the elimination of jobs, a statement from the PCS before the conference made it clear that there would be no immediate mobilization. A statement read: “We have taken a stand to protect the public service by demanding that the government consult fully with union officials on its plans…”
Bringing a separate job elimination motion to the conference, PCS DWP group chairman Martin Cavanagh said it was made, “without consultation with staff or unions”. Ignoring the mass sentiment that already exists among members for a fight, the motion simply proposed that “The Conference direct the NEC to: Build a campaign against the government’s planned job cuts and for increased resources to to provide adequate public services”. It would be to “work with the PCS parliamentary group to advance our campaign”. No industrial action was proposed – even in the fall – with the resolution stating that the PCS “would use all means at our disposal to defend members’ jobs and public services, including industrial action where appropriate” .
Both motions were passed unanimously by delegates, indicating a willingness to retaliate against the government’s attacks.
The PCS betrayed the struggles of its members for decades. It has long been a base of operations for various pseudo-left tendencies whose members have worked within the union bureaucracy. The union is led by Mark Serwotka, a member of the pseudo-left Socialist Organizer group in the 1980s and early 1990s, who became a supporter of the Socialist Workers Party-led Socialist Alliance and then the Respect organization. led by the SWP and George Galloway. With the support of pseudo-left groups, Serwotka’s specialty is to boast of being constantly ready to fight for his members and the whole of the working class – alone if necessary – without lifting a finger to fight. genuinely oppose the decimation of salaries, terms and conditions of PCS members. conditions.
At the conference, Serwotka described the campaign against public servants during the pandemic: “They came for our integrity, accusing us of being lazy because we were working from home. But then they came for our jobs…”#
In fact, at the height of the pandemic, when workers were dying on the job due to their criminal exposure to the virus, the PCS organized only one union-sanctioned action on COVID workplace safety. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s Swansea office has seen the highest number of COVID infections linked to a single employer or workplace in Britain. PCS members staged a concerted strike against management’s plans to bring hundreds of workers back into the office.
But the PCS refused to call for a broader mobilization of its members, instead criticizing the government for prolonging the dispute and preventing an agreement between the PCS and the leadership. The union devoted more effort to isolating and ending the dispute than to protecting workers’ health.
The PSC stifles any protest action, fully aware of the collective strength that its members hold. Addressing the Time as the PCS conference was underway, Serwotka said, “What people would see [with the job losses] it’s that the employment agencies would close, there would be no one left to oversee the collection of taxes, oversee the minimum wage; the justice system would stop… We have people in ports, airports, who check passports, issue driver’s licenses, issue passports and much more. It is therefore clear that if these people took industrial action, it would have a huge effect.
“It would certainly be something the government couldn’t ignore and I think our message today will be that nobody wants to strike, but it looks like if we don’t have that vote [at the conference] all of our compelling arguments in government have just been, frankly, ignored.
The fight against job losses cannot be left in the hands of the union bureaucracy. Members of the PCS should look to the formation of rank-and-file committees, operating independently of the PCS. These committees in every workplace should fight to link the fight against low pay and attacks on pensions and working conditions with the fight to defeat the Tories’ plans to cut jobs.
Unlimited resources are being made available for NATO’s proxy war against Russia, but none to guarantee job security and decent wages and conditions for millions of workers.
The conditions are met for a powerful counter-offensive. Last week, 40,000 railway workers voted to strike to defend jobs, wages and working conditions, while 40,000 BT workers are called to strike. Every effort must be made to bring these struggles together, across all sectors, in opposition to the efforts of the PCS and other unions to divide and rule. We urge public service personnel who wish to advance this fight to contact the Socialist Equality Party.