Thursday, 19 July 2012

Crying Wolf? Its Another Civil Service Strike!

The Home Office Group of the PCS has announced a one day strike just the day before the opening ceremony of the  Olympics. The Home Office includes Identity and Passport Services, The Criminal Records Bureau and the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

When a strike is called, there needs to be a clearly defined "win condition" - what it will take for the union to gain the concessions required to call off the strike and resolve the dispute and there needs to be sympathy from the public at large to show that the union are on the right side of the argument.

Lets look at the first issue - The article from the BBC states: "The PCS is in dispute with the Home Office on several issues, including plans to cut 8,500 jobs and the threat of compulsory redundancies in the passport office in Newport, South Wales.
There are also disagreements over pay rises capped at 1% following a two-year wage freeze, privatisation of services, and alleged victimisation of union reps."

What is clear is that the dispute is so broad, there is no "win condition". The first time I went on strike, it was over the issue of safety screens within the Social Security Offices. The "win" was obvious - to get the DWP to agree that some security screen were necessary and needed in customer facing offices. And the management did agree which led to the strike being called off.

For the sake of argument, lets say that the government withdraw their threat of compulsory redundancy in Newport. OK, a concession for the union, but they will argue that the government has not gone far enough to meet their demands. So, what would it take? Is it even achievable? Or have the PCS decided to go on strike irregardless of whether some or any concessions be agreed between now and then?

With the UKBA being involved, it will only go one of two ways at places like Heathrow, Gatwick and Dover.

Long queues to get through Immigration and sympathy draining away with each minute in the queue. Or a well-rehearsed contingency arrangement in place that will mean no disruption at all and the PCS singularly and completely failing in their aim of making a statement.

Ironically, the PCS regularly accuse the Coalition Government of ideologically driven cuts. And yet the PCS leadership are just as ideological and dogmatic in the way they conduct their industrial relations. Ultimately, it is counter-productive, the Government will not back down, it will further entrench its negotiation position and they will not want to be blackmailed by a union in the same way Heath was.

The 20% turnout will only strengthen the hand of those who regularly call for a minimum turnout in a strike ballot making a strike even less likely in future perhaps when it might be needed more than ever. The story of the boy who cried Wolf comes to mind.

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