Save HMRC Enquiry Centres: Communication blockade of Ruth Owen

Ruth Owen is the Director of HM Revenue & Customs’ Personal Tax directorate. As such, she is overseeing the closure of all public Enquiry Centres in the North East of England on Monday 3 June.

This is a “trial” intended to pave the way for the closure of all 281 Enquiry Centres around the country. It will cost around 1300 staff their jobs and leave the most vulnerable taxpayers without a lifeline. Despite attempts to justify it as improving customer service (!) it is clearly just another step in the government’s cuts agenda.

On the Monday that the North East closures happen, HMRC and Department for Work & Pensions staff are taking joint strike action in the region. As part of a week of joint, rolling strike action from Monday 3 June.

Members of the Civil Service Rank & File Network in those departments will obviously be taking to the picket lines as part of the action. But we are also calling for
supporters to contact Ruth Owen and make your opposition to this trial known.

Mobile: 07885 174684

Office: 020 7147 2735
Assistant: 020 7147 2705

Fax: 020 7147 2267
To send free faxes via freepopfax.com/ input the number as +44 (leave out 0)

Email: ruth.owen@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk

Please send as many emails and faxes as you can, but we would particularly ask that you make the effort to call so that Ruth can hear first-hand the solidarity striking civil servants have.

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Sanctions vote passes – now to build on the ground

2013-05-21 12.46.13Delegates voted overwhelmingly for a motion on non-cooperation with sanctions at PCS Annual Delegate Conference. However, whilst welcome, this only marks a beginning. The task now is to win the argument for and build an explicitly political, rank-and-file led campaign on the ground.

The debate on the role of DWP staff in the sanctions regime has been brewing for a long time. However, thus far the leadership of PCS have side-stepped the debate, suggesting both that non-cooperation wasn’t deliverable and that it wasn’t being called for by staff directly involved. This position has already been forced to shift dramatically in the space of months.

Ahead of conference, several branches submitted motions on non-cooperation with sanctions. When it was revealed that, on legal advice, all were omitted from debate under the union’s rules it caused an uproar that thrust the issue to centre stage.

Claimants groups including Boycott Workfare, Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle all questioned the decision. As did PCS members. The PCS National Executive were at pains to point out that the decision was not theirs – yet, tellingly, argued against the tactic. And so the debate raged.

The various motions on the subject included several from supporters of the Civil Service Rank & File Network. Emergency motions were submitted after their omission to thrust the issue back onto the agenda. This was backed up by the call for a rally outside conference which was supported by DPAC, Boycott Workfare, Brighton Benefits Campaign and the Disabled Activist Network Cymru.

The demonstration itself saw disruptive action in the form of a road block, drawing stark attention to the issue. Delegates received CSRF bulletins outlining what was on the agenda, why it was so important, and the task of fighting with or without PCS.

By the time the debate came, the impact of rank-and-file intervention and pressure from claimants was evident. The motion on non-cooperation carried without opposition. Resistance from the leadership had become qualified support. It is safe to say that without the uproar of late, we would not be where we are. All who helped push to this point within the DWP and without should be commended.

However, the motion which passed only instructs the NEC “to explore the possibility of including non-cooperation with benefit sanctions in the next ballot for industrial action which arises from an appropriate and legitimate trade dispute.” Whilst a step forward, this is clearly not enough in itself.

Sanctions against claimants are an explicitly political attack on the most vulnerable section of the working class. The response to that attack must also be explicitly political, and sanctions must be boycotted not only to win gains for DWP workers but in order to destroy the sanctions regime itself.

Such action will not happen overnight. Getting the motions heard and passed at conference was only a means to open up the debate and underline the fact that doing so was not impossible.

There is now a political argument to be won with workers in Jobcentres against sanctioning and for a practical unity with claimants that uses direct action to take on austerity. We also need to explore how direct action by claimants can support this. This has to start with public meetings in local areas promoting the issue and building links between claimants and rank-and-file workers to devise campaign strategies.

The Civil Service Rank & File Network intends to do just that in the coming months. We are under no illusions that the passing of two motions has inspired genuine radicalism in the PCS leadership. This is a fight which rank-and-file workers and claimants will have to take the initiative on for ourselves.

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Demand action on benefit sanctions – PCS conference rally

The Civil Service Rank & File (CSRF) Network is calling a rally outside of the PCS union’s Annual Delegate Conference at lunchtime on Tuesday 21 May, urging delegates to support a position of non-cooperation with sanctions against welfare claimants.

The fact that Jobcentre Plus are directly responsible for implementing sanctions has long been a cause of tension between workers and claimants. Many staff oppose sanctions and their union, PCS, has been a leading voice in the campaign against welfare reform. Likewise, claimants continue to raise the question of why those they stand with at demonstrations one day should take their benefit from them the next.

In an attempt to address this, a number of motions urging non-cooperation with sanctions were put to PCS’s national and DWP group conference. All of them were omitted from the conference agenda on the grounds that implementing them would risk falling foul of the anti-trade union laws.

News of this decision provoked a feeling of betrayal from claimant organisations, as well as debate amongst civil servants over the tactics necessary to defeat welfare reform. An emergency motion has also been drawn up for PCS branches to submit to conference in an attempt to put the question of non-cooperation back on the agenda.

The CSRF Network feels that it is important that this debate be heard. Solidarity between workers and claimants is vital in order to defeat the government’s austerity agenda and, as we are seeing, that solidarity is put at risk when words are not translated into action. On its own, non-cooperation will not defeat welfare reform – but it is a vital ingredient of a broader campaign based of direct action and generalised struggle. Further, it is worth pursuing for the fact alone that it can help claimants avoid being pushed into further hardship by punitive measures.

It should not be the job of those in work to police the unemployed. By accepting this, we not only allow the government to ruin lives, we facilitate a restructuring of the labour market which aims to regiment unemployment and in doing so undermine the security and rights of those in employment.

We are calling on PCS to ensure this issue is debated and urging delegates to vote in favour of making this important stand. Join us.

Tuesday 21 May, 12.30-14.00
The Brighton Centre, King’s Rd, Brighton, BN1 2GR
Bring flags and banners

RSVP on Facebook here

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HP industrial action reinstated

I am pleased to report that industrial action by PCS members working for the major government IT contractor, Hewlett Packard, has been reinstated.

I previously reported that, despite a big majority for action in a ballot of the 1400 members in the HP Group, the union’s National Disputes Committee had ordered the suspension of the one day strike set for Monday 15th April and the overtime / on call ban set to start the following day. The reason given for this was that an offer had been received from HP and that time was required for its consideration before industrial action took place. Sadly, this position was supported nem con by the Group Executive Committee.

The offer from HP when it was revealed after the suspension of the industrial action comprised a 1.6% pay rise plus various statements of intent to kick the can down the road on other elements of the claim, such as restoration of pay progression, promotion processes, a permanent mechanism for members not covered by collective bargaining to be able to opt into it, equal pay assurance, etc.

On job security, HP merely stated an intention to ‘re-commit’ to the Job Security Agreement which emanated from the previous dispute settlement in 2010 and which they had ignored ever since the ink dried on it.

They refused to give a no compulsory redundancy guarantee and rejected our demands for an end to job cuts, an end to offshoring and an end to the hiring of contractors, (whose ranks include not insignificant numbers of formerly permanent staff who previously took voluntary redundancy).

The offer was overwhelming rejected at workplace meetings. It mustered only 2 votes for acceptance in our North West branch.

The GEC and NDC have been dragged by the members into reinstating industrial action. The proposed dates – coinciding with the go live weekend for the Universal Credit IT system – came, not from the GEC but from rank and file members at the workplace meetings.

After the wake up call from the members, an overtime and out of hours cover ban and work to rule started on Friday 26th April. A first one day strike follows on Monday 29th April.

An urgent task now is to forge links of solidarity with our Civil Service PCS colleagues in the concurrent national dispute over the same issues as our own.

John Pearson
PCS HP North West Branch

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URGENT! New communications blockade and demonstration for Jon Bigger

Jon Bigger is a PCS rep facing a politically-motivated redundancy for his activities as a union rep.

His appeal against redundancy, due to take place last Wednesday, was rescheduled in the wake of a demonstration and communications blockade called by the Civil Service Rank & File Network. This was intended to stop our action but it didn’t and, with the hearing rescheduled, it won’t stop us taking action again.

If you are in London, please come along and stand united for Jon. Bring banners and flags and be prepared to make some noise:

Tuesday 16 April, 1o.30 am
Home Office HQ
2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF

For the full day of Jon’s appeal, we are also asking supporters to block up Home Office permanent secretary Sedwill’s lines of communication and make sure that he has to face opposition over his department’s actions.

Telephone Numbers:
Main: 0207 035 0197
Other extensions: 8806, 8808, 8809, 8765, 8851, 8812

Fax: 0870 336 9037
Send Free faxes via http://www.freepopfax.com/ input the number as +44 (leave out 0)

Full text of entire books to copy and paste for faxes available here: http://fulltextarchive.com/ e.g. http://fulltextarchive.com/page/The-Communist-Manifesto/

Email: mark.sedwill@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk
Email: permanentsecretary.submissions@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

Please also engage with Sedwill and the Home Office on Twitter:
@marksedwill
@ukhomeoffice

Even before the communications blockade, you can write to Mark demanding Jon’s reinstatement: http://action.pcs.org.uk/page/speakout/reinstate-jon-bigger

We ask that, if possible, folks make the effort to call. Emails and tweets are easy to send, but they’re easy to ignore too. Phone calls are much more effective at disrupting business as usual.

Be creative. Complaints and messages of support are good, but so is playing music down the phone, taking the mick and tying up the phone lines in any way possible. Call back and call often.

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Defend Jon Bigger demonstration

2013-04-10-12-39-07The Civil Service Rank and File Network called a demonstration outside of the Home Office headquarters building in London on Wednesday, April 10. A number of Home Office reps and activists have been victimised by that department over a number of years and the protest was to coincide with the redundancy appeal hearing for Jon Bigger. Jon has been a rep for five years and has worked in senior positions in the branch as well as at group level.

The demonstration was well attended by PCS activists and members. There were also members of other unions present including the IWW. To coincide with the demonstration the CSRF organised a communications blockade so that people across the country could bombard the Home Office top brass with queries about Jon’s future. This communications blockade was announced to people at the demonstration and it got a huge round of applause. It is exactly the type of radical militant action that we are becoming known for and it should be extended throughout the movement.

One of the highlights from the demonstration was a speech by Max Watson who is facing victimisation himself at London Metropolitan University. In return we are fully behind Max’s campaign and that of his colleague Steve Jefferys. The victimisation of trade union reps is a major issue in our movement at the moment and both London Metropolitan University and the Home Office are shamefully leading the way. We must lead the way in stopping them.

The moment management found out that a demo was going to take place they postponed Jon’s hearing. We find it amazing how cowardly some of the most powerful people in the country can act. Whilst they claim that an individual is ill and can’t take part in the panel it is clear that they are in disarray on this entire issue. The truth is that there are very few senior HR managers in the area where Jon works who haven’t been tainted by the way he has been treated. This has meant that they couldn’t simply go ahead with the hearing because there’s nobody else who could take part in the panel. However some will make the conclusion that this was simply a ploy on their behalf in the hope that we would call the demonstration and communications blockade off.

We are in the process of setting up a new communications blockade for Tuesday, April 16 to coincide once again with the appeal hearing. Full details of that will be released shortly. Please take part and continue to put the pressure on the Home Office.

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Solidarity to Home Office workers

The Civil Service Rank and File Network stands shoulder to shoulder with workers in the Home Office who should be striking on Monday, April 8. This date was chosen as a full day strike after Home Office management threatened to take a full day’s pay from anyone who took part in the proposed PCS wide half day strike on Friday, April 5. This isn’t meant to sound complicated, in fact the situation is very simple in that senior management in that department have been playing dirty tricks. The Home Office group response to that in proposing a full day’s strike was admirable. However, mistakes were clearly made in the administration of this and the Home Office used that as a reason to apply for an injunction at the High Court to prevent the full day strike going ahead.

PCS has responded by calling for a week of strikes across the Home Office, escalating the dispute and increasing disruption in spite of the attempts to scupper action. This is definitely a positive response to the situation. However, the bosses’ ability to call on the law to frustrate strikes remains a problem that needs tackling head on.

We urge branches and workplaces across the Home Office to plan whatever protest action they can to ensure that Home Office management are not let off the hook. We would also suggest that Home Office members take inspiration from the campaign by electricians who struck regardless of an injunction being taken against them.

We should not cower in the use of Tory anti-trade union legislation. In fact we should highlight the injustice that this legislation has placed on our movement and rise above it. The civil service rank and file network remains ready to support and coordinate any action deemed necessary by members in the Home Office and elsewhere. Join us and get organised for the fightback.

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