Liverpool Free Palestine rally

On Saturday as in many other cities across the UK and internationally there was a Liverpool rally to protest the current bombing campaign in the Gaza strip, the latest in decades of hostilities and oppression of the Palestinian people, forced evictions from their own homes by illegal settlers, and a never ending death toll, as well as devastation of families, community and the physical and mental damage to survivors to the unending attacks.

I attended with comrades to show solidarity with the Palestinian people, and had been contacted by organisers when it was arranged to assist getting the word out.

The protest was organised by Merseyside Stop The War and supported by Liverpool Friends Of Palestine, Liverpool Trades Council, Merseyside BLM alliance and Merseyside Pensioners Association.

On the day there was an estimated 1,000+ people there, from all generations, and diverse communities. Liverpool was awash with Palestinian flags as people marched from St Luke’s Bombed Out Church to Derby Square, with some already marching to the church from Bold street. Chants of “Free Palestine”, and from the “river to the sea Palestine will be free” were loudly pleaded from the marchers.

Speakers at the event represented people from the organisations that arranged the rally including Audrey White newly elected Cllr and established author Alan Gibbons who also read out a poem, members of the community including from Palestine, MP for West Derby Ian Byrne a member of the Socialist Campaign Group. My MP Kim Johnson also of the SCG was unable to attend and I was asked by the organisers to read out her statement of solidarity. I also sent Solidarity from PCS, PCS North West and the National Black Members Committee after reading her statement.

Some of the speeches referring to real life harrowing experiences of speakers, their families, friends and communities were emotional, passionate and captured the horror of the ongoing oppression in Palestine. References were also made to the current situation in Sheikh Jarreh, and the bombing of press headquarters that very day.

This was #Nakba73 – a day of action, held on the 15th of May annually since 1948 when the permanent displacement of the majority of Palestinian people commenced. 73 years, a whole life time for those able to survive that long, and a horrific situation for several generations to be born into, never knowing peace. This is a situation that should not be tolerated, and it is vital that we work to pressure for resolution for the Palestinians every day.

As Nelson Mandela said” We know to well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

PCS have a proud tradition of being Internationalist & have an International Committee

“The influences on the working lives of PCS members now extend far beyond the borders of the UK and Ireland. Economic crises don’t respect national boundaries, as we are all engaged in the struggle to protect our public services. PCS has built up good relationships with sister trade unions around the globe and through European and global trade union federations to promote and protect our members’ interests and concerns. In many countries trade unionists risk intimidation or jail for active membership of a union. Solidarity is the very basis of trade unionism, and it shouldn’t stop at national borders.

PCS is proud to campaign for human rights and against inequality and injustice.”

PCS issued a statement Cease Israeli government violence against civilians in Palestine on 14/05/2021

You can if able assist supporting the injured in Palestine via Medical Aid for Palestinians or share the link to raise awareness or contact your MP

Tracey Hylton

Protest for Palestine in Manchester

Thousands of people protested in Manchester on Saturday against the Israeli state’s latest attacks on Palestinians. Around 1500 people gathered for the event called by Manchester Palestine Solidarity Campaign bringing homemade placards and Palestinian flags to demand justice for the Palestinians and no forced evictions from Sheik Jarrah, East Jerusalem.

pic Rahman Kebbie

Campaigners had set up a group of tents to symbolise the refugee camps that have existed since the Nakba. There were banners and activists from NW PCS, Unison and the Trades Council. Speakers including local Labour MP Afzal Khan talked about decades of injustice the Palestinians have suffered. Many spoke about their personal experiences of dispossession, the pain of being born in refugee camps and never being able to go home. Other speakers talked about the Israeli arms factory in Greater Manchester and demanded that the British government stop selling arms and military equipment to Israel.

Hundreds of young, angry protestors marched through Rusholme, one of the most diverse areas of Manchester chanting “Free, Free Palestine!, From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free! Occupation no more! And Israel is a terror state.” The march grew as people joined along the way, the marchers blocked the road and many decided to march into the centre of Manchester. They joined thousands of other protestors in central Manchester demanding justice and an end to the brutality Palestinians face in Gaza, the occupied territories and in Israel.

Sarah Ensor

Huge congratulations to all of those elected to the PCS National Executive Committee

Thank you to everyone who voted and to branches who campaigned hard, in a uncertain year due to the pandemic, to elect a Democracy Alliance NEC. Our campaign has been overwhelmingly positive, contrasted with the negative campaigning of some of our opponents, and members have obviously responded well to that. Commiserations with John Jamieson, our only candidate to narrowly miss out.

As always, the turnout could be better, but that should not detract from the result, which has seen the Democracy Alliance achieve the biggest majority in many years. This allows us to focus on the big challenges ahead, without unnecessary distractions.

Now it is important that the incoming NEC work together to provide the strong, determined leadership our members need and deserve.    

With less than a week to go in the group elections, all Left Unity members now need to pull together to deliver a strong result in groups where there are contested elections, and elect a Left Unity leadership to win for members. 

Click here for NEC election results

What is going on at DVLA Swansea?

By Sarah Evans, PCS DVLA Swansea Branch Chair

Over the last 14 months, we have had 613 positive covid cases in the DVLA. We have had one death. These could have been avoided. Back in March last year, the DVLA worked with us to get numbers on site reduced to around 400 staff and non essential services scaled back to key workers only. This move was welcomed and supported by PCS. Then September came, and numbers onsite increased massively. We had the vulnerable staff coming back onsite, along with parents who has been off due to childcare, and that was also tied in to the usual spike of staff on site after the summer leave period.

We were notified of the 1st positive case on 7th September. Quite quickly that 1st case turned into the 2nd, the 10th and the numbers just kept increasing. By October we were meeting with the senior leaders of the DVLA and raising our concerns about the numbers on site. We were told that the numbers were fine, staff were to blame for the rise in cases. We didn’t accept that. We knew that there were too many people on site and that the only way to stop the cases rising was to reduce this number.

By the end of November the numbers were now in the hundreds. We had members in intensive care because they had become so ill. But still the DVLA would not admit or acknowledge that this was anything to do with them, this was all down to staff and their behaviour. When we started to see the cluster develop in the contact centre, we were again told that this is the fault of the staff there. They were typically younger and as such were all going drinking and catching it that way.

We were told that an increase a couple of weeks after Beaujolais day was to be accepted. During the first 2 weeks of December we saw over 60 positive cases in just over 2 weeks in the contact centre. Despite this, we were still being told that under no circumstances would they reduce the numbers, this was not to blame for the rise in cases.

It wasn’t long before the outbreak was declared, that onsite testing of all contact centre staff began. Despite this the DVLA still refused to move and take action. They would still not reduce the numbers on site despite us now pleading for this. They finally took some action, although this was some four days after the outbreak was declared, and decided to close their contact centre for the 4 days, it was meant to be open between Christmas and New year. It was the action that we had been asking for, but it was too little too late.

This is when we really had come to the end of the road of negotiations at a branch level and had to involve PCS at a national level.

We were dealing with an employer who had no interest in the safety of its staff. An employer whose leader had been onsite 6 times in 12 months, yet was telling staff that it was safe. A leader whose attendance on site was questioned by the select committee.

Throughout all our meetings, at every request to reduce numbers, we were always met with a list of what the DVLA had done to keep staff safe. How they had complied with all the recommendations made to them on inspections by EH, how they were ‘covid secure’ because they had the banners to support that claim.

Well I will put this to you all:

How can a Covid secure building see over 600 cases?

How can a Covid secure building see a member of staff lose their life from this awful virus?

How can a Covid secure building still be seeing cases, when the country is in a lockdown identical to what we saw 12 months ago, when there are now apparently all these safety measures in place?

The answer – they cant!

And this is the reason we were left with no option to declare us being in dispute with the Agency, and why we were forced to ballot our members.

A ballot that the Agency was pretty certain we would lose, and why wouldn’t they?

Over the last few years every ballot we have held over pay has not met the threshold. If people wont vote for more money, then why would they vote for this?

Why would the members working at home bother to vote? Well they voted.

They voted because they know that the DVLA cannot be trusted to keep their colleagues safe.

They voted because they hear the same stories as we do.

They voted for every staff member who has sat at their desk and cried because they were so scared.

But, most importantly, they voted because they care.

They know that they are fortunate to be able to work at home.

They know that they could be called back in at any time and that they would not want to work in a building that is not safe.

They voted despite knowing that if we called a strike, it would be the lowest paid amongst us that would lose pay.

This didn’t matter. Their safety matters. To me, to them, to us.

After the ballot result was declared, you would have expected the DfT senior leaders to ask to meet with us, but their ignorance was only demonstrated further.

It was us that had to reach out to them to ask them to enter intense talks with us.

It was pretty clear from a very early point, that we would not reach an agreement, that there is no acceptance that things have been handled incorrectly.

Even with 331 desks having to be taken out of use in Feb/March, because they were too close together and breaking social distancing, the blinkers were still on. So here we are today.

We had hundreds of members come out on strike. Members who have witnessed first hand the failures of the DVLA in keeping them safe. Members whose fears are so great they are willing to take a reduction in their pay to keep themselves safe.

We have just had a second week of strike action which saw even more members strike. But this isn’t the end.

We still have an employer who is refusing to move.

Despite both sets of strike action and notice served for a 3rd, they still drag their heels and if it was not for the efforts of PCS, they would not be holding the meetings to try and reach an agreement.

Due to incompetent hostile managers at the DVLA, staff have joined PCS, and joined the action in massive members, over 100 new members during one week alone.

PCS have made a commitment to pay members £40 a day in strike pay, and this has been processed quickly, leading to much praise from our members.

We also have a fighting fund to allow us to give a little extra support to those who need it the most. This has reached an incredible £38,000 and is growing.

Messages of support and solidarity are coming in from every part of the Trade Union movement and all areas of the country.

Whilst the DVLA may think they are big and strong, and can wait this out, they have underestimated the strength and passion of our members, and it really is a tale of David and Goliath.

All of your support and solidarity is welcome, in what is a crucial ballot for health and safety, and standing together, PCS is determined that it is one that we will win.

Newcastle Local DVLA solidarity meeting

On Thursday 6th May, the PCS Northern region held a solidarity rally for the DVLA strikers in Swansea. It was great to chair a meeting which gave an opportunity for our members and reps to hear from DVLA branch chair, Sarah Evans, ask questions about the dispute and the issues surrounding it, and to show their solidarity by sending messages of support.

Sarah spoke passionately about the issues leading up to the dispute and how the branch had strengthened and developed, with loads more reps and members getting involved, since the dispute began. It was a great little meeting. Our reps and members loved hearing from Sarah and learning more about the campaign, and Sarah enjoyed the opportunity to talk in detail about it all. A couple of reps messaged me afterwards to say they had learnt a lot from listening to Sarah and actually felt quite emotional about how the members were being treated there.

Sarah left ‘laden’ with messages of support, including one from our local Northern NEU branch, and after hearing from North East UCU rep, Jon Bryan, who joined the call to pass on his members’ best wishes, wishing PCS DVLA members every success in their campaign.

This was real solidarity in action and our Newcastle Local, who planned the event, agreed that virtual meetings give us a real opportunity to invite speakers from around the UK involved in live disputes, and allow us to share experiences and pass on solidarity greetings.

DVLA strike rally

Friday was the last day of the second wave of four days of strike action for PCS members at DVLA Swansea.

Early indications are that this week was even better supported than last time, with over 100 new PCS members joining to take part in the action just in the last week.

Sarah Evans, DVLA branch ably chaired the rally, which heard contributions from group president, Paul Williams, FBU General Secretary, Matt Wrack, Branch Secretary, Sofia Wickstead, Four MPs who had supported the campaign, including Lillian Greenwood who is a member of the Transport select committee and I was pleased to address the rally as the last speaker, on behalf of PCS.

The rally was upbeat and determined, with every speaker pledging onward support for a successful outcome.

Sarah was proud to report donations in excess of £38,000 had been made to the branch, including a £10,000 donation from the PCS NEC, the biggest donation we have ever made to a single dispute, and an indication of the absolute determination of PCS to win this dispute and support these members.

Sarah reported some hostility towards the branch had been shown this week, but that the support of activists across the movement, the public and their own members is what had strengthened their resolve.

Talks with the employer resume next week and a further members’ meeting is planned for next Thursday 13th May.

PCS members and reps have been fantastic throughout this campaign, further notice has been served for week commencing 17th May, and the pressure is now on management to resolve this dispute, protect our members’ safety and do the right thing.

Members are showing absolute determination to win this campaign and the Democracy Alliance led NEC has pledged to back them every step of the way.

Together we are stronger and United we will win. Solidarity to all DVLA strikers.

Fran Heathcote

Northern Region Chair & PCS President

Fran Heathcote is standing for re election as PCS President as part of the Democracy Alliance.

The NEC ballot closes on the 13th May so if you haven’t voted yet please post your ballot paper this weekend.