Unite Against Homophobia

PCS members joined a solidarity protest against homophobic attacks in Birmingham on Thursday.

There have been a spate of attacks in the gay village area recently, with people being bottled and one person left unconscious.

The protest on Thursday drew several hundred people including many people from the LBGT+ community, trade unionists from the PCS, NEU, UCU and UNISON, local Labour councillors and campaigners. A wide range of people spoke condemning the attacks and expressing solidarity. Several speakers highlighted the rising tide of Transphobia and the need to resist it. In a moving speech two of the victims of these attacks spoke up and called for us all to stand together.

Hate crimes related to sexual orientation and gender identity have been on the increase since 2015. The Guardian reports “In the year to March 2020 in England and Wales, sexual orientation hate crimes rose by 19% to 15,835, and transgender identity hate crimes by 16% to 2,540 – averaging more than 50 reports each day.” These are horrific figures.
This rise has not occurred in a vacuum. We have a Prime Minister who is happy to use homophobic language. The government have unleashed a culture war which includes continued attacks on Stonewall and the scrapping of their LGBT+ advisory panel. They cancelled the reform of the Gender Recognition Act. These are all dog whistle politics from the Tory Party that create a climate in which attacks increase.

As an LGBT+ ally I was proud to attend the solidarity protest. I want to live in a society where my children can choose their sexuality free from fear. I want my work colleagues to be free to express their sexuality without fear of attack.

As the Tories press on with their attacks on the working class they will continue to try to divide us. We will all lose if they succeed. We need to fight for unity in the face of every attack, whether that is in the workplace or the community.

Pete Jackson

Tories attack the poorest in society. Enough is enough – the working class must make a stand

Throughout the pandemic this government has lurched from one catastrophe to another, always with the workers of this country paying the price, either financially or devastatingly with their health and even their lives. Tens of thousands of preventable deaths have occurred due to the failure of the Tory government to properly protect its citizens and as a direct result of decisions they have made. All while publicly awarding contracts to their friends and supporters, costing the tax payer billions for services that were never delivered, or at least not in full.

These are traits that any socialist knows come with a Conservative government, prioritising their friends and benefactors above the interests of the people as they have been doing in full view of the nation throughout this pandemic yet without the backlash we have every right to expect.

As with any government that neglects the people of its country there is always at least one issue that pushes society over the edge. That decision, which makes society say “enough is enough”.

The government’s plans to make the working class and poorest amongst us pay for their failings and the pandemic, can and must be the catalyst for the fightback.

The lowest paid and most vulnerable targeted

Public servants have rightly been applauded and hailed as heroes by politicians, employers and the public over the past 20 months. Providing vital services, often at great risk to themselves, has placed these “key workers” in the public eye like never before. Yet last Autumn, the Chancellor sent a shot across the bows that it is these same workers, who for months had been clapped on a Thursday and singled out for special praise, that would have to help foot the bill for the pandemic. A public sector pay freeze the first in a number of decisions, that showed the Tory mask was slipping.

Now, nearly a year on, we have seen in all its savagery the ideology that drives this government. The working class will pay, must pay, regardless of the consequences. On top of the attacks on our pay, the forecasts for rises in inflation, the proposed increased in NI contributions from next April, and now attacks to the benefits of the most vulnerable, see threats to our living standards the likes of which many haven’t seen since the 1970’s.

Let’s be clear, poverty and devastation will follow for millions unless this government is stopped and forced to back track from it’s ideologically driven agenda.

PCS has written to the Secretary of State for Social Security demanding the reversal of the Government’s decision to scrap the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit. In that letter the union’s General Secretary has quoted some feedback received from members as to what this cut to benefit will mean to them. Not only, as DWP workers expected to deliver the benefits system, what they will witness from the claimants they support, but as government workers who need to claim the very benefits they deliver, such are the low levels of their own pay. Some of the feedback received by the DWP group is heartbreaking and must be used to not only highlight the devastation these attacks will have on our members and the public, but to also build alliances and a coalition of activists, trade unionists, and community leaders that will take this fight on.

There has never been a more important time for the working class of the UK to rise up against a government hell bent on eroding the living standards for the majority. There has never been a better time to unite the 99%, putting aside sectarian differences for the good of those who will ultimately pay the price of division within our movement.

In the coming weeks members of PCS Left Unity will be engaging with members across DWP and other employer groups, about the union’s national campaign and seeking to build those wider alliances as we fight the attacks on the most vulnerable in our communities.

We urge every member to engage with the union and consider joining PCS Left Unity in our efforts to build the fight back that can win for members and society.

Martin Cavanagh

Celebrating the 85th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street

Whilst many PCS members attended the demonstration against the Tory Party Conference in defiance of austerity on Sunday 3rd October, I attended the 85th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street with my PCS flag. This event was important as the planned march by the British Union of Fascists under their leader, Oswald Mosley in 1936, was due to proceed. It was, initially, blocked by over 200,000 protesters from the Jewish and Irish communities that, initially, blocked Whitechapel High Street. As a result, Oswald Mosley’s 2,500 Black Shirts were outnumbered 10 to 1 and decided not to proceed with the march.

His ally, Benito Mussolini who was the fascist dictator of Italy, declared Mosley, a coward and stopped all funding of the British Union of Fascists. As a result, the movement was soon to crumble along with Mosley’s popularity. In the same year, King Edward VIII, a fascist sympathiser, abdicated. Without a doubt, it was a great victory to all the anti – fascist organisers which included Communists, Socialists, the local Jewish residents and the Irish dockers of the East End who were ready to fight Mosley’s Black Shirts. Sadly, Fascism and Nazism prevailed in much of Western Europe with Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy till 1945. In 1936, Franco declared a Civil War in Spain against the democratically elected Socialist Republican government and overthrew them within three years. Today, many Trade Unions are affiliated to the International Brigades Memorial Trust for the anti – fascist volunteers who lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War. I am a member of the IBMT.

The 85th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street was a very important day for me. I am second generation Irish and grew up in North London with many Jewish friends and neighbours. Hence, it is the reason that I carried the Irish flag with my own PCS flag and marched beside many Jewish groups on this important occasion. I am, also, a proud Socialist of Left Unity in PCS who campaigns for the rights of Disabled Workers within the TUC. I was the Secretary of Barnet Trades Union Council which has the largest Jewish population in Britain.

Today, the Far Right which consist of many groups such as Britain First, the English Defence League, the Football Lads Alliance and even the defunct National Front of the seventies, promote hatred and divisions amongst all working people. In PCS, it is important that we stand in solidarity against the Far Right as an injury to one is an injury to all! In my branch, there are a high percentage of PCS members who are Black as well as Muslim along with other faiths. As a PCS Union Representative, I believe it is vital that we stand up to racism, anti – semiticism, islamaphobia and ableism! This rally, also, makes links with the Bengali resistance to racism and fascism in East End in the seventies. In addition, I campaign against the Far Right in Ireland as well as internationally. PCS has a zero – tolerance policy against all forms of Far Right hatred including sectarianism! 

After we marched to the rally, we had a number of guest speakers including Apsana Begum MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP (Project for Peace and Justice), Rabbi Herschel Gluck, Mick Lynch (RMT General Secretary), Alex Gordon (RMT President), Massimo Ungaro MP (Italy), Amina Patel (Unison), Abdul Chowdhury (NEU), Noorahmed Uddin (Altab Ali Foundation), Joginder Bains (Indian Workers Association – GB) Julia Bard (Jewish Socialists’ Group), Rob Griffiths, (Communist Party), Weyman Bennet (Stand Up To Racism) Marlene Sidaway (International Brigades Memorial Trust), and relatives of the activists of 1936: Michael Rosen, Ruth Levitas, June Legg, and Tony Booth (Jewish Voice for Labour). All speakers made great contributions in reference to the Left which made a courageous stand against fascism, with the Jewish and Irish workers as their backbone. Today, all communities including the Bengalis, Muslims, Hindus and all faiths made a stand against the Far Right in this area!

Apsana Begum began by stating that she was a proud Socialist and Trade Unionist. She condemned the institutions that scapegoated immigrants all over Europe. Ms. Begum did not hesitate to state that the police were there in 1936 to protect the fascists. But their planned demonstration was blocked by the bravery of the anti – fascists. It is important that we continue this fight, today, as corruption, still, prevails in our police force. One of the police officers arrested, handcuffed, raped and murdered Sarah Everad. We must continue to hold the police accountable to natural justice. As a proud Bangladeshi MP of this area in Cable Street, she concluded “No Pasaran,” which is message against all Far Right people: “They shall not pass!”

As Jeremy Corbyn spoke, he thanked all those people who protested against fascism on 3rd October. He, also, condemned the discrediting of Apsana Begum in Parliament by many other MPs, especially as she represented this constituency of Cable Street in Parliament. Jeremy Corbyn stated that the Jewish and Irish communities came together in 1936, to say “They shall not pass!” He added that the Far Right wants to blame minorities for anything and referred to Grant Shapps, the Minister for the DVLA and DVSA as a prime example. Grant Shapps sent letters to MPs complaining of fuel shortage. Jeremy emphasised that fuel shortage can only be caused by poverty wages for workers, and the government should take the blame. Instead, Grant Shapps blamed it on the shortage of drivers because many Eastern Europeans came to Britain, ten years ago, by undercutting their wages. Shapps claims that they have gone home, recently, leaving a shortage of jobs for drivers. Corbyn made clear that it is another example of a right wing conservative government blaming immigrants!

From my own perspective, it is one of the many reasons that PCS members in the DVLA and DVSA are on Strike during the COVID 19 Pandemic. Full Credit for this industrial action goes to the PCS Branch members as well their Representative, Sarah Evans, and their Group President, Paul Williams, from Left Unity. Such scapegoating of immigrants amongst drivers must deliver a strong message to all the PCS members in their next ballot for industrial action!

Jeremy Corbyn added in his speech that it is fine to celebrate Black History Month. But we need to follow the example in the Welsh education curriculum of removing the teachings of the British Colonial past from our schools in order to further promote Black History Month. He concluded that we must give hope to the next generation not by free market economics but by building the communities with a hopeful future that society depends upon!

As I conclude, 85 years ago was a great victory for us! We need to continue these victories as the Far Right has not gone away! PCS under the leadership of Left Unity can deliver on this promise through actions and not, just, words! Solidarity! They shall not pass! No Pasaran!

Austin Harney

Climate Justice is Social Justice

‘Climate justice is social justice’ as Greta Thurnberg said. PCS has to be involved in the fight for climate justice as we are embedded in the fight for social justice.
On Saturday 18th September we joined with climate activists in Newcastle to raise awareness of the plight of our planet and the immediate need for action. People came together for a march and rally in the centre of the city to highlight the upcoming COP26 summit in November in Glasgow.
It was an uplifting occasion with a wide range of activists from many areas of expertise. We learned that action needs to be taken now, that unions need to be at the forefront of change and that alliances across unions and pressure groups can get results.
I had a representative from PCS DWP YMAC with me on the speakers platform, it was wonderful to show our unity by collaboration across the ages. This is an issue for all of us, for now and for future. We were proud to represent PCS, to meet sisters from other unions, on a great day for the fight for climate justice.

Bridget Corcoran

Below is Bridget’s speech.

I’m here today with Ethan, Georgia and Becca, to represent PCS union, the union for civil servants and commercial sector, affirming our support for climate justice.

We, as a union believe and support the campaign for climate justice because we recognise that it is social justice. We recognise that we need radical action now. The multiple crises we face are not going to be solved with more exploitation of people and the planet.

During the pandemic UK billionaire wealth grew 35%, UK foodbank use grew 33% – this confirms what we know – this is a government presiding over and extending already existing inequalities in our society.

In PCS we know, and our members know, that this government does not value people and the planet – it prefers quick profit, short sighted thinking and bombastic sloganeering.

At this time of ultimate global crisis, we need governments with principles, ethics and action to confront the climate crisis and to implement a radical workers led justice transition. Local and global justice must be at the heart of this transition, through people-owned decentralised energy systems, expansion of care services, locally sourced food and green affordable housing and public housing.

It can be done; but we will have to fight to make it happen. We will have to fight like never before. Unions are important in this fight bringing collective action, solidarity and coordination. If you are not a member of a union – please join. If you are a member – ask what your union is doing to support the COP26 Coalition and get active in your workplace to support climate justice. Join us in November to show our government and the global governments that climate justice matters, and it matters now. 

Massive vote to strike by driving examiners

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic Driving Examiners, who are members of PCS, were subjected to delivering driving tests where social distancing could not be introduced within a car. It was only at the insistence of the Government with the two national lockdowns that Driving Examiners were finally sent home and driving tests were suspended. Even when this happened many of our Driving Examiner members volunteered to help deliver NHS staff to COVID centres, hospitals, or deliver medical equipment etc on a voluntary basis. Of course, our union also ensured those Examiners that were clinically extremely vulnerable were kept at home, given the lack of social distancing.

During the period when Tiering was introduced i.e. where COVID restrictions were put in place in different towns and regions, our members were still forced to carry on delivering tests.

As a result of the pandemic a backlog of some 400,000 driving tests have built up over 18 months. DVSA’s response at first, was to hire some 200 new Examiners, whose terms and conditions are far worse than the existing terms and conditions, they included Saturdays and Sundays with no real restrictions on how far they travel. Perhaps most significantly is a clause in that contract which allows them to be sacked when the backlog is cleared.

On top of this DVSA, Grant Shapps, and his Ministers have introduced changes to the HGV driving test, this included passing our work to the private sector, and introducing more HGV tests per day. All of this puts the health safety and wellbeing of our members at risk.

Their whole reason for this was apparently due to a shortage of HGV drivers, however driving tests are not the main reason for the shortage of HGV drivers. This is due to a number of other factors, Brexit, the change in delivery services during the pandemic with many HGV drivers swapping poor pay and conditions and delivering for Amazon etc, and a backlog in HGV training which is solely sat with the private sector. So, giving more work to the private sector to deliver more tests will add, not decrease the problems. In a significant and provocative move Shapps has now announced that Military Driving Examiners will also carry out HGV tests.

Above all DVSA and Government Ministers have continued with the same targets they had pre- COVID-19. As a result of this they have introduced a situation where they want Driving Examiners to work 8 car tests per day instead of 7 car tests. This has meant taking no notice of the stress already suffered by members and is attempting to increase their workload. PCS has argued hard and fast to stop this nonsense and to have a full health and wellbeing timing study conducted which takes account of all that our members do during their day, not just driving tests. This has been completely ignored and DVSA have taken forward their 8th test schedule. When doing this they have enforced changes to our part time and partially retired members employment contracts, making them work longer or taking no notice of their existing contractual arrangements. Road Safety is being completely ignored, and all of this is being introduced on top of announcing a pay freeze.

On that basis we have balloted all of our Driving Examiners (some 900 of them). Although, we did not ballot members over the HGV issues (as these were introduced after our ballot began), all Driving Examiners are employed as car Driving Examiners so our dispute will include those carrying out HGV tests.

Our demands are simple and realistic.

  • That an eight-test schedule will not be introduced without the agreement of PCS
  • That DVSA reach agreement with PCS on measures to ensure that the introduction of the Eight Test Schedule does not represent an unacceptable risk in relation to the health, safety, and wellbeing of our members, of candidates and of other road users
  • That DVSA reach agreement with PCS on any changes to existing contractual terms and conditions of staff, established through custom and practice and / or explicit contractual terms, arising from the introduction of an Eight Test Schedule

Our ballot has now finished, and the result is a historic one for PCS.

With the members entitled to vote in the ballot, we have had an 82% turnout with 92% of our 1100 members voting for strike action, and around 96% voting for action short of strike. This shows the strength of feeling that now exists amongst Driving Examiners.

In true DVSA fashion they have continued to try and implement the 8th test schedule and therefore we have announced national strike action on the 18th/19th October with Regional strikes in further weeks following this.

There can be no doubt that the ballot result has shocked both Government Ministers and DVSA officials, we should not rule out further talks or action, as the aim of decreasing a backlog looks very much like it will do the opposite and increase.

For activists and members of this Union we should note that Left Unity activists have been at the forefront of this dispute.

Our message is simple – our members will not pay for the COVID pandemic which has affected all of us, we will not work longer and harder for less!!

Paul Williams DfT group President