Today’s strike action by the Public and Commercial Services Union over cuts to redundancy pay involves “up to” 270,000 people across the country, as the BBC notes. But it may be a lot less, if the mood music I’m hearing is anything to go by.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka carefully defended his union’s actions on the Today programme this morning, drawing a line between Whitehall’s well-paid Sir Humphreys and his members, most of whom earn less than the median UK wage of about £21,000 and many of whom earn less than £15,000.
But those members are themselves unsure as to whether they should resist what some see as an unstoppable agenda of public spending cuts, no matter who gets into power. 64 per cent of voting PCS members chose to strike, on a turnout of just 31 per cent.
One militant yes-voter told me: “I don’t feel I can strike on such a lukewarm mandate. I do think there is a growing acceptance on worsening terms and conditions. I think a lot would rather have slightly less if they get laid off rather than face a greater chance of getting laid off”.
They added that they couldn’t afford to lose two days’ pay, and, because the cuts are targeted to hit the higher earners harder, they wouldn’t lose out too badly personally anyway.
If this sort of view is widespread, its bad news for the PCS for two reasons:
1) This was to be their big ticket dispute with government this year, and support is already flagging, judging by the turnout if nothing else.
2) It suggests that the trade union argument for public investment instead of cuts hasn’t won over the PCS membership, never mind the electorate. If civil servants don’t want to protect their terms and conditions, who else will?
Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell has written to civil servants in no uncertain terms: