by Steve Ryan
Workers in HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) contact centres have voted massively to take strike action. Interestingly in a time of recession, the strike is not about pay, but conditions. Over the past few years the government policy of handing over public services to private sector managers (usually failed ones ) has led to a deterioration in working conditions, call centres being a prime example.
The centres are desperately understaffed meaning workers are micro-managed to achieve impossible turn-around times. Toilet breaks etc. are strictly monitored and bosses swan around with walkie talkies to chase up workers who appear to have been off line too long. Even so only half of calls are answered and a recent TV programme on HMRC was deeply critical of the service provided.
On top of this the bosses are seeking to restrict if not abolish cherished terms such as flexi. Leave is already severly restricted.
The strike raises several points:
That there needs to be a link up between public and private workers in dispute, Too often even union bosses imply that conditions in the public sector are generous, leading to division amongst workers. The argument should be that ALL workers need a decent working enviroment, pensions and decent pay. The example of HMRC call centre shows how bad private management practice is, not how good the public sector is.
As with Visteon, Dundee workers are fighting back around conditions of work and the bosses’ attempts to make workers pay for the recession. They are again as in the past starting to draw conclusions about how work could and should be ordered. Patient arguments therefore need to be put that strikes such as this, whilst an excellent example of fighting back, need to be developed into an understanding that the attacks will continue until workers themselves control and manage the offices, shops and factories.
The strike should be supported fully and links should be made as above, and with private call centre workers.
Victory will knock back the argument that private is best, enhance a public service that deals with some of the most vunerable in society and give confidence to private sector workers to fight back. The space developing for arguing for workers’ self managemnt and a communist future should not be missed.