Sheffield PCS beats off vicitmisation

Management back down in face of strike action

DWP activist Lee Rock has had his penalty for serious misconduct quashed on appeal. Lee was one of a number of activists in the department victimised for his trade union activity.

Lee appeared on the BBC news programme Look North when 800 benefit claims disappeared in transit from Sheffield to the North East.

Despite identifying himself on the programme as a PCS rep, BDC management used the programme as an opportunity to victimise a key branch rep. Lee had appeared earlier in the Sheffield Star exposing the problems on crisis loans caused by staffing cuts. Supported by Benefits and Fraud boss, Couling, this was to be DWPs revenge.

Sheffield Branch from the outset saw this as an attack on the entire union. The Branch collected a petition signed by thousands of members throughout the union. Crucially, the branch committee agreed that members must be balloted for industrial action in defence of those victimised.

Simultaneous with Lee’s case, Branch Secretary Steve Lloyd has faced three management investigations related to his union activity in just five months. In the first he was accused of misconduct on a picket line in December 2007. When interviewed for the first time in April he was told that the complaint against him had already been upheld! Neither Steve, nor the other picket present, had even been interviewed. More complaints and calls for investigations by disgruntled managers have followed but have been exposed as anti-union attacks on one of the more effective branches in DWP.

The branch carried out an unofficial ballot in all workplaces, leading to an overwhelming vote for strike action against the victimisation of Lee Rock and harassment of Steve Lloyd.

It is in this context that the u-turn from management has to be viewed. The letter from the Appeals Manager includes the following:

‘After considering the evidence I find that there is no case to answer and I therefore uphold your appeal and overturn the penalty imposed.

In making my decision, I accept your points of dispute that;

* during the BBC interview you did not disclose any information that was not already in the public domain
* you did not breach confidentiality and gave your opinions as a Trade Union representative acting on behalf of PCS
* you did not state that you were a representative of the Department
* you do not need permission to take part in Trade Union activities in your own time

Lee and Steve were singled out as they organise against management attacks be they office closures with threatened Chapeltown Jobcentre voting for strike action or on personal cases. In just the past few months they have successfully had reinstated two sacked members and defended dozens more from warnings and dismissal.

The lesson from this is that the best way to defend activists from victimisations is through the organisation of industrial action. We must make use all available avenues in the appeals process but they must be backed up by the organisation of strike action where that can be delivered.

Independent Left welcomes this victory. It points the way to the kind of organisation and leadership we need.

Reproduced from the Independent Left website

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