Bermuda Triangle of the Civil Service
Hastings, best known for the battle of 1066, saw trade unionists rally to support a fellow member at the weekend. Report by Fiona Harrington
Over 150 trade-unionists and supporters of the Reinstate Sam Buckley campaign gathered in bright sunshine near Hastings Pier to march through the town centre for a rally to defend union representation.
The rally was organised in response to a call from Public and Commercial Services Union in Hastings to offer support to union representative Sam Buckley. Buckley was sacked by the Child Support Agency (CSA) due to his union activities and the principled stand he took in relation to management abuses and victimisation of active trade unionists within the CSA. The agency is the largest employer in the town and is notorious for its intimidating tactics against employees who join the PCS union and become active representatives within it. In fact the PCS national conference, which passed a motion offering total support to the Hastings branch, described CSA Hastings as "the Bermuda Triangle of the civil service because of the way anyone who stands up to management bullying disappears"! The union has called for Sam Buckley's reinstatement and that of the other union members. It is demanding a full public enquiry by the House of Commons DWP Select Committee into the bullying behaviour of CSA management.
Sam is the fifth branch officer of the PCS to be sacked by the CSA in the last two and a half years. Since it is illegal under EU law to sack anyone simply for union membership or active union participation, charges against them have had to be trumped up in order to get rid of these "troublesome" people. Under-handed methods have also been used such as the "fixing" of minutes of a disciplinary meeting.
In the case of Chris Brambleby, the minutes in question had already been used in the sacking of Winston - and THEN an altered version of the same minutes was used against Chris more than a year later. As Sam says "it wasn't simply management's traditional tactics of producing official minutes that bear no relation to what was said in the meeting - that is pretty much standard."
Debbie Craddock is about to be out of work for the second time in two years. Back in June 2008 she was sacked from her job at the Hastings offices of the Child Support Agency, where she had been secretary of the Public and Commercial Services trade union. “The reason I was sacked is a long story,” she says. Her dismissal was part of management’s campaign to destroy union representation in the Hastings CSA.
She found a new job in the National Health Service as a community bridge builder assisting those recovering from mental health problems get back to an active life.
But in August she was made redundant. “First I was a victim of the campaign against trade unionists working for the CSA in Hastings. Now I am a victim of government cuts,” she said after the rally.
“I came to support Sam Buckley and to keep the campaign going against CSA management’s attempts to destroy the union. If they keep on sacking people who are union representatives, who will be next?” she warns.
“They are doing it to destroy the union. What has happened in Hastings has not happened in CSA offices elsewhere.
“Talking to my colleagues, we realise that once these cuts go through, people who need us to help them will have no one else to go to. People’s Assemblies are a way for everyone to get involved and have a voice.”
One person described to me the 'climate of fear' which existed on the part of trade-unionist employees of the CSA which made regional and national support so vital. For that reason and in order to display solidarity with our union colleagues in Hastings in the face of the appalling treatment they were receiving, the hundred strong demonstration mustered on the pier and moved off with banners flying to chants of 'reinstate Sam' to march around part of the town.
After the march, speaker after speaker condemned the CSA and vowed support to Sam and his colleagues. Government cuts were also referred to, which in an area with very high unemployment, will prove utterly disastrous. Sam welcomed and thanked supporters, then detailed the background to his case and those of the other sacked employees, followed by other PCS members and local Labour councillors. Corinna Lotz of a World to Win spoke powerfully, making reference especially to the lack of principle on the part of the TUC as well as condemning government actions and explaining the principles behind AWTW's proposal of building People's Assemblies. Messages of support were received from Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS union and from John McDonnell, left wing Labour MP.
Sam closed the rally saying he had been "touched and heartened" by the support. The turnout could perhaps have been larger given the seriousness of the issues involved, however there was no shortage of determination and enthusiasm on the part of the participants.
As well as people from the Hastings area, members of the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party were joined by a members of A World to Win, PCS, UNISON, and other trade unions, all of whom has travelled down from London and Croydon to take a stand against bullying bosses and to make clear their conviction that basic workers rights cannot be tampered with.
Ultimately this alone will be insufficient. Workers need to move beyond the politics of protest to take full control of their work and their lives rather than reacting to abuses as they occur. This is something which is becoming increasingly understood generally and the fact was certainly not lost on the people who gathered in Hastings town last Saturday.
19 September 2010