Labour Research October 2004

Features: Congress

Public sector unites

A sense of unity in the face of civil service job cuts and growing private sector involvement brought public sector unions together at Congress to condemn the government's approach.

Big spending increases in heath and education were welcomed but unions warned that it is being "creamed off" by private finance initiative (PFI) and public private partnership (PPP) projects, even though these often fail to deliver quality and value.

Delegates cheered when public services union UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis highlighted the problem of infections in the health service, saying: "Don't blame nurses for not washing their hands - blame hospitals that for the last 20 years have washed their hands of their cleaning contract".

Union anger over job cuts will come to a head on 5 November when the largest civil service union, PCS, is planning a day of strike action. General secretary Mark Serwotka appealed for a co-ordinated campaign and industrial action if necessary.

He warned that the government was in danger of repeating the mistakes of British Airways, which "cut staff to the bone" and suffered queues and cancellations as a result.

Civil service job cuts were seen by Congress as an attack on public sector workers generally: "If successful, the government's plan will be used as a blueprint for the rest of the public sector and as a green light to press ahead with the creeping commercialisation of public services."