PCS strike: “democratic right” or “militant behaviour”?

The decision by the Scottish parliament & Welsh assembly to suspend all business as a result of strike action by the PCS union has drawn criticism from the CBI.

The decisions by the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly to suspend all business as a result of strike action by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has drawn criticism from the CBI. In Scotland, Labour and Scottish National Party MSPs took the decision not to cross the picket lines of striking workers at Holyrood, causing all business at the Parliament to be cancelled.

In a statement, a spokesman for Scottish Labour said:

Labour postponed its group meeting today till later in the week. It has been up to each individual MSP to make their own decision. Iain Gray did not come into the parliament today. Instead he brought forward business in his constituency. The committee conveners consulted with colleagues from all parties and the decision was made to hold them on another day.”

While the SNP said:

“No meetings of the SNP group have been cancelled and all SNP MSPs are working whether in Parliament or in their constituencies.”

However, CBI Scotland have attacked the decision of all but one MSP from either Labour or the SNP to turn up to Holyrood during the dispute. Ian McMillan, director of CBI Scotland, said:

“The Scottish Parliament is the seat of democracy. There is a duty on the members of parliament to make every effort to keep the parliament open and to conduct the business they are supposed to do. If they don’t turn up, they risk aiding and abetting this kind of militant behaviour throughout the civil service.”

In Wales, meanwhile, both Labour and Plaid Cymru assembly members joined picketing PCS staff in their protest over plans to save £500 million over three years by reducing payouts made to civil servants facing redundancy. In attacking the move – which saw the regular questioning of first minister Carwyn Jones cancelled – David Rosser, director of the CBI in Wales said:

“It would have been nice to see more leadership shown by our national politicians. At a time when the Government is urging all public sector bodies to make savings in order to protect services, this sends out completely the wrong message.”

In response, Labour AM Jeff Cuthbert, who chairs the Unite the Union group at Cardiff, said:

“They have a right, a democratic right, to organise industrial action and we will respect that. I hope it’s not necessary for further action, but we will see.

In explaining their support for striking assembly staff, Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood said:

“There is no doubt the deficit needs to be reduced but the question is who should pay for that.”

In the spirit of Ms Woods’s remarks, the prime minister announced leading public sector managers, civil servants and officials would face pay freezes in 2010/11, dubbed by “mean spirited” by those affected. As public sector spending becomes ever more squeezed, as is inevitable under whichever party wins the election, the question will be not so much a matter of whether to make painful decisions, but where and to whom.

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