1960s >> 1968 >> no-766-june-1968

Unions in the Civil Service

A branch committee member of one of the civil service unions describes how civil servants, too, are members of the working class:

Many workers have some odd prejudices about the civil service and those who work in it. They imagine workers employed to help run the capitalist state machine do less work, are higher paid and have better conditions of employment than any other section of the working class. Workers who believe this should ask themselves one question: Why do civil servants organise themselves into trade unions? The answer, of course, is simple. Civil servants, like other workers, are faced with the various problems involved in being a member of the working class. In fact, it is interesting to note that about 8 out of 10 non-manual workers in state employment belong to trade unions.

Most of the unions to which civil servants belong are called “associations” but this does not alter the fact that they have basically the same function as any other trade union, namely, to protect and improve the working conditions of their members. One such union is the Civil Service Clerical Association (C.S.C.A.) which, although affiliated to the TUC, is not (to the members’ credit) linked with the Labour Party. It has about 160,000 members and covers workers employed in such jobs as Clerical Officers (some of the lowest paid workers in the country) and typists. Its members also include minority civil service grades such as Air Traffic Control Assistants and Teleprinter Operators.

You might think that working at an international airport like Heathrow is glamourous and exciting but the items which the CSCA London Air Traffic Control Centre branch deals with are all too familiar to workers in any job, i.e., wages, hours worked, fatigue breaks, etc., etc. Although the branch has about 150 members there is the usual disturbing problem of apathy and the branch is mainly run by the efforts of the active members on the branch committee. At the same time workers employed there do just as much grumbling and groaning as anywhere else, even about the supposed inactivity of the union.

In local union negotiations the class struggle which takes place between capitalist and worker tends to be obscured by the myriad of staff regulations and by the two sides being called the “official” and the “staff” side. But the official side can be just as uncompromising and obstructive as any other employer. In a recent “rate-for-the-job” dispute the union was demanding an allowance for workers doing a job previously done by a higher-paid civil service grade. The official side, in true capitalist fashion, delayed and side-tracked the issue for as long as possible whilst unrest grew amongst the workers. The deliberately complicated procedures for settling pay claims means also that rises are often subject to long delays which are obviously in the interests of the employers.

Despite apathy in the branch, active members are often aware of their position as wage and salary earners and a glance at the CSCA Conference Agenda confirms this. There are several healthy resolutions on pay, hours and strike policy.