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Volume 49 Number 6, April 13, 2019 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Ealing Tax Workers Militantly Continue with Strikes

Since their strike on March 20, Ealing tax workers at HMRC have continued with their militant actions. This is happening at time when civil servants are generally being balloted for industrial action[1].

International House in Ealing is threatened by closure. More than 150 PCS union members walked out of this office at noon on March 20, in the first action there in five years.

The PCS union website reported that General Secretary Mark Serwotka spoke at a rally near International House, which could close as early as 2020. "If management think this is a one off, they should hear us loud and clear - this strike will carry on as long as you are prepared to support it and we will be with you all the way," he said. "You got over the government's laws that make strikes like these as hard as possible. And by a massive majority, you said we are not going to take it and that you will go on strike today, next week and into the future to get a resolution."

On that occasion more than 84% voted in favour of striking, and 95% backed action short of a strike in a ballot. This was followed by walkouts on March 26 and April 3, for which PCS reported "great community and political support". There is also an overtime ban in place.

"I send you my 100% support for the action you are taking," said Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. "Your campaign has my backing because you are seeking to ensure that the vital public service you provide locally is not undermined".

PCS said that HMRC has already lost tens of thousands of years of tax experience as a direct result of its misnamed "Building our Future" proposals[2], which will see 90% of HMRC offices closed and replaced by fewer than 20 "regional centres and specialist sites". The National Audit Office has also forecast a further 5,000 job losses and said that the costs of redundancy and travel had tripled from £17 million to £54 million due to this programme.

In defending their jobs and livelihoods, the tax workers are defending the value of the work they do and their accumulated experience, which is crucial for the functioning of society as presently organised. Workers and the public recognise the need to gather revenue to fund social programmes as essential for their well-being.

From the workers' independent standpoint, renewal of how government claims revenue, and for what purpose this revenue is used, is required as a key part of changing the direction of the economy. If, rather than the present system of individual and corporate taxation, this claim were made directly on the value workers produce at the point of production, then first place could be given to the needs of society itself rather than narrow competing private interests. The collective experience of revenue workers would be invaluable if put to this end.

Yet this important human factor is being cut back; the "Building our Future" plans, as the Tax Justice Network explains[3], are based on the notion "that change could still deliver the service required on a lower budget".

Such cuts can be seen as more than cuts; they are part of the restructuring of the state. That article tells us: "Since the HMRC was formed in 2005 as a merger between the Inland Revenue and HM Customs, the department has been subject to a series of internal reorganisations and change programmes. The current proposals formulated by HMRC management... are the most radical and far reaching changes proposed so far."

The PCS last year exposed that: "The '2020 vision'... involved the mass, compulsory transfer of staff working on Tax Credits to the new [Department of Work and Pensions] Universal Credit. Commitments made to staff were subsequently broken by the DWP, who said that, other than the staff who had transferred over already, no further managed moves were required for HMRC staff. This had the consequence of leaving thousands of members effectively stranded in sites facing closure, meaning the prospect of redundancy for those unable to travel to any of the retained offices."

This is the context of the current struggle at Ealing. The notorious Universal Credit is itself a part of the anti-social offensive brought in under austerity and part of an increasingly arbitrary and inhuman set of arrangements being brought into being.

"Building our Future" boasts of "a bold vision for the future of HMRC: a flexible, highly-skilled workforce, using smart data and innovative digital systems to prevent error, root out tax evasion, avoidance and fraud and maximise revenues". The aim is to create new methods of particularly individual taxation that are part of a state functioning to enforce compliance through digital means, but with an anti-social consciousness that people are a cost. The move towards operating in an increasingly mechanical and dehumanised way is part of how the state is becoming restructured around politicised private interests and becoming ever-more arbitrary.

An example of the increasing method of imposition is the intransigence of the employer in this very dispute. PCS warn that if they are met with continued refusal, a three-day strike was on the cards for April 10-12. Workers' Weekly wishes the Ealing tax workers success in their struggle to defend their office, the value of their work and their years of experience.

Notes

[1] See "Civil servants aim to break through government's arbitrary wage freeze policy", Workers' Weekly, Volume 49 Number 3, March 2, 2019, http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-19/ww19-03/ww19-03-06.htm

[2] HMRC, "Building our Future: Transforming the way HMRC serves the UK", July 2015, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/450017/BoF_-_Transforming_the_way_HMRC_serves_the_UK_-_2015.pdf

[3] George Turner, "New Report: HMRC's "Building our Future" programme", November 16, 2016, Tax Justice Network, https://www.taxjustice.net/2016/11/16/new-report/

[4] PCS, "Building our Future - Even further changes made to the estates plans", August 20, 2018, https://www.pcs.org.uk/pcs-in-hm-revenue-and-customs-group/latest-news/building-our-future-even-further-changes-made-to-the; and with other files from PCS.


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