Why Bureaucracy Broke our Hearts on 14 February 2014

Guest blog by Ian Morgan (Manchester Centre President of the Association of Revenue & Customs)

Hello – I’m Ian and I’m a committed trade union campaigner.  The members of my union (Association of Revenue & Customs or “ARC”) are all senior professionals working in HM Revenue & Customs.  We’re not faceless bureaucrats but real people striving every day to secure the funds which build schools, hospitals, libraries and playgrounds.  Our work knits the social fabric of the UK and delivers for the nation.

#ARC14FebOn February 14 2014, with sterling support from our sister unions, we took our first independent strike action against HMRC in an effort to do our jobs free from the tangle of bureaucracy.  Our dispute stemmed from the Civil Service Reform plan, specifically our new performance appraisal system, and review of our employee terms and conditions.  Both elements were imposed by our employer, refusing arbitration by ACAS, and despite our serious concerns about issues like:

  • link to pay and dismissal
  • no independent appeal process
  • cost and level of bureaucracy when resources are limited
  • greater risk for staff with protected characteristics
  • longer working hours in London, and less sick pay and annual leave nationally, for all new staff and (bizarrely) when existing staff are promoted.

Just under 2300 eligible ARC members were balloted between Dec 2013 -Jan 2014, commanding a respectable turnout of 48%.  This reflected a comprehensive campaign by trade union activists, both nationally and at local branch level.  Of those members exercising their ballot vote, 58% were in favour of strike action and 78% voted for work to rule.

#ARC14Feb 2ARC chose February 14 to launch our strike action, with a strong “broken heart” theme branded across placards, stickers and Valentine’s Day postcards.  They illustrated our sadness and frustration, not just that the new systems are unfair and unjustified for HMRC employees, but because they are also a massive distraction from our work in closing the UK tax gap and helping defeat the deficit – so vital to the UK in these times of austerity.  Last year we delivered an extra £20.7 billion into Exchequer coffers, enough to fund the cost of primary healthcare for the whole of the UK, and the lion’s share of that came from ARC members.  That’s why we think we deserve a fair performance system and a fair deal.

Like our fellow members throughout the UK, on February 14s Day of action.  ARC received some fantastic coverage in the national press, including sympathetic articles in tax publications, and members of the public up and down the country stopped to chat with the pickets or went on their way sporting our broken heart stickers!

Many more ARC members supported the strike quietly at home or with their families.  Each and every one of them were stars – we all know that industrial action is never easy but is proof positive of our commitment, both to our union and to our duties as public servants.  As a union we are small in number, but we do have a voice and hopefully a strong one.

The Manchester picketers were pleased to reconvene later in the day on 14 February in the much warmer surroundings of the Left Bank cafe bar at the People’s History Museum, always our preferred planning HQ.  Our Twitter photo was taken on its doorstep and I’m now proud to post my guest blog here, as a more detailed record of our campaign.  I hope that readers agree it connects with the museum’s story of ideas worth fighting for, during its Play Your Part project.

Advertisements

Matchsticks, Maggie, and a mistake!

At 10.00am on a Friday morning 30 children file into the factory.  They’re late…. Very late.  The foreman barks the instructions at them – Mr Bryant and Mr May will not be happy if they talk, run, or work at someone else’s job.  They must make as many matches as possible and they will be fined if they break any of the rules.  Silence descends.  The counters count out 20 match sticks, the dippers dip them into the phosphorous, the fillers take them out again, and the packers tie them into small bundles.  They earn a mere 3d for each bundle of matches.  They don’t make many bundles. 

At the PHM the Learning Team faces the challenge of taking complex, challenging subject matter and making it accessible for children and adults of all ages and abilities.  Fortunately we have a team of brilliant and talented freelance actors, artists, writers and directors who we work with to bring our stories and collections to life.  The 30 children struggling to make matches were just a few of the thousands of learners each year who participate in our popular Living History workshops.  They were taking part in our Strike a Light! session and would go on to meet Maggie McCallow, a Victorian match girl involved in the strike of 1888.

Meet Maggie McCallow

Meet Maggie McCallow

125 years ago today a group of female workers at the Bryant and May match factory in London went on strike to demand better working conditions and pay.  The white phosphorous used in the production of the matches led to a horrific disease called ‘phossy jaw’, they worked 14 hour days and were fined excessively.  Social activist Annie Besant became involved and after three weeks the strike succeeded. 

Maggie tells the story better than I do!  Come along to our free public performance of Strike a Light! – A Match Girl’s Story tomorrow at 1.15pm to find out more.

 

If you can’t make the performance, then we have a permanent display dedicated to the Match Girls’ Strike in Main Gallery One.  See if you can spot the typo….

Life in a Box - find out more about the Match Girls' Strike in Main Gallery One

Life in a Box – find out more about the Match Girls’ Strike in Main Gallery One

Oops! Spot the typo

Oops! Spot the typo

Groups can book a performance of Strike a Light! or any of our Living History workshops by emailing learning@phm.org.uk or calling the Learning Team on 0161 838 9190. For full details see our Learning Programme.

Just in case anyone was about to report us to Health and Safety – our ‘phosphorous’ is actually plasticine!