Thousands answer Whitehall strike call

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The Independent Online
BEEFEATERS at the Tower of London, tax office staff and passport processers were among civil servants throughout Britain who staged a 24-hour stoppage yesterday in protest at privatisation.

Union leaders estimated that more than 80 per cent of their 300,000 members stopped work in the biggest national strike by civil servants for more than a decade.

Some union activists privately expressed surprise at the degree of backing for the action, aimed at forcing the Government to call a halt to 'market-testing'. Leaders of the six unions involved meet next week to plan the next stage in the campaign, which could involve stoppages in selected departments.

Yesterday's strike closed 286 benefit offices - more than half the total - as well as hundreds of other government buildings.

Civil servants at the offices of William Waldegrave, the minister responsible for organising private bids for public services, were among those taking action. Picket lines were seen in Whitehall for the first time in years, but it was conceded that 'front line' government services to the public in central London were the least affected. One of the few groups of workers to receive union dispensation to carry on working were officials at Preston Crown Court, where two boys are accused of the abduction and murder of Jamie Bulger.

Union leaders calculate that 7,000 jobs have been lost since the Government began testing Whitehall functions against private sector competition. They say the quality of service has also deteriorated.

Barry Reamsbottom, leader of CPSA, the largest Civil Service union, said the strike was a shot scross the Government's bows: 'When a moderate union like the CPSA is forced to take strike action, the Government really should


John Sheldon, general secretary of NUCPS, the union covering middle managers, said he was delighted with the response to the strike call, but Mr Waldegrave said the public sector could not be immune to the 'pressures for efficiency which so many people in the private sector have been under'.

Photograph: page 2