Eastern Avenue: tales from the picket line

PCS members based at the jobcentre on Eastern Avenue, Sheffield, have taken a second full week of strike action over the threatened closure of their office this week.  In a blog written by the branch, they tell us what has been happening on the picket line and how members have been responding to the strike.

Day 1 - Monday

Despite management attempts to ramp up the pressure on Eastern Avenue members a very well-attended picket line of more than 30 watched only a handful of staff cross the line today.  Some of those had been brought in from other sites by management.

Today was a beautiful sunny day and although we remembered our placards and leaflets, some of us should have remembered our suncream.

Day 2 - Tuesday

Another fantastic turnout today with a good number of Eastern Avenue members, PCS support from Nottingham, the Labour party, Green party, De Hood, Unite the Community and others.

Even fewer staff went in today, meaning that the jobcentre would be completely closed over lunchtime.

The press coverage is getting better now with news items on Look North this morning. If it hadn’t been for HS2 I think we’d have even more coverage.

We’ve been getting letters of support from everywhere and the donations to our branch funds have reached thousands of pounds. We’re going to keep the letters of support, donation amounts and press cuttings in one place so members can see just how far we have come and how well we are doing.

Other branches and unions are looking to us as to what can be achieved and are taking encouragement from everything we have done so far.

Day 3

Every day the branch is proud and a little overwhelmed by the continuing (and growing) support from members at Eastern Avenue.

Today we beat yesterday's record of members from Eastern Avenue on the picket line and an individual PCS member came all the way from Derby to show his support!

Being on picket duty is a great way to get to know your colleagues.  One member said: “You find out more about the colleagues you work with in five minutes on the picket line than you would do in five weeks in work!”

One of the highlights of today was a film crew making a documentary on austerity, foodbanks and the human impact of threatened closures like ours. This will be aired on Sheffield Live, the Showroom Cinema and You Tube shortly.

We also had a puppy picketer, which went down well. Despite the fact she slept all the way.

Management have insinuated that we are harming customers by going on strike and holding them back by not making them go into town. The idea being that if they went into town more this would benefit them and broaden their horizons – how patronising. And how would people with health issues and caring responsibilities view this? Maybe management are right, maybe they should all ‘Get on their bikes’. Maybe not.

There was also the veiled suggestion that Eastern Avenue staff had themselves to blame and that our office’s performance had been....not so good. This is clearly just an attempt by management to deflect blame away from the decision.

Day 4

The typically fickle British summer weather struck today and the heavens opened, but despite the good weather deserting us the support didn't.

There were no puppies today, but we did have a canine presence again with a trainee assistance dog standing on the line.

Management shipped in more staff from other sites as Eastern Avenue members held firm: a clear sign they are struggling to manage the impact of a concerted strike effort.

Also, management today claimed that they are supporting the vulnerable by crossing the picket line to continue the service. But if they have their way, the long term service to our community will disappear.

We were also told that customers had expressed a willingness and even desire to sign in Sheffield in the future. Again this seems entirely contradictory to comments from people we have spoken to, received signatures from for petitions and leafleted since the threat of closure. Local community groups, MPs and councillors also share our position.

Day 5

The final day of the current week's action started ominously grey and fears of another drenching akin to the previous day reared its head, but the weather instead decided to smile on us and stayed dry.

As for the picket line itself, the turnout from all areas was inspirational. The picket lines have been consistently strong and unwavering throughout the entire period of action. Again, the members and the supporters in this campaign can hold their heads up high.
This is more impressive against the immediate backdrop of the hammer blow announcement that management have seemingly ignored the points put to them in the consultation phase to keep the site open and are instead carrying on regardless of opposition, common sense and fairness by trying to close the site.

Following the announcement we fully believe management expected everyone to just let our heads drop, say 'alright then' and just get back to work. They were very wrong.

On a lighter note we had two of our youngest pickets to date as one Eastern Avenue member arrived with her two children who then set about getting passing cars to show their support through honking and posing alongside the PCS Young Members’ Network banner. We also had a surprise appearance from the Sheffield Socialist Choir who provided a mini concert of trade union songs in support of the Eastern Avenue strikers.

Keeping the musical direction we also heard today we have agreement for our Save Eastern Avenue banner to be displayed in the Peace Gardens during the Tramlines Festival. We couldn't ask for better publicity.

Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh also took time out of a busy diary to show her support and talk to the pickets today. During which time she confirmed a meeting had been arranged with her and the local reps to meet the district manager again.

And last, but by no means least we did indeed have cake. A tasty reward for those attending on our final day (for now) lovingly prepared by a rep from one of our sister sites in Sheffield.

The fight continues and there will be a members’ meeting to formulate the next steps on Tuesday.

Support the strikers by donating to the PCS Fighting Fund.



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