Thousands of federal public servants escalated their enterprise bargaining dispute in a series of half-day strikes between 18 and 26 June. Up to 2,000 attended a stop-work meeting in Melbourne, 1,500 in Canberra and several hundred in Sydney.

Worryingly, the Community and Public Sector Union leadership made no commitment to further cross-agency strikes. A motion passed at the mass meetings committed only to “strategic” industrial action “as required”.

The next step in our campaign is handing out information flyers to the public when they interact with government services. Unfortunately, only a minority of workers are in public roles. And this government has shown that it’s not afraid of negative public opinion unless it’s backed up by action.

This is why strikes are our best tool. Without customs, agriculture and environment workers, imports and exports would stall, new mines and projects would be unable to start. The government wants Australian capitalism running smoothly. Strikes across the public sector can disrupt this in a way that passive community support for our demands cannot.

The union pitched these strikes as the biggest commonwealth public service action in a generation. This is impressive, but with most members having little industrial experience, also set up an important challenge for the union: to convince members of the importance of striking. The CPSU made little effort to do this, instead describing the strikes as a reluctant “last resort”, with participation encouraged but optional. 

Since our agreements expired, our campaign has won some concessions. We will retain current superannuation payments, and wage offers are now closer to 1.5 percent a year, with fewer losses to conditions, than the initial 1 percent offer.

On the other hand, 160,000 public servants have each lost hundreds or thousands of dollars in real wages, as inflation eats into salaries that have not increased in nearly two years. And while a total of 17,000 jobs have been lost since September 2013, enterprise agreement offers put to most departments include longer working hours and reduced leave for those remaining.

Longer and bigger strikes across the public service are needed to protect our pay and conditions. The CPSU should commit to further cross-agency strikes to build on existing momentum. It also needs to do the necessary organising work to ensure strike participation increases.