Building links

The National Education Union (NEU) is calling for a 5% pay increase for school staff. They are talking of strike action as well.  Of course our pay demand is for 5%, albeit with an underpin of £1,200. Leaving aside that both pay claims don’t make much sense (in PCS, if we won 5% then pay would become more unequal as each department is on different pay rates.), it is clear that we should band together, if we can, with the NEU.

Indeed in many ways they are the perfect match for us. If they take action and close schools then a lot of civil servants have to stay home and look after the kids. Of course in HQs, scabs can work from home but operational staff can’t. Therefore whether we strike at the same time, or after their days of action, we can make our action more effective.

Of course we have had national ‘alliances’ with teachers’ unions before. We discovered that the leadership of those unions soon ditched us when it suited them, so whilst working together, we must plan to take action on our own if need be.

Where we can, we should also be working with NEU on the ground and through rank and file teacher groups, so as to head off the possibility of a sell out (we could also sell them out as well – as we did with the 2005 pension dispute).

If we were in the leadership of PCS, we would put as much effort into on-the-ground working and linking up with the rank and file, as we would with talking to the union tops. That is a key difference between us and the current PCS leadership. If you think that is the way our union should operate then vote for us in the NEC elections.

PCS as an enabler

Despite the boasting of the current leadership, PCS is not a radical union. It is a top down, typical TUC union. A bit of rhetoric, every now and then, cannot hide the fundamental nature of our union.

We want to change that. For us a ‘membership led union’ is more than a slogan, it should be how the union actually operates. In that regard, we want the union to be an enabler. Therefore as part of becoming strike ready, the union should be asking branches to provide text which can be worked up into leaflets. After all branches, should know what ‘plays’ in their patch; what members are talking about and what will motivate them.

National material is vital but it must be accompanied by local material. The national union has resources that local branches don’t; resources paid for by the members.

This is just a small example of how we would do things differently. If you agree, then vote for us in the NEC elections. PCS has to change.

Tick, tock

Time is now very tight given that the union has publicly set a time table: 20 April for a sustentative reply from the Cabinet Office, the NEC to discuss any response at its meeting on 24–26 April and then the Brighton conference to take decisions on the pay campaign.

From last November we argued: don’t lose momentum, build immediately for a ballot, prepare carefully, agitate and propagandise imaginatively, plan to win. There is no sign that our leaders are doing any of this. Instead of this, we fear ‘storming’.

In the Soviet Union, if a factory had not hit its’ monthly quota, near the end of the month, it would ‘storm’ to hit the quota; quality would be ditched as all resources were thrown into production.

We fear the same for the strike ballot. At the last moment PCS HQ will ‘storm’, sending out material, demanding an all-out effort. In the old days, before the 50% threshold, this might suffice in getting a Yes vote. But times have changed. The CWU prepared its ballot in Royal Mail for seven months and was rewarded by a great turnout. PCS is not doing this.

We want to change the union’s approach; that is why we are standing in the coming NEC elections. As said, if we had been in charge we would prepare carefully, agitate and propagandise imaginatively and plan to win. If you agree that is the way our union should operate then please vote for us.

Being strike ready

The PCS leadership is now openly talking of getting the union strike ready; which is good.

For a long while certain branches and activists had been told, informally, to go onto a war footing but that message had not been systematically sent around all of the union.

If we had been in charge then the preparation for the ballot would have started from at least the New Year but better still soon after the consultative ballot had been announced.

So we have we lost time. A further worry is that there is no real sign that PCS HQ is working hard towards being strike ready itself.

No material (as yet) is being sent to branches to distribute to members; pay days rallies are being proposed – again! There is no sign of targeted help to the weaker branches. The results of the constructive ballot, broken down by branch, are not freely available. Therefore many branches don’t know the gap between ‘their’ vote and the 50% needed in a statutory ballot. Activist meetings are being organised by regional offices but they are not being convened to consult activists and branches on ballot messages, strike tactics etc. They are not fledging strike committees; it is very much a case of ‘PCS HQ has decided to do this, how can you deliver that’.

PCS HQ now has to up its game drastically (one email from Mark Serwotka doesn’t count). If we are going to win a ballot, let alone deliver strikes, then we have to flood branches with material now. The union also must co-opt activists/members into the planning and running of the ballot campaign/strike action. We believe that it is vital.

In fact that is a key difference between us and the current leadership. They operate top down. Members and activists are the stage army whose job is to do what they are told. We want the union to be really membership lead. That is why we are standing in the NEC elections as we want the union to fundamentally change.  We want a union that properly prepares, that takes the time to engage members and activists. If you want an end to amateur hour, then vote IL.


Where to start?

Since the results of the consultative ballot were announced in November 2017  the union has done very little to build for a strike vote. Yes, there have been upticks in activity around the two pay rallies but the general level of material and messaging to branches has dropped off greatly.

The directive has percolated down to many branches that they should prepare to be strike ballot ready. Yet not all branches have got the memo..

The leadership know from the consultative ballot where the weak areas are; the branches, groups which are far off getting a 50% plus turnout. Yet that information is being tightly controlled on the grounds that the enemy might find out where we are weak; as though they don’t already know.

We have for years criticised the leadership’s style of campaigning. This consists of doing nothing for months on end and then suddenly, with little notice go into frenzied activity. The union seems incapable of maintaining a consistently high level activity; it is all or nothing.

The PCS leadership is incapable also of being straight with members as well. If we want to be ballot ready then we must openly and clearly say so. That should be a consistent message.

The PCS leadership is fearful of sharing information as the enemy might find out but the problem with that attitude is that the membership and the activists won’t find out about things either! Therefore the union should circulate the breakdown of the consultative ballot so that each branch and group knows the task in front of them to get more than a 50% turnout. Yes, the enemy will probably find out but they are not stupid enough not to know where we are weak in any case. Indeed seeing us openly address our weaknesses will more likely convince the enemy that we are serious than any attempt to hide those weaknesses.

In the last posting we said the IL would set out over the coming weeks ideas for winning the dispute.

So for starters we want PCS to:

  • Maintain a consistently high level of activity around wining a strike ballot; let’s not wait until the ballot is announced. We have a lot of ground to make up in getting members ready for the vote;
  • Repeatedly say what we want – in this case that we want to ballot and that branches have to be ballot ready;
  • Use the breakdown of the consultative ballot as a guide to openly directing help to branches.

What’s the plan?

It seems the leadership is gearing itself up to go for a national ballot on pay. If that is the case, what is the plan if we win the vote?

A usual reply to that question is that if members were to know then the government – the enemy  – would know the plan.

Now if we were an army made up of obedient and disciplined soldiers, then that reply might suffice. But of course we are not. We are grouped together in a voluntary association and members have to be won, persuaded and energised; they are not a stage army to be marched up hills and down again.

In the previous posting we contrasted our vision of a union to that of the leadership of Left Unity. They are content to ‘run’ or it may be more accurate to say ‘manage’ a top down union. Orders come from the leadership and the activists/members’ job is to implement them.  This treats members as an inert body to which things are done to, and done for.

In contrast we want the members to be the active ingredient, for them to show local initiative; we want our union to resemble the UCU over the past weeks, where activist and members over turned the union leadership and on a local level are winning the dispute.

The union’s task is therefore to persuade members/activists into self activity. Are we arguing therefore that the leadership of the union should have no plan; that we hope something just self emerges from the grass roots? No. Do we have a plan? Yes. In part. But we recognise that until any plan has been argued out with the membership and built as a result then any plan can only be provisional and in outline. Over the next weeks we will set out our ideas for discussion but the key thing is that the union begins the discussion now with members and activists as to what next.