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.


We want different things

The nominations are in and so we wait for the voting to begin.

In the elections members are faced with two fundamentally different visions as to what a union should be. The differences are not that of tactical nuances, as to what we should to do on this or that issue, but concern different conceptions of a union.

‘Left’ Unity is content for PCS to remain a typical TUC union. So we have exceptionally well paid senior full time officers (FTOs) and very well paid other FTOs; no elections of full time officers beyond those required by law; a top down organisation where branches and activists have to ‘go’ to FTOs to get things; where most conference motions passed remain unactioned and the members are there to do the things that the leadership wants.

In contrast we want all full time officers on wages that are the same of those they serve; we want all FTOs who represent members to be elected; for PCS to be really a membership lead union; for the union to back members and activists who want to fight, rather than act as a brake, for the union to be open so members are told in detail what the union is doing (seeing the General Secretary in a video is no substitute to seeing the letters exchanged with the Cabinet Office and the Treasury on things like pay and the compensation scheme); for lay officials to lead all negotiations and for democracy to be more than just annual elections and conferences.

That is the choice; more of the same or a start towards a radical change (us being elected won’t be enough). If you are for the latter then vote for us, and why not join us?

Our slate for the PCS DWP Group elections

Please nominate the following candidates at the 2018 AGM for a better PCS DWP Group. Vote IL!


Bev Laidlaw

Vice President

Tom Bishell

Leon Searle


Chris Marks


Jason Lansbury

Journal editor

Nick Diamantis

Assistant Secretaries

Declan Power

Charlie McDonald

George Thompson


Tom Bishell

Nick Diamantis

Bev Laidlaw

Jason Lansbury

Chris Marks

Charlie McDonald

Robin Nicholl

Jenny Pollard

Declan Power

Leon Searle


Putting pressure on Labour

Whilst wanting a Labour Government, the majority in IL is clear that the Labour Party has to be pushed on pay.

While Labour is unequivocally committed to scrapping the Conservatives pay cap – a development we welcome – it has not committed itself to real term pay rises or to unrestricted national collective bargaining with public sector unions.

Instead Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, told UNISON Conference on 26 April 2017: that “a Labour government will scrap the pay cap, put pay decisions back into the hands of the independent pay review body and give our NHS workers the pay they deserve”;

Labour Shadow Cabinet Minister Dawn Butler, appearing on Sky News’ “Sunday with Niall Paterson” programme on 17 September 2017, stated that Labour only planned to remove the cap but not to offer a real-terms pay increase, saying, “we are not talking about an above-inflation pay rise”  and adding, “when we’ve got the books in front of us we will then be able to decipher what else we’d be able to deliver for public sector workers but we need to see the figures and the books but at the moment we’re not in government, we’re the government-in-waiting.”

While Jeremy Corbyn has called for a return to national pay bargaining, common national pay terms cannot be achieved with inflation level pay awards only.

The IL believes that as part of the political strategy for our national pay campaign, the NEC must seek immediate talks with the Labour Leadership to develop civil service pay policies and principles that contrast openly and vividly with the pay slashing, divide and rule policies of the current government and ensures vocal Labour support for PCS throughout our campaign and dispute.

The following principles should form the basis of PCS’ talks with the Labour leadership, and with any future Labour Government to the extent that these principles are not agreed before then:

  • The restoration of national pay terms as part of an agreement to restore national pay bargaining.
  • This agreement to set contractually binding step

For a national pay fight

In the 2017 indicative pay ballot, 48% of PCS members voted and of those, 98.9%  believed the pay cap should be scrapped and 79.2% indicated a willingness to take part in industrial action.

Therefore the union has a clear mandate for a pay strike. That said we soberly note that whilst this vote took place in a much changed and more favourable political environment and even using voting methods not allowed under strike ballot law, we still got less than a 50% turnout.

The IL is therefore arguing that PCS:

  • Needs to carefully prepare the industrial action pay ballot and avoid calling a ballot with little notice.
  • Identify and target areas where inexperienced or unconfident or too few representatives means that the Union’s campaign messages will not reach members.
  • Provide plentiful, varied and creative campaign material and to do so in good time well before, as well as during the legal ballot.
  • Ensure that an expertly prepared social media campaign is put in place and starts well before the ballot begins.
  • Ensure that membership meetings take place and that members’ voices are heard well before a ballot notice is issued.
  • Publish pay data showing members the great difference in pay between staff working in the same grade across the civil service. Equal pay has to be a key demand in any pay campaign.
  • Develop and explain a meaningful and convincing independent PCS industrial action strategy to members.
  • Be clear to members and employer that action will not stayed for the mere offer of talks.
  • Work and campaign with, and strike alongside, other Unions wherever and whenever possible. This should not be in such a manner that the interests of PCS members and the success of our campaign becomes dependent on the leaderships of other unions, so that our campaign can be collapsed by them at any time.
  • Ensure that all talks and negotiations, including all correspondence with the employer, are reported in a timely manner to members.
  • Boost the Fighting Fund urgently and massively.
  • Ensure that rank and file activist committees are set up everywhere, meet at times that activists without large amounts of facility time can actually make, and develop accountability to the activists and branches, calling national meetings throughout the dispute.
  • Work with activists, wider society campaign groups, other unions and the Labour Party to develop a vigorous political campaign.