PCS Pay campaign: For a better claim and a disaggregated ballot

The December meeting of the National Executive Committee agreed a 2019 pay claim and campaign plan which members will be consulted on in January before the NEC formally “push the button” on a fresh ballot in February.

In that consultation, PCS Independent Left are urging members to make their thoughts known regarding our pay claim and the need for a disaggregated ballot.


Pay claim

When the NEC met, PCS Independent Left member Phil Dickens proposed the following claim:

  • A living wage of £10/hour (£11.55 in London) for AAs
  • Pay at all other grades to be uplifted in proportion to this
  • A spot rate for AO and EO grades based upon the pay max
  • Contractual pay progression where there aren’t spot rates
  • Contractor and outsourced pay in line with civil service pay

We have previously made the argument that 5% (or £1,200) goes nowhere near addressing the pay injustice PCS members have suffered. Not only that, although the living wage and common pay rates across the civil service both appear in the pay claim, there has been little or no emphasis on them and the fact that they don’t underpin the claim makes the likelihood of them being addressed minimal.

What this claim does, as opposed to an arbitrary percentage, is to make common rates and a living wage the central points on which the claim hinges. At a stroke, the claim eradicates the worst injustices of the current pay system: that there are civil servants who don’t make enough money to live, and that civil servants doing equivalent jobs at the same grade can have wildly different rates of pay. If these things remain apart from the claim, the government could arguably agree to the percentage PCS asked for without giving a living wage to all or equal pay for equal work.

This claim was rejected by Mark Serwotka and the rest of the NEC, on the basis of it being “too complex” and the points about spot rates and progression pay being mere “details for negotiations.” This despite the lack of contractual pay progression being as big any issue for many members as the lack of a substantive pay rise in itself.

Disaggregated ballot

The other amendment put forward by Phil was that the ballot should be disaggregated, but with a clear central steer on the demands. As we have argued previously, this doesn’t divide or erode the national nature of the pay claim but instead serves as a backstop against further failures to meet the 50% turnout threshold.

The argument against this approach essentially turned on the DWP and HMRC being able to carry the whole civil service vote if they got over 50%. It was claimed that a disaggregated ballot would leave weaker groups exposed, and that if any group got over 50% they could still subsequently run a ballot on their own.

The problem with this line of thinking is that any group unable to deliver a 50% turnout, given the efforts put in place in both the 2017 consultative and 2018 statutory ballots, would be less likely to deliver the turnout in any subsequent action and so would leave themselves exposed. There is a serious strategic and organisational deficit in replying on the biggest sections of the union to drag the rest over the line. Moreover, as we saw with the MoJ pay offer that followed the ballot, an aggregated ballot doesn’t hide organisational weakness from the employer – but even from such a weak position, the reps in that group pulled off a heroic effort to see off the attack. In a disaggregated ballot, any group which didn’t make it past the line could similarly regroup, but instead of having to do so alone they would have the cover of an ongoing campaign with those groups that shattered the threshold at the vanguard.

Unanswered questions

A number of questions that were put to the General Secretary over the course of the last three NEC meetings remain unanswered.

The NEC was told that the Policy and Resources Committee would consider recommendations on whether the union could second experienced activists to support the organising required in the pay campaign, how we could co-opt the skills and communications utilised to great effect by branches for use on a wider scale, and how the union could ensure that branches had timely access to local printing for bespoke leaflets and materials. If these questions were considered, that has not been reported back. More likely, addressing these questions was deemed secondary to engaging in a destructive factional war most members have little knowledge of and less interest in.

The best organised branches are not only able but eager to produce their own materials to promote PCS activity. This is made harder by limited funds and a number of bureaucratic hurdles. Bootle Taxes Branch was able to provide templates for leaflets of various sizes and secure a guarantee that the Revenue & Customs Group would reimburse reasonable printing costs for R&C branches. They shouldn’t have had to – this should be what the national union is there to do for us.

Next steps

The union has moved an incredible distance in the past few years.

That we are now talking about a national pay campaign with potential selective action paid for by a Fighting Fund would have been unthinkable as recently as 2013. The emphasis on fundamental, root-and-branch organising is something we have been lacking for a long time, even if there still remains resistance to and scepticism of it from certain quarters. Even something as simple as the intent to use a ballot result as leverage in talks is a significant shift from what Mark Serwotka has candidly referred to as an era of protest strikes with no serious plan to win.

The movement we have seen, and every increase in our chances of winning that comes with it, has been fought for against a recalcitrant leadership. This is not their natural territory, and even as the restrictions of the Trade Union Act make it necessary, you can see their nervousness.

Decisions on how the campaign goes forward, even the most basic ones, have been kicked down the road from July to December. The emergency NEC in November put £1 million from the £3 million court victory over the DWP into the Fighting Fund (and baulked at the Independent Left suggestion to make it £2 million). But the decisions it was supposed to make on the campaign were deferred to December, where rows centred upon the split within Left Unity dominated a four-hour debate.

Nonetheless, finally, we have gotten somewhere. January’s consultation (finally) marks the beginning of the lead in to the ballot, and members still have the chance to shape what comes next. We believe the changes needed are a disaggregated ballot and a more substantive pay claim underpinned by a £10 and hour living wage.

If you agree, then now is the time to make your voice heard.

PCS pay fight: On disaggregated ballots

Now that the union is on course for another national ballot in March 2019, a key question is what we need to do in order to this time beat the 50% turnout threshold imposed by the law. One element of this is considering whether a disaggregated ballot would stand us in better stead.

What does this mean?

The civil service is the largest ballot constituency in the trade union movement. Whilst other unions are larger than PCS, their membership is spread across a great many employers in the public and private sector. No other union is likely to need to take such a large number of members into a dispute at once as PCS, and certainly not on any kind of regular basis.

A disaggregated ballot, simply, breaks that massive ballot into more manageable chunks. The civil service ballot becomes separate ballots of HMRC, DWP, HSE, DfT, Land Registry, Home Office, Ministry of Justice, etc, synchronised to occur in tandem.

The UCU did this for their dispute over pensions recently and have just done it again regarding pay, balloting each university and college individually. Unlike PCS’s last ballot where it was all or nothing, in this scenario those who passed the 50% threshold were in a position to take action – and those who didn’t could regroup and re-ballot.

Isn’t our fight with the government, rather than individual departments?

Absolutely. This is why the ballots would be coordinated and on the basis of common demands over pay. There would need to be national oversight of the campaign and what a settlement would look like, and the NEC would need to use the leverage of the ballot in talks with the Cabinet Office.

In other words, the only difference in a disaggregated ballot from an aggregated ballot is in the practicalities of the vote itself.

But isn’t one department as likely to beat the threshold as another?

We all know well that levels of organisation differ starkly across the union, and this would more than likely be represented in the spread of results.

If this is the case, the entire civil service doesn’t have to be held back by the sections who still have work to do. Those sections can take stock of they don’t cross the threshold and use the results and action elsewhere as part of their efforts to agitate and inspire members when moving to re-ballot.

If it’s not, then we will see that in all sections crossing the threshold – meaning there is no difference to an aggregated ballot in outcome. There is a far greater risk of the union falling short in an aggregated ballot than a disaggregated one.

This makes a disaggregated ballot sound like a sensible practical measure. What’s the elephant in the room?

The elephant in the room is the split in the Left Unity faction. There’s a civil war on between supporters of Chris Baugh, the incumbent Assistant General Secretary of the union, and of PCS President Janice Godrich, who wants the post.

The reason this matters in the question of aggregate or disaggregate ballots is that the split is the result of General Secretary Mark Serwotka wanting Baugh gone for not being an unquestioning disciple. It’s entirely personal, and so political and strategic differences are being manufactured to disguise the fact. This in turn means that every question becomes one of which side you support rather than being considered on its own merits.

Chris Baugh is amongst those arguing for disaggregated ballots, and therefore the idea is opposed as a knee-jerk reaction by the Serwotka-Godrich axis.

None of the opposition holds up to serious scrutiny. In fact, it is all based not on disaggregated ballots in and of themselves but on disaggregated ballots combined with rolling up demands on terms and conditions into the national pay campaign. Whilst this may be what some of Chris Baugh’s supporters are arguing, it is not an approach the Independent Left favour, since we have seen the “laundry list” approach to demands in the past – usually when responding to the failure of individual disputes by lumping them together. The fact is that opposition to adding demands on terms and conditions to a dispute over pay is not a serious argument against disaggregated ballots as part of a national pay campaign with proper coordination by the NEC.

The ballot in March 2019 will be a crucial test of the union. That we may lose it on the basis of personal dislike and resultant childish spats amongst those running the union is yet another reason we need a change in leadership.


John Moloney to stand for PCS Assistant General Secretary

At its Annual General Meeting, the PCS Independent Left nominated John Moloney as our candidate in the Assistant General Secretary elections next year. John sets out our platform in the video below:

We also nominated the following candidates for the National Executive Committee:

Bev Laidlaw, DWP

Vice Presidents
Bryan Carlsen, HSE
Phil Dickens, R&C
Chris Marks, DWP
Paulette Romain, CLG

NEC members
Tom Bishell, DWP
Bryan Carlsen, HSE
Ralph Corrigan, PSg
Phil Dickens, R&C
Chris Hickey, CLG
Karen Johnson, CLG
Bev Laidlaw, DWP
Chris Marks, DWP
Charlie McDonald, DWP
John Moloney, DfT
Paulette Romain, CLG
Leon Searle, DWP

More information on the elections will be available as they come closer.

Time to ditch the ‘broad left’ model!

The fight over who will be the Left Unity candidate for Assistant General Secretary in next year’s elections could hardly be farther removed from the concerns of PCS members in the workplace. Most won’t be even tangentially aware of it, and if they are will view it as irrelevant.

But it does say something about the current position of our union.

Left Unity has dominated PCS’s hierarchy for the better part of two decades. In that time, true believers have stuck to the party line. LU’s socialism, its leading role in the trade union movement, the correctness of its analysis was never in doubt – at least by those who didn’t want to put a target on their back.

Now, because Mark Serwotka doesn’t like Chris Baugh and has slid Janice Godrich across the board to replace him, a different message emerges.

The Chris Baugh camp tells us that unelected full time officers have too much power, that workers in struggle have had to fight for support, and that the Unite merger was being pushed for nest-feathering reasons with democracy an afterthought at best.

From the SWP, we learn that without Mark Serwotka the union would have been in constant retreat over the last few years and nobody else was willing to push for a national fight over pay.

Janice Godrich’s supporters tell us that the union has long sidelined organising for bargaining and this was a symptom of a layer of full timers who got their position through cronyism.

Mark Serwotka himself has even stated that in the past strikes were called as set-piece political protests, after the fact, and no real efforts were made to properly build leverage or negotiate.

There is truth in all of this. (And the personal attacks and bullying that pervade LU’s culture have been laid bare in the conduct of the debate).

But where each side blames the other, themselves conveniently committed to silence by a revolutionary discipline that can now be cast aside because the two most senior paid officials don’t get on, in reality the problem is Left Unity as a collective entity.

Opposed to the domination of unelected full time officers, and the cronyism that goes with this, is the policy of electing all senior paid posts, and workers representatives on a worker’s wage.

Against relying on one senior official to drive activity (though Serwotka’s militancy is massively over-stated) is the need to build the union from the ground up led by a fighting rank-and-file movement.

Rather than set-piece strikes, there is a need to take building the fighting fund seriously and actually follow through on developing a strategy of paid selective action.

Both sides of the LU split claim to stand for these things. But in reality, what movement there has been in this direction has been slow, reluctant, and driven by wider calls for this across the membership. Calls that came from the PCS Independent Left, and were duly derided for that until they became policy.

The Independent Left also supported victimised rep John Pearson when the LU NEC refused to – and were vindicated when he won his tribunal. We believe that union solidarity should be a principle, not dictated by personal and sectarian loyalties.

The trade union movement is coming to a crisis point. Outdated TUC-style business unionism is dying, and the promising upsurge in revolutionary, syndicalist organising needs desperately to be supported and spread.

In PCS, that means ditching LU’s ‘broad left’ model which is focused only on getting ‘the right people’ into positions. Instead, we need to organise in such a way that those we elect are only there to facilitate rank-and-file activity – and the rank-and-file can act without them where they don’t.

In next year’s elections, the Independent Left will be standing a candidate for Assistant General Secretary as well as a slate for the NEC. If you want a union genuinely led by its members and fit to take the fight to the bosses, you should consider nominating and supporting our candidates as a first step.

If you agree with what I’ve said, organising to change the culture of the union is at least as important as winning elections. Join us and get involved in doing that: https://pcsindependentleft.com/join-us/

Phil Dickens

Terms and conditions

At this year’s Trades Union Congress (TUC), unions supported a statement that moving to a four day working week was an achievable goal “this century.” This comes as more and more research supports shortening the working week and allowing workers more leisure time in response to automation and digitalisation – whilst employers are trying to make us work longer and in worse conditions so they can make do with less of us.

The Modernising Employment Provisions deal offered in Ministry of Justice, which sought to increase pay by trading off terms and conditions, is just the latest such deal to come from the bosses. A deal that most unions in the NHS accepted has now been revealed to be worth less than originally claimed. Asda increased pay in exchange for changes to working patterns and the removal of in social premiums in a deal accepted by GMB. Sainsbury’s are now looking at a similar deal, but unlike Asda are threatening to dismiss anyone who doesn’t accept the terms rather than allowing an opt out. Returning to the civil service, HMRC are watching the response to the MoJ offer very closely as they want to do similar things to terms and conditions.

There is a definite trend here, where deals that are accepted in one workplace give the bosses confidence to push further in the next. The DWP Employee Deal is not the same as the MoJ MEP offer, but just as the acceptance of the Asda deal was followed by the more vindictive Sainsbury’s deal, there is a clear chain reaction – one explicitly supported in the case of civil service employers by the Cabinet Office pay remit. Getting workers to surrender hard won terms gets you more money in the pot.

This only underlines that the bosses will make concessions only so long as that is less disruptive to them than the benefit of not doing so. The advance of the gig economy and the widespread of outsourcing are both defended as these sectors are largely unorganised, and even where unions have a presence – including strongholds of the public sector – the bosses feel confident enough to go on the offensive.

In this context, a cynic might say that the TUC appears over ambitious calling for a reduction of the working week even within a 100-year timeframe. But in reality the confidence of the bosses comes back to the decades-long retreat of the unions and a lack of ambition. After all, the TUC is far from the head of the pack in making their call. The radical IWW union was first to take up the call, but even the likes of the Green Party came to this conclusion ahead of the TUC.

What unions need to do now is, rather than waiting to resist or (more likely) moderate the decline of terms and conditions is to regroup and go on the offensive. Demand a shorter full time working week with no loss in pay, and more – every worker will be able to point to other rights lacking in their workplace, or even for one group of workers in that workplace since multi-tier workforces are the norm now.

It’s easy to say that this is a pipe dream, that it is unrealistic or unworkable. Many workers may even think it themselves. This should not be a reason to avoid the fight.

The CWU’s “four pillars” victory in the Royal Mail put the union on the path to a shorter working week and  to an improved pension scheme for all workers that ended the previous two-tier scheme. This was despite the employer’s initial intent, as elsewhere, to make terms and conditions worse on the back of privatisation. The turnaround happened because they organised, because they put forward ambitious demands and, most importantly, because they engaged with members on the question of what could improve and what would be necessary to win that. This led to an impressive ballot result that got them what they wanted without having to take a single day of strike action.

There’s no point having aspirations for something that might happen within a century. We need to organise now, not just to slow the decline but to win real improvements. From the CWU winning their four pillars to small, independent unions beating zero hours contracts and the gig economy, we know it can be done.

We just have to be realistic, and demand the impossible.

The Pay Campaign – What Next?

The last National Executive Committee meeting saw decisions taken on a number of issues, most prominently the pay campaign. A video update from Mark Serwotka gave us the headlines: departmental pay campaigning continues, and there will be members’ consultation meetings in the likes of HMRC and DWP. The legal challenge against the imposition of the pay remit goes to the High Court in the first week of October. Most crucially, if the pay cap remains next year there will be a further national ballot in the spring, one that we of course hope to win.

There was an extensive debate on pay at the NEC. Between now and a spring ballot there is a lot of work to do to put us in the best position to win that vote. The PCS Independent Left (IL) member of the committee, Phil Dickens, pointed out that there are essentially three strands to this: more effective organising across the board, a pay claim that captures the imagination, and a strategy members can buy into.

On organising, it’s welcome that there will be a further round of the training that came out before the last ballot. This was extremely well received and we believe it needs to be rolled out wider. It would also be helpful for this to be part of an ongoing programme to equip all reps with the knowledge and confidence to get their workplace organised.

IL also argued that the lay structures which emerged with the ballot, such as Town Committees, need to be nurtured and encouraged everywhere. The NEC agreed to this. Our other proposals, on utilising the skills of lay activists by possibly seconding organisers during any ballot campaign and incorporating the skills of local branches into a national media and communication strategy, wasn’t agreed at that meeting but will receive further consideration at the Policy and Resources Committee. Though this doesn’t guarantee anything, that the union is finally giving proper consideration to effective use of the skills our lay activists have is a good thing.

Mark Serwotka summed up the issue with our pay claim in an article for the Guardian: “Our own research shows that the effect of the pay cap will be that by 2020, average civil service pay will have fallen in value by more than 20%. Given what our members have had to put up with, our 5% claim this year was a moderate demand.”

Likewise, our current position on an industrial action strategy leaves much to be desired. We have moved away from holding a one day strike every few months. We have a fighting fund. We have run several consultations on forms of targeted and selective action that may be effective. But no strategy has been developed from that, indeed there was no intent to do so until we got a positive result. Worse, that we have moved from one day strikes hasn’t been effectively communicated to members on a nationwide scale.

Our Annual Delegate Conference in May will be too late to address either question for 2019, especially if we are balloting in spring. One alternative is a Special Delegate Conference on pay, but the majority on the NEC are opposed to this, preferring instead an “event” to launch the next phase of the campaign – effectively, a talking shop and photo opportunity.

So how do we address this, and get proper democratic input into our claim and strategy in time for a 2019 ballot?

There are two options at this point: a Special Delegate Conference can happen if branches representing 25% of the membership sign up to a letter demanding the General Secretary calls it. Otherwise, branches holding Autumn General Meetings may wish to agree motions to put to the NEC. Though these appear on the NEC agenda only for noting, enough branches making the same demands will have to be seriously considered.

We urge all reps reading this to raise the matter for discussion with their Branch Executive Committee. If your BEC is willing to back either approach (or both) then contact us so that we can ensure branches who agree with this call are working together.