Lessons of the HMRC Cleaners Dispute

16976654_1037896073021135_1126609918_nIt’s now over a year since cleaners employed by ISS to clean HMRC offices in Bootle approached their union reps over cuts to their working hours. Their employer was facing an increase in their pay bill due to a new minimum wage rate, erroneously branded as the ‘national living wage.’ It was going to claim that money back by cutting enough hours so cleaners were left with the same pay as before the rise came in.

The cuts were defeated, and cleaners across Merseyside had their hours restored thanks to a campaign which saw members take two days of action and threatened a further three. It was a strong campaign which won a decisive victory, and it is worth looking at the lessons that we can learn from that.

Firstly, it is worth emphasising that this was not a victory for the Independent Left. One of our members was involved in the campaign from the very beginning, but he will be the first to admit that he was one among many – the vast majority having no factional alignment within the union, and the most important of those of course being the cleaners themselves. We make this point because Left Unity have, in some of their literature, tried to claim the victory as their own. Not only is this a distortion of the facts of the dispute, but it underlines how different our approaches are.

Those of us in the Independent Left and our non-factional allies don’t simply have a different perspective on what positions the union’s leadership should take – although we do have many. We believe in a fundamentally different attitude to how a union should organise, behave and fight.

The example of the HMRC cleaners dispute is just one real-life articulation of this difference.

Member-led disputes – At all stages, the campaign against ISS was led by the membership on the ground. Decisions were taken by vote at meetings which all members could attend and the majority did. Not only does this approach mean that such a campaign is genuinely democratic, but it puts into practice the old axiom that members are the union rather than treating them as chess pieces.

No secret talks – When the members’ action eventually forced ISS to talk to PCS, there was absolutely no consideration of those talks being ‘in confidence’ from the members they were about. In fact, the only reason the decision was taken not to have cleaners attend the talks was to avoid the threat of reprisals by the company. The three reps who did take part provided full reports back to the membership at all points.

No back-room deals – When a deal was finally brokered to call off the strike, it was the members who made the decision to accept. Not as a result of carefully steered meetings where the ‘debate’ amounted to questions for a speaker presenting a particular line, but following a vigorous debate amongst the members and a show of hands vote.

 Building leverage through direct action – ISS talked to PCS only when forced to. They still don’t recognise the union. By involving all of the members in collective action, culminating in strikes, the union leveraged real moral, political and industrial pressure on the employer. This sort of organising will always have more power than relying on the supposed wiliness of negotiators treating industrial relations as a chess game rather than a power struggle.

While the structural support of the union was helpful, the members organising democratically from below was the strength and power of the campaign. This was even the case where union support was concerned, as while the Merseyside branches fully supported their members the machinery of PCS was more reluctant until the campaign had too much traction to be ignored.

PCS Independent Left believes that all of our organising should take this form. We shouldn’t have to fight for the support of our own union, and the ISS dispute is unfortunately not unique in this regard with a PCS led by Left Unity, but we are better placed to win that fight where members have the confidence to lead from the front.

Building this sort of confidence involves a lot of hard work and organising at branch level, which is already being done in many places. But it is emboldened with voices arguing in support of such an approach at Group Executive Committee level.

Two of our members are up for re-election to the HMRC GEC and trying to provide such a voice. We would urge that you support them in the Group elections – Phil Dickens and Phil Millar.


DWP GEC Nominations

bt_elections_ahead_signYes its that time of year again, so much has happened since the 2016 DWP GEC Elections – and not for the better. We want to change that. The Employee Deal was introduced, a new flexi policy, the dreaded ‘tent poles’ and Team Preference Tool and finally the Office Closures and re-locations.

IL members that were elected on to the GEC last year (including VP) were opposed to the Employee Deal, mainly due to the unfairness and discriminatory elements. This is amongst what we have been doing since you elected us into those positions.

  • Voted in favour of UC Service Centre members taking action over Xmas leave.
  • Voted for branches to be informed of office closures immediately as soon as PCS were informed.
  • Opposing the Tent Poles, Team Preference Tool and the percentages imposed by management.
  • Voting against the new Flexi policy as although some improvements were made for some, there were also detriments for others that we believe could have been improved upon.
  • Voting against a secrecy clause in the GEC, inhibiting us from informing members what has been debated on and the contributions made by individuals.
  • Made amendments to motions – including the GEC motion on office closures to ensure those members in the private sector (Security/Guards) are to be included in any dispute.

Independent Left supporters have consistently argued for the GEC to reconnect with, and strengthen the confidence of, members by:

-Focusing on a Group Campaign on Offices closures. Local offices should not be left on their own to fight. We really are ‘all in it together’ and so we should really all campaign and fight together;
-Campaigning for equal pay. We have argued for legal advice to be obtained as the Equality data shows that women and part time workers have been disproportionately affected by the Employee Deal;
-Having an effective industrial action strategy, including selective action. This is in place of one day strikes now and then that the government simply sits out;
-Telling the truth, even when it means admitting that we have lost; thoroughly consulting members on demands, strategy and tactics and providing timely and informative reports on national talks;
-Developing a real and effective organising strategy, one aimed at transforming the union from the ground up. If you agree with us please nominate the following IL and Independent members at your AGM:

President:Chris Marks

Vice President: Tom Bishell

Organiser:  Charlie McDonald

Group Asst Secretaries: : Bev Laidlaw, Declan Power, George Thompson

Journal Editor:  Nick Diamantis

Group Treasurer Jason Lansbury

GEC: Tom Bishell, Nick Diamantis, Gerry Hyde, Bev Laidlaw, Jason Lansbury, Charlie McDonald, John Mahoney, Chris Marks, Robin Nicholl, Jenny Pollard, Declan Power, George Thompson

PCS NEC elections 2017

The nomination process for the NEC elections begins soonelections-graphic-hands

We are asking that you consider nominating Independent Left (IL) candidates for the elections. This is because we believe IL will bring new ideas and enthusiasm to the leadership of PCS; both of which are sorely lacking at the moment.

The current leadership have been in office for over 11 years. Unfortunately we are now in far worse state than when they first took office.  Clearly the Government is responsible for the attacks we face but the PCS leadership is responsible for how we respond – and their response has been woefully inadequate with no evidence that it will get better.  Indeed their motto is ‘stick with us, a tried and trusted leadership’. Which means in reality more of the same. In fact they are a tired and busted leadership.

Independent Left supporters have consistently argued for the NEC to reconnect with, and strengthen the confidence of, members by:

-Focusing on a national defence of pay, jobs and living standards.  Local offices and departments should not be left on their own to fight. We really are ‘all in it together’ and so we should really all campaign and fight together;

-Campaigning for equal pay across the Civil Service.  It shouldn’t depend on where you work as to how much you should earn.  An EO in DWP should get as much as an EO in HMRC as an EO in DfT etc. This means we must campaign for national pay;

-Having an effective industrial action strategy, including selective action.  This is in place of one day strikes now and then that the Government simply sits out;

-Telling the truth, even when it means admitting that we have lost; thoroughly consulting members on demands, strategy and tactics and providing timely and informative reports on national talks.

-Having a meaningful national strategy to unionise those private sector companies providing support to the civil service;

-Developing a real and effective organising strategy, one aimed at transforming the union from the ground up.

If the above makes sense to you then please nominate:


Bev Laidlaw (DWP)

Vice Presidents

Tom Bishell (DWP)

Bryan Carlsen (HSE)

Phil Dickens (HMRC)

John Moloney (DfT)


Tom Bishell (DWP)

Bryan Carlsen (HSE)

Ralph Corrigan (PsG)

Phil Dickens (HMRC)

Chris Hickey (CLG)

Karen Johnson (CLG)

Bev Laidlaw (DWP)

Chris Marks (DWP)

Charlie McDonald (DWP)

John Moloney (DfT)

Oli Rahman (DWP)

Paulette Romain (CLG)

Leon Searle (DWP)

George Thompson (DWP)

Ray Webb (DSA)

Gilaine Young (DfT)



Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign launch – 20 October, London

Earlier this year Independent Left members voted to support the launch of the Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign. Shahrokh Zamani was a worker who was imprisoned by the Iranian regime for the ‘crime’ of attempting to organise a trade union. He died in prison last year.

As the Iranian regime forges closer ties with British and other ‘Western’ governments in order to enrich the capitalist classes, supporters of the Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network decided to renew efforts to build a solidarity campaign with workers still struggling for basic rights and freedoms. We will remember Shahrokh and many like him by building this movement.

We are republishing yesterday’s notice from the website here and calling on all to support this initiative to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters fighting for trade union freedom and democracy in Iran. An imjury to one is an injury to all!


Since the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015 the fortunes of Iran’s capitalists and the regime’s functionaries have taken off. But all that the workers have seen is the growing gap between them and the rich. Workers are finding the influx of luxury cars and goods hard to bear when their children are going hungry! Inevitably workers’ protests and strikes have grown steadily in recent months.

To keep the legitimate demands and protests of workers (as well as women, national and religious minorities, the youth, the disabled, LGBTQ people, writers, artists and the vast majority of the population) under control state repression has been stepped up. E.g., protests against layoffs at Agh Darreh ended with 17 gold miners being flogged (https://shahrokhzamani.com/2016/06/04/agh-darreh17/)!

The Iranian regime consider those who organise labour organisations, illegal May Day celebrations and similar activities as having “endangered national security”. These activists are thrown into medieval dungeons, where torture and other types of abuse are routinely used to cow them. And those who are defiant even in jail, like Shahrokh Zamani, a painter who tried to organise an independent trade union, can end up dead. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/19/shahrokh-zamanis-death-in-an-iranian-prison-must-be-investigated).

International solidarity can help Iranian workers realise all their economic and political demand more quickly. There is now an urgent need for an effective solidarity movement that can support Iranian workers in their struggles. Help us build this solidarity movement. Support and publicise the launch meeting of the Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign.

7pm – 9pm – 20 October – Hamilton House (NUT), Mabledon Place, London

Speakers confirmed:

Morad Shirin- Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network.

Peter Tatchell- Human rights campaigner.

Rhea Wolfson- Labour Party NEC member and GMB activist.

Rida Vaquas – Young Labour.

Henry Chango Lopez- President, IWGB Union.

Speakers in personal capacity unless otherwise stated.


indexOn Saturday 23rd July 2016 Independent Left held a national members’ meeting to discuss current issues and the possible changes in direction of the group in response to changes in PCS issues that are, new, current and ongoing.

Given this opportunity, I submitted a motion about the need and response for greater democracy for ordinary citizens of Europe and across European institutions. After a brief presentation and some debate we passed an amended motion as follows :

Continue reading

Motions adopted at July national meeting


PCS Independent Left is a democratic organisation funded and run by its members- Socialists within PCS who accept it’s programme. Regular meetings are held at which policy and approach is discussed and voted upon. IL is governed by its constitution which can only be amended by a national membership meeting.

The following motions were debated and adopted by the recent national all-members’ meeting held on 23 July 2016.  Continue reading