Members of the Independent Left met last week to discuss the issues facing the union and wider movement in advance of a policy making conference later in the year. There were debates on rank and file trade unionism, PCS political campaigning strategy and the issue of Scottish independence.
What was clear from the discussion is that since the formation of the Independent Left the reasons for our existence as a group has increased. PCS is more than ever in need of ideas, strategy and tactics necessary to defend and improve our jobs, pay and working conditions. While it can be argued that things might be much worse had PCS not taken it’s stance in recent years, unfortunately it has not been enough to be slightly better than Unison. Jobs are being destroyed on a daily basis and our pay continues to erode along with our terms and conditions.
While many of those in control of our union forget the pledges they made when fighting the right wing – why have election of all full time officials on a workers’ wage when you can just employ Socialist Party members?- the need for a fighting rank and file caucus is ever more apparent. Of course, the Independent Left cannot claim to be such an organisation, and there are no shortcuts or magic bullets, but that must be our perspective.
I see our key aim in raising the combativity of working people in PCS and to organise the best militants in the union around a programme – across departments, sectors and geography, in order to best equip us for the struggles to come. Winning positions on committees and votes in debate are something we should aim to do but only as part of an overall strategy and not as an end in itself. Entering the union’s bureaucracy will blunt even the best fighters if they do not remain rooted by strong rank and file organisation.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. As the TUC unfolds this week there will doubtless be a lot of sabre-rattling from the best of our leaders- PCS among them – and the worst-who will already be planning a retreat. Talk is now turning to a strike in the Autumn on the back of the March against Austerity on October 20th. A vote for action by NUT members and a tied vote -at 16-16- for a ‘general strike’ at the pre-TUC General Council meeting raises the prospect of some joint national action with PCS and others. However, likely not Unison or GMB, who have settled on pensions and who incidentally abstained in the vote.
While joint action – on any basis and issue – is desirable and preferable PCS must not wait for everyone else to get behind a call for ‘a general strike’ or for the ‘left’ to win this vote or that vote on the various union committees. It must start planning an intelligent industrial action programme that will hit the employer where it hurts and do all it can to link up the various ‘local’ disputes across the union and if possible with other sectors. It is taking this stance that will most likely bring about the sort of strike wave that the Francis O’Grady’s are talking about but really don’t want and the left leaders are trying to bring about via motions. If you agree, then please join us!