Independent Left members attended the inaugural meeting of the Civil Service Rank and File Network on Saturday 2nd February in Coventry. Whilst small, there was a good spread of activists from the HMRC, DWP, Home Office and the Commercial Sector. Of the 11 in attendance 3 were Independent Left members, one declared himself an LU member and I wasn’t sure, if any, what the factional affiliation of others were.
At the start of the meeting the chair indicated that he would like the meeting to make decisions by consensus. I was sceptical about this but all decisions were made by consensus. This may have been different had the meeting been bigger.
The meeting started off with a general discussion. The chair, an activist in HMRC Coventry who had been involved in the Maude walkout stated that he was tired of PCS nationally claiming the credit for this when the initiative had come from the workers themselves. He claimed that various NEC members had been posting on social media sites without even bothering to speak to him about it.
There was general dissatisfaction about the lack of information from the Union about the attack on Terms and Conditions. We made the point that we cannot continue with the current 1 day strike strategy if we wanted to win concessions from the employer.
We then moved on to the agenda. It was proposed that certain groups should be excluded from membership of the network. Some of these were obvious (scabs and full time officers). Others were more contentious (NEC members and “senior managers”). We argued that NEC members should be allowed membership as they were lay reps and also facing the same attacks as rank and file members. It was possible that some NEC members may share the aims of the network, either now or in the future. It was accepted to remove this exclusion although whether any NEC member gets involved is clearly another question.
“Senior managers” were defined as those with the power to hire and fire. We explained that whilst EO members did not make the ultimate decision, in DWP they can refer cases to decision makers, where an SEO would sack. Also EOs have sat on recruitment boards in DWP. The definition was removed from the constitution although the category “senior managers and senior civil servants” remains as an excluded one.
The network declared itself in its aims that “(they) are not an electoral faction…” I think this is fine as the last thing we need is another faction arguing more or less what IL is arguing.
A national secretary and press officer were elected.
We then discussed motions. There was a motion on the sacked Home Office activist in Merseyside, Kevin Smith. We agreed to write to the branch offering full support and solidarity and to call for solidarity actions.
We amended a motion on the current national ballot that “applauded” the decision of the NEC to ballot on terms and conditions and pay, amongst other issues. We argued that we should not “applaud” the NEC for doing what they should be doing but simply “note”. This amendment was accepted. We agreed to mobilise for a YES/YES vote in the ballot and to argue for a campaign of continuous disruptive action rather than periodic one day strikes.
All in all it was a very interesting meeting. Those in attendance struck me as serious activists who share many of the concerns we have. I would urge all those who think the rank and file membership should exert their control over the Union to get involved.