The price of merger with Unite: No independent political voice

A motion concerning talks with Unite the Union was passed at the annual delegate conference in Brighton.

The motion was moved by the NEC on the basis (quoting from the motion itself) that ‘the possibility of merger between PCS and Unite may be raised by Unite’. Of course this is a fiction. You don’t move a motion at the ADC on the off chance that Unite may raise the possibility of a merger; the motion was moved because merger talks are on going. 

Although the NEC’s motion was passed, many of the speakers supporting it, were clear that they would oppose a merger if it meant a political link up with the Labour Party. And there’s the rub; Unite will never agree to a merger unless it is on the basis that the merged union’s political fund will continue to support the LP and that in no circumstances can the ‘PCS’ side of the union support other candidates from difference parties.The leadership, which of course means Mark Serwotka and the Socialist Party (SP) know this, so why do they push a project that they know will end our independent political voice (such that it is)?

There are several reasons. In no order of importance there is the calculation that the merged union will be more ‘radical’ than Unison and can therefore in TUC terms,  wrest control from that union of the public sector union agenda. As a more radical union it can act as a pole of attraction for those union members, activists and possibly other unions, who want a fight. The SP also has hopes (vain and deluded as they maybe) of ‘breaking the Unite part of the merged union from the LP.

Given these political aims, the leadership calculate that giving up our independent political voice is a price to be paid; though they won’t sell it that way (more on the selling process below).

Besides the politics of it, we should never forget the material advantages of a merger to the bureaucracy. Unite has approx a quarter of a million members in the public sector (NHS, local councils and small numbers in the Civil Service). As part of any deal, no doubt these will be brigaded together with PCS’s public sector members (along, maybe, with members in outsourced work areas) to form a 500,000+ ‘Trade Group’. Further, no doubt, Mark Serwotka will be the person in charge of this Group. So a bigger pond will be created for the fishes of PCS to swim in. 

Also Unite is in a better financial position that PCS and so the pay and pensions of full timers (many of whom are SP) will be better safeguarded than if PCS remains on its own. We must never underestimate the importance of this material factor.

Last but not least, Mark Serwotka must calculate that he stands a real chance of being the General Secretary of the merged union, when Len leaves the political scene.

So how will this all be sold to delegates, many of whom are hostile to the LP implications of a merged union?

Well firstly it won’t sold on that basis; the emphasis will be on how radical the new union will be, the size of this new radical union, how it will pull the TUC leftwards, the size of the public sector trade group etc. No doubt a theme will be that Ed Miliband, Dave Prentis etc will look on with horror at this merger. Whether this is true, we don’t know. Certainly cooler heads in the LP will see, at least in terms of political challenge, that the merger will actually cement the LP’s dominance of the trade union movement (maybe for this reason, the merger will be scheduled after the next general election so we don’t have to swallow a ‘vote Labour’ message).

So how should  we react to the possibility of a merger? Firstly we note that PCS can continue as an independent union and a merger with Unite is not a done deal (certainly it will be difficult to ‘sell’ a merger to the PCS conference).                  

PCS Independent Left (IL) have not adopted a position on the merger but regardless of what we decide, we will tell the truth of what is up for grabs. A merger will mean no support for candidates other than LP (‘Make Your Vote Count’ will become ‘Make Sure You Vote Labour’). The industrial merits have to gauged (having a public sector trade group does not in itself mean a merger is a good thing; certainly it won’t stop Unison being the dominant force in the NHS and the councils) and the consequence for internal union democracy has to be judged (Unite is not a uniform model of democracy, its regional full time officials still have considerable power). We will make a decision based on the real advantages or otherwise to PCS members and the wider movement rather than calculations as to who will be General Secretary, for example.

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