There are wide spread rumours that DWP will announce soon the end of check-off. Now you may know that a short while back, Francis Maude wrote to all departments asking them to review whether they should maintain check-off ie. allow the union to deduct subscriptions direct from salaries. Presumably, if DWP end check- off (and we hope of course that the rumours are wrong) then other departments will foll0w suit as well. The rumours also talk of six weeks notice being given. If such short notice is given then the effect on union income will be dramatic, as to re-sign up all members on direct debit will take longer than that. Also there is the fear that some members will not re-sign up – particularly low paid members. The union is struggling financially already, so the reduction in funding will have an immediate knock-on effect on service to members.
Of course the Tories know this and may well believe that they discovered a method of killing off public sector unions without direct confrontation; for if check-off is ended quickly in local government, NHS and so on then UNISON and other unions could collapse.
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (CLG) is explicit that ending check-off in the public sector is what he wants. So PCS is just a stepping stone towards the main event. Indeed it was in CLG that the ‘end-check-off’ campaign began. He announced that check-off would end but was embarrassingly defeated in resultant legal action.
CLG, along with DfT are the only two departments in the whole of the civil service that have the right to check-off incorporated into the contract. This right was won by comrades in Socialist Caucus (SC – a fore runner to the Independent Left). At the time the SC supporters put a motion to national conference arguing that the union should mount a campaign so as to contractualise rights across all the civil service. SC continued for years to argue for this. The motion, though passed was ignored. Our arguments were ignored as well. If they had been taken up, we would not be in the mess that we are now.
During the CLG legal action, a senior union official admitted that if check off was ended in DWP then the union would be in great danger. Yet between winning that action in September until the last week or so, the union leadership did nothing to start moving members over to Direct Debit (DD), though we understand that this was discussed twice on the NEC; it was gripped by the usual lethargy.
We wrote of the CLG victory, ‘It is striking, however, that the Tories’ “Liberal” coalition partners endorse Pickles’ and the Tories’ anti-union drive. With Labour so silent on Pickles and the Liberals so compliant, there can be no doubt that he will continue to bear down on the collective representation of DCLG trade union members and that Tuesdays’ decision was just round one in the fight’.
Unfortunately it would appear that the government has rung the bell for round two. If the union leadership had acted differently in the past ie. to contractualise rights then we would not be in this mess; if since last September if had begun to get members to move over to DD then the mess would be lessened. The current leadership is bankrupt of ideas and lacks energy and drive. If we were elected to the NEC that would end. In the here and now though we have to face the threats to the funding of the union. More of that later.