Tory Minister Francis Maude, who has responsibility for the civil service, has asked all civil service departments to consider ending “check off”, the system by which union members pay their dues directly from their salary.
Having asked departments once, and seemingly not got the answers he wanted, he is pressing again. It is a move which is designed to financially harm PCS, by far the largest of the civil service unions, the only one which has most of its members on the check off system, and the only one which shows any genuine opposition to the government’s policies of slash and burn.
Right-wing Tories simply want to smash up PCS’s cash flow by ending the check off within a short space of time so that PCS struggles to transfer its members to payment by direct debit. It is a clear anti-union move, of a piece with the Tories’ efforts since the late 1970s to break trade unionism in Britain, busting whole industries if need be.
The consequence of this class-war policy is the chronic inequality in Britain today, rising workplace stress illnesses, and the huge managerial authority in the workplace (increasingly mirrored by an employment tribunal system that is being made harder and harder to access and navigate).
Ending check off for the civil service may not have the “drama” of deliberately engineering disputes to cow or break unions, as Thatcher did, but the intended result is the same. The Tories also have their eyes on public sector union Unison. If a Tory government ends check off in the civil service, then Tory-run local authorities could do the same for Unison.
In March 2013, the Department for Local Government and Communities put out a shabby piece of work under the Orwellian title of “Taxpayer funding of trade unions: Delivering sensible savings in local government” which recommended that “Councils should charge for collecting union subscriptions, or end the practice completely.”
With this advance notice the PCS leadership should have spotted the attack and prepared for it well before now. Unison should be preparing for future attacks.
Ahead of any departmental decisions to end check off PCS is now, belatedly, seeking to move its members to direct debit payment. It has written to every Labour and Liberal MP asking them to oppose the ending of check off by any Department.
PCS is right to demand that Liberal MPs oppose the ending of check off, but there needs to be a clear and public demand on Clegg that the Liberals in Cabinet refuse to go along with attempts to financially ruin trade unions and intimidate them from campaigning for members and services by threatening their membership income.
PCS now needs to focus membership campaigning around this issue and the TUC needs to ensure that not a single union is allowed to be ruined by the Tories.