A key demand, indeed we suspect the key demand for the PCS leadership in the transfer talks with Unite will be the formation of a Public Sector group within that union. This group will encompass the newly transferred ex-PCS members and Unite’s existing members in the NHS, the councils and its very small numbers of civil servants. Naturally Mark Serwotka envisages himself being the head of this group.
Now there is no doubt that he would be an effective spokesperson person for Unite in relation to problems in the NHS etc and would be a welcome speaker at NHS rallies, Unite members meetings and so on. However, if that was all that was required then PCS would be the best run, most financially robust, most politically astute union in the UK, or at least one of them; members in PCS would have national pay, robust contractual rights, and a leadership prepared to take smart strike action. Of course PCS is none of these – so why would the public sector group in Unite be any better? Good speeches do not equal competent planning and organisation.
Also, like the SP, the Mark Serwotka’s dream ignores the material reality of the actual existing world. It ignores the organisation of Unite in the NHS etc (for all we know it might be terrible), the grade structure of our members (in the NHS, Unite organises many specialists; will this dampen militancy?) the quality of full timers in those areas, the interaction of Labour Party politics and the public sector, and the constraints that does put on Unite; most of all it ignores UNISON and the RCN.
In the councils and NHS, Unite is a minority union with UNISON being a dominant force. For nurses, a key constituency in the NHS, the RCN is vitally important. Whatever radical stance the new Unite public sector group would have, it has to deal with the fact that a large majority of unionised staff in the NHS and the councils are not in Unite. Being a good speaker, being media savvy, cannot leap you over Unite’s minority status.
Mark Serwotka has made no substantive real case (and given his continuing illness this lack is understandable) as to why transfer to Unite would be better for members. Having a public sector group, in itself is not reason enough.