There is a set pattern to PCS disputes – at least up to now. Nothing happens for months on end and then all off a sudden the leadership announces a dispute; there is frenzied activity, a one day strike and then – nothing.We hope that this is not the case for the ‘pay dispute’. Nothing on pay for months, then all of sudden frenzied activity and a one day strike is announced (if we get a yes vote in the consultative ballot and if the other unions take action on the 10th as well). After that, nothing concrete.We are told that a levy will be collected but no details are given; that there will be a sustained political campaign all the way to the election but again no detail (maybe it is ‘make your vote count’?). Selective action is referred to (but no plan presented) and we are told group actions will be supported (presumably the union doesn’t need a national campaign to back groups in any case). So all in all, thin gruel on which to nourish activists and members in the forthcoming campaign.
Of course going into a fight you should have some idea of how you are going to fight (tactics and strategy). Of course what has happened here is that PCS has suddenly lurched into a fight because other unions have done so. PCS have therefore have decided to fight and work out afterwards how to fight. This is the dismissive level of thought that characterises so many of the disputes we have found ourselves in.
In contrast we have been arguing (again for years) for a levy – regardless of whether there was a dispute ongoing. If this had been done then we would have a sizeable war chest by now (it usually takes a long time to build up a levy). We want thought-out selective action (short and sharp so that the employer cannot put in place work arounds); this action to be planned months in advance and the members primed in those selective action areas. But selective action has to be allied to as much all member strike action as we think we can win. Whilst hoping that other unions will fight alongside us, we have to plan to fight and win on our own if necessary.
In outline, in advance of a fight we should have an industrial action programme that lasts for many months. As part of this programme there should be fractional strikes (i.e. an afternoon strike) and targeted, short duration overtime bans. This cannot be a rigid timetable as you have to react to changes in reality but you must have some sort of a programme if you are being serious. Of course if you are not, you just announce ballots, a day’s strike and then hope for the best. That is not the way to win a fight but unfortunately, on present evidence that is how the leadership is going to lead this fight.
I will of course vote yes in the ballot and strike in July but unfortunately, I think it is the most pointless and inept call to action I have come across in my civil service career (it began in 1992).
If I as a political activist feel disillusioned then what do ordinary members think, not a lot judging by the turn out in the recent NEC elections. At least we have the demo in the Autumn to look forward to but if we could not get national pay re-instated in 1997 what chance now.