In an unprecedented attack on the democracy of our union the rudderless leadership of PCS has announced the suspension of National and Group elections for possibly up to 12 months.
The NEC decision – by the controlling group which risibly calls itself the Democracy Alliance – was on the basis of:
• a mere 15-3 vote (there are 35 members and officers of the NEC);
• without the pretence of consultation with members;
• secrecy – there was not even a prior warning to Branches that an emergency NEC had been called to take this decision.
This profoundly anti-democratic move has been spun by a failed, self deluding, leadership as a necessary defence against the Tories rather than explained for what it is – an attempt to avoid an election while they try and cope with the financial and organisational crumbling of the Union in the face of Government attacks.
Only the self-deluding would-be spinmeisters of the PCS leadership could begin the report of their decision to suspend NEC and GEC elections, i.e. to “re-elect” themselves without the bother of a membership vote, with the statement: “Bold financial decisions are being taken by the NEC to ensure the union’s stability”!
The dedicated PCS member has to read approximately another 90 more words before finally learning that one of these “bold financial decisions” is a fundamental breach of the Union’s democracy; a move which is designed to keep the ruling group in unchallenged power. The explanations are weak, short of detail, and fly in the face of what we have previously been told.
If a ‘right-wing’ leadership of PCS had “suspended” the NEC elections, the present office holders would howl with outrage and would have seen through the excuses. The fact that they actually control PCS and in the main consider themselves “Marxists” does not make their actions more but in fact less acceptable: they have higher standards to meet than the old charlatans.
How they justify this democratic outrage: Tory cuts and loss of members
The leadership say, “The coalition government has been carrying out an ideologically-inspired onslaught on public spending and public services. The size of the civil service is being reduced by unprecedented numbers.”
However the scale of the attacks has been known from the outset of the Coalition Government and nobody ever doubted the intention of the Tories to see through the attacks on jobs and services. Indeed the IL’s first bulletin to the May 2010 conference following the formation of the Coalition was headed, “Liberal/Tory Coalition Prepares for War on Public Services”.
The 2014 Financial Report
In fact the impact of job cuts on membership levels and therefore income was set out and debated at length in Conference last May. If the leadership believed that these attacks would necessitate the abandonment of PCS’s democracy (for up to 12 months apparently) it could minimally have ensured that Conference debated that proposition by submitting a motion. It did not. Instead it assured Conference of PCS’s future as an independent trade union.
The 2014 annual report (http://www.pcs.org.uk/download.cfm?docid=60844BED-52BB-435C-B7AE79878056C93A) produced only seven/eight months ago stated,
“The 2013 Financial results present a positive picture for the union. This is due to a prudent assessment of membership levels and subscription income combined with a rigorous scrutiny of all areas of expenditure and the continued application of effective management controls. As a result of this approach we have further reduced our operational costs to take account of the impact of the continuing loss of membership whilst at the same time ensuring sufficient resources have been made available to support our essential campaigning work.”
The report continued, “the 2014 budget takes a very prudent approach and anticipates
a loss of 20,000 in total membership representing a further £1.86 million reduction in subscription income by the end of 2014.”
Thus members and Conference were assured that the continuing decline in membership had been taken account of.
However, just in case a branch or conference delegate might nevertheless have worried about the future post 2014 the report – signed off by Chris Baugh (National Treasurer), Kevin McHugh (Deputy President) and Stella Dennis (Director of Finance) – stated,
“There is no doubt that the union faces serious challenges going forward. The scale of the government attacks is having a significant impact on our income which [is] largely derived from members subscriptions.” So delegates were under no illusion as to the pressures on the union but the Annual report continued, “We believe the further measures set out in this report will ensure we continue to consolidate our financial base whilst protecting the organising, bargaining and campaigning activities that PCS members expect.”
There was no hint that just seven/eight months later, far from continuing to consolidate the financial base, PCS would be confronted with an apparent existential threat.
The early December 2014 NEC
Even at the scheduled December 2014 NEC (not the emergency NEC meeting that suspended the elections) the NEC discussed the downward pressures on income but agreed that a 3-year plan would be drawn up for returning to a balanced budget by the end of 2017. (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/pcs-nec-meeting-report-2014).
There was no mention – certainly none contained in the report to members of an existential crisis requiring the cancellation of National and Group Elections. On the contrary the NEC was advised that the money for HQ “would provide [PCS] with a reserve to deal with any financial problems in the short term and would form a platform on which we will go forward in the medium term to build the union and grow into new areas.”
How they justify this democratic outrage: Tory anti-unionism
The leadership statement continues, “In HMRC a secret union busting plan to attack PCS has been exposed. Ministers are drastically cutting facility time for reps.”
However the attempts by HMRC to marginalise PCS is a reason for the HMRC Group Conference to meet – to discuss and determine how best to meet this challenge – and for there to be elections to the HMRC GEC, ensuring that some debate about strategy and tactics takes place in the HMRC branches.
The reductions in facility time are neither here nor there to the suspension of elections. We have been living with grossly reduced facility time for a considerable period now.
How they justify this democratic outrage: end of check-off
Obviously knowing the sheer weakness of their other arguments, the leadership state, “But the most immediate danger comes from the moves in a number of government departments, including the largest, to end check-off. This is a politically motivated attempt to destabilise PCS finances.” They say, “The government is attempting to break PCS as a union.”
Absolutely it is a politically motivated attempt to break our union, but that has long been the obvious danger and why the leadership should have moved on the issue of Direct Debit (DD) in 2013! The truth is, however, that the leadership has been almost inert in the face of this danger. We will write of this later.
Nevertheless, some two to three weeks earlier – according to the membership report of the NEC meeting earlier in the month – there had been no mention of the need to suspend conference. On the contrary the sale of HQ would provide “…a reserve to deal with any financial problems in the short term and would form a platform on which [to] go forward in the medium term…”
If we face now an existential threat requiring the suspension of the electoral democracy of our union then the failure of senior officers and the NEC to spot that in the first week of December is both remarkable and horrifying and in and of itself would justify an election to start removing the current leadership.
Check off and costs
It is ludicrous of the leadership to say that:
• it cannot reduce the size of delegations to save costs because, “…given the exceptional nature of the current attack on the union it is imperative that a full policy-making conference takes place.” Given the current attacks it is equally imperative that a national debate and election take place.
• It is right to wholly suspend the electoral democracy of our union but not to reduce a delegation by one or two delegates whilst still enabling every branch to have one or more delegates.
• “It is also imperative that branches have the opportunity to hold the NEC to account for the decisions that it has agreed are absolutely necessary” but it is not imperative for the membership to be able to hold the NEC to account by holding an election!
• “…the NEC noted that the successful transfer of members on to DD is our overriding short-term priority. Elections in 2015 would take place at exactly the time when check-off is being withdrawn from the DWP and other departments. Continuing with the elections would remove a major part of our full-time officer resource, and reps’ time, from the DD campaign during a crucial period. This would have a direct effect upon the numbers of members signed up to DD.” The elections do not greatly impact upon the time of most lay representatives (if they are submitting motions to national conference then adding nominations is not a significant additional burden) and they do not impact much on most FTOs either. Hundreds of delegates in Brighton for a few days will however take up time.
The NEC and the core leadership are simply desperate to avoid an election.
Whilst talking of savings we would make four points:
• The NEC could find further ways of saving money.
• For instance by not holding an emergency NEC meeting in London (distracting NEC members and FTOs from the DD campaign!) just three weeks after the last meeting when there is nothing about the business that was not known earlier.
• For instance by at long last living up to union policy and their own professed beliefs by negotiating a new pay structure that ceases the practice of paying salaries that significantly exceed those earned by most members and in some cases significantly more than most civil servants including professional specialist staff. And let us be honest: when somebody is earning £92k a year PCS does not need to move all FTOs to the salary levels of our AA, AO, EO members to make substantial savings.
• GEC elections do not have to be through a full postal ballot. The union in the past has experimented with different ways of holding GEC elections. It could roll out those experiments to cover all GEC elections.
Start The Campaign
The NEC reasons don’t stack up. The real reason is that with the alliance between the Independent Left and ‘Your Voice’ activists in the HMRC, the Democracy Alliance (‘sic’ or maybe we should say ‘sick’) fear that they will lose seats on the NEC; possibility even losing the NEC itself. They fear that members will blame them for the crisis in the union (as they should and will). They fear losing a union which has become for some a gravy train of full time officer positions. Lastly they fear that they will not be able to merge with (be taken over by) Unite) as they are planning.
Instead of trusting the members; instead of having to actually convince the members of their case, they have decided to jettison democracy itself. Democracy, a free vote of members is too dangerous for them at this time.
We will do everything in our power to fight them on this, to fight what is in essence a coup d’état. We call on all democrats in the union, even if you have profound political differences with us, to work with us to defend the right for a vote. In the next few days we will be consulting comrades, colleagues, democrats, indeed anyone who thinks having a vote is a simple right not an optional extra, on a campaign to defeat this outrageous decision. Please distribute this article to all you know. Please distribute the slogan; let members have a vote.