Delegates and observers will have been shocked and possibly demoralised by the results of the general election. If we thought the last five years were tough the next five are likely to be even tougher, particularly in DWP. Already we have seen announced draconian changes to strike balloting legislation, with a requirement for 50% turn outs before strikes can be called. In so-called key sectors of Transport, Education, the Fire Service and Health the requirement will be for a majority in favour of at least 40% of eligible members. Agencies will be able to hire scabs to undermine disputes. The notice periods unions are required to give employers of action will be extended.
Ian Duncan Smith has been re-appointed Secretary of State and has been charged with slashing £12 billion from the benefits budget. The Human Rights Act is to be abolished. Counter-terror legislation will be introduced which will increase the demonisation of Muslims. This legislation will contain provisions, according to the Guardian newspaper, for the police to be given powers to apply High Court orders preventing “harmful activities” that create a “threat to the functioning of democracy” or are designed to “overthrow democracy”. This legislation will no doubt be aimed at trade unionists, Socialists and campaigners.
We believe that PCS’ approach to the general election was inadequate. The Make Your Vote Count campaign is incoherent, telling members to vote for this candidate, in this constituency based on what he or she has said in response to a certain question. We believe that PCS should be political but in a more coherent way. We need to create a Socialist, class combat culture within the union.
PCS had, apparently, gained a pledge from Labour that they would not withdraw check off if elected. We say apparently because it was hardly trumpeted from the rooftops. Perhaps that’s because it fits with the narrative of some in the leadership that the Tories and Labour are the same. Of course we acknowledge that you can have a debate about degrees of difference but to say they are the same is just plain wrong.
Conditions would have been much better for Trade Unionism under a Labour or a Labour lead government. We would not be facing the existential threat we now face.
Already the Blairites and right wing political commentators are claiming that Labour lost the election because 1. It was too Left wing and 2. It was not aspirational enough.
In Scotland, Labour could not have had a more right wing and Blairite leader in Jim Murphy and they were wiped out, disproving the theory Labour were too right wing. If being aspirational means aspiring to job security, decent wages and pensions, somewhere affordable to live, a properly resourced NHS that cares for people rather than making profits, free education, including university, for our kids, then yes, maybe Labour wasn’t aspirational enough. We suspect the Blairites and the right wingers mean something else.
So we could get depressed and mope about. Or we could organise and fight back. Anyone thinking that simply waiting for Labour to get elected would be sufficient will have had a sharp reality check.
This Group Conference gives us a great opportunity to start discussing what we need to do. As workplace leaders we need to set an example. We need to say to members that it’s not inevitable that the Tories will have it all their own way. We need to make sure that we keep our heads up and that members do the same.
Remember in 1992 Labour were expected to win but John Major pulled off a shock win for the Tories. His majority then was larger than Cameron’s now. Within months their credibility was in disarray following so-called Black Wednesday. His government was unable to go as far as previous Thatcher administrations in smashing the Unions and the Welfare state.
Composite Motion A66 should be supported. The Left Unity model motion tells us how bad the pay situation is, a situation the LU leadership in the Group have presided over, and demands that we have fair pay without saying how we go about getting it. The motion from IL supporting branches talks about engaging with members and industrial action as a way of achieving our demands. This difference of approach is a good example of our differences. We would have liked to put those differences to the test this year but we have been prevented from doing so. This decision will be discussed at the national Conference. We are not claiming that we would have won the elections this year but we are confident that we would have got one or two Comrades elected to the GEC and the NEC.
Leaflet version in pdf here.