The membership is not a stage army

NEC campaigns have a common pattern. Without much warning and certainly with no membership preparation, the leadership decide to fight on an issue or issues and decides it wants us to take strike action. In a short period, masses of material is produced, activists told to super-fast mobilise the members, a fast ballot takes place, we win the vote and then there is a one day strike (usually) followed by months of inactivity, no messages to the activists or members; there may be another strike or the issue fades and we are never told that the campaign is over or whether there have been talks.

This pattern is one of not accounting or telling the truth to the membership (if we have lost we should say so, that way we learn lessons as to how to fight in the future to win) and treating the members as a stage army; something to be switched on and off as needed by the leadership; marched up the hill and down again.

There is no notion of being lead by the membership or learning from them. Democracy in PCS is a vote once a year (not even that sometimes) for the NEC, every 5 years for the top two jobs and no more. Full time officials are not voted for or democratically accountable to members; their wages are much more than the average member. In other words, despite the rhetoric that PCS is uniquely left wing, we are the same as every other right wing union when it comes to voting and FTO money.

An example hopefully will make clear the difference between our conception of the relationship between a leadership and members and that of the current NEC.

Members in the DWP contact centres in the North West of England want to take action against the terrible regime in those call centres; they have shown this time and again through their branches, members meetings etc. But they have not been allowed to take action.

The DWP GEC, which contains most of the main players of the NEC, will not allow them. As far as we can make it out, the main obvert reason for ‘no to action’ is that the GEC want to see if there is mileage in talks, even though these have been going on for months (in fact on contact centres in general for even longer). What we suspect is that for the GEC such action is not needed for the time being. If, however, such action became useful as part of a national campaign or a GEC one, then they would be allowed to take action but under strict control. They would be turned ‘on’. If the dispute was no longer necessary in their view, then it would switched ‘off’.

Our way is different. We see the role of the GEC and NEC to be one of helping the members in the NW, so we would say ‘yes’ to action but there would be more. We would argue that the action be generalised across the other contact centres and indeed to the wider group if that is way the struggle evolves. We don’t want to be arbiters, lording over members, deciding when the time is right, we want to maximise membership mobilisation if there a mood for a fight and to argue for action when we think the issues warrent it.

In the NEC election there will be a stark choice in the way we see that a union should be run compared to that of Left Unity and its right wing partners in power, the Democrats. If you think the role of the union is to be in favour of members action, to not shut down action until the timing of such action is convenient for the leadership, not to treat the members as a stage army then you should vote for us.

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