During the recent balloting period, the state, in the guise of the Civil Service effectively banned freedom of speech and freedom of association in the work place.
PCS members weren’t allowed to officially hold strike ballot meetings in offices, we couldn’t use work emails to argue for a Yes vote or distribute official union material in the workplace. Indeed the Civil Service guidance went so far as to effectively ban members talking about the ballot in the workplace. In recognition of this, PCS in DWP issued guidance telling activists to carry out all strike ballot activity outside the office.
No doubt some branches got around these restrictions but the point is that the majority did not (thus reducing voter turnout) and more importantly we shouldn’t have to – there should be no such restrictions.
The union over the years instead has adapted and accepted these constraints rather than fight them. So we collect private emails and numbers; stand outside handing out leaflets to those coming into work etc.
We must begin to campaign to change this. Members must be allowed the freedom to associate together in the work place by holding meetings; to talk to each other and to be given material in work – to exchange information and ideas – which is just another way of saying to be allowed freedom of expression.
We to make a big deal of all this with members. It must be raised with MPs and legally challenged. The Labour Party should be asked to agree that if in power they will lift all restrictions on association and free speech. We should defy the restrictions, where we can, and with the full, open backing of the union.
Firstly though we must regain our sense of outrage that the state can tell ‘citizens’ what they can talk about and what they cannot!