The fight over who will be the Left Unity candidate for Assistant General Secretary in next year’s elections could hardly be farther removed from the concerns of PCS members in the workplace. Most won’t be even tangentially aware of it, and if they are will view it as irrelevant.
But it does say something about the current position of our union.
Left Unity has dominated PCS’s hierarchy for the better part of two decades. In that time, true believers have stuck to the party line. LU’s socialism, its leading role in the trade union movement, the correctness of its analysis was never in doubt – at least by those who didn’t want to put a target on their back.
Now, because Mark Serwotka doesn’t like Chris Baugh and has slid Janice Godrich across the board to replace him, a different message emerges.
The Chris Baugh camp tells us that unelected full time officers have too much power, that workers in struggle have had to fight for support, and that the Unite merger was being pushed for nest-feathering reasons with democracy an afterthought at best.
From the SWP, we learn that without Mark Serwotka the union would have been in constant retreat over the last few years and nobody else was willing to push for a national fight over pay.
Janice Godrich’s supporters tell us that the union has long sidelined organising for bargaining and this was a symptom of a layer of full timers who got their position through cronyism.
Mark Serwotka himself has even stated that in the past strikes were called as set-piece political protests, after the fact, and no real efforts were made to properly build leverage or negotiate.
There is truth in all of this. (And the personal attacks and bullying that pervade LU’s culture have been laid bare in the conduct of the debate).
But where each side blames the other, themselves conveniently committed to silence by a revolutionary discipline that can now be cast aside because the two most senior paid officials don’t get on, in reality the problem is Left Unity as a collective entity.
Opposed to the domination of unelected full time officers, and the cronyism that goes with this, is the policy of electing all senior paid posts, and workers representatives on a worker’s wage.
Against relying on one senior official to drive activity (though Serwotka’s militancy is massively over-stated) is the need to build the union from the ground up led by a fighting rank-and-file movement.
Rather than set-piece strikes, there is a need to take building the fighting fund seriously and actually follow through on developing a strategy of paid selective action.
Both sides of the LU split claim to stand for these things. But in reality, what movement there has been in this direction has been slow, reluctant, and driven by wider calls for this across the membership. Calls that came from the PCS Independent Left, and were duly derided for that until they became policy.
The Independent Left also supported victimised rep John Pearson when the LU NEC refused to – and were vindicated when he won his tribunal. We believe that union solidarity should be a principle, not dictated by personal and sectarian loyalties.
The trade union movement is coming to a crisis point. Outdated TUC-style business unionism is dying, and the promising upsurge in revolutionary, syndicalist organising needs desperately to be supported and spread.
In PCS, that means ditching LU’s ‘broad left’ model which is focused only on getting ‘the right people’ into positions. Instead, we need to organise in such a way that those we elect are only there to facilitate rank-and-file activity – and the rank-and-file can act without them where they don’t.
In next year’s elections, the Independent Left will be standing a candidate for Assistant General Secretary as well as a slate for the NEC. If you want a union genuinely led by its members and fit to take the fight to the bosses, you should consider nominating and supporting our candidates as a first step.
If you agree with what I’ve said, organising to change the culture of the union is at least as important as winning elections. Join us and get involved in doing that: https://pcsindependentleft.com/join-us/