The inability of the PCS leadership to exercise its usual level of control over the recent annual conference in part reflects the widening and increasingly bitter divide within the increasingly misnamed Left Unity (LU).
On the one side, a now ascendant grouping centred on Mark Serwotka and leading former Socialist Party members who already occupied senior lay positions and have grouped themselves within “PCS Socialist View” (SV), a newly created organisation or shell which does not appear to have any democratic structures.
On the other side, the Socialist Party, which still has considerable strength in LU and has three members on the NEC.
The civil war in LU initially centred on a struggle by the Mark Serwotka/SV group to remove the incumbent AGS, Chris Baugh, as the Left Unity candidate.
However, when the Mark Serwotka/SV camp failed to prevent Chris Baugh from becoming the LU AGS candidate they simply put up Lynn Henderson, another full time officer but one who has never been in LU, for AGS.
They then formally separated the LU campaign to re-elect Chris Baugh from their campaign to elect their NEC candidates: it was a clear statement of a lack of commitment to Chris Baugh. It is safe to assume that even within some of the LU controlled PCS branches that nominated Chris Baugh the level of actual campaigning for him was minimal.
Indeed former leading SP PCS member John McInally never even nominated Chris Baugh within his own Branch. Instead he secured Lynn Henderson’s nomination by casting his deciding vote as Branch Chairperson in her favour and against John Moloney.
In Scotland LU members have voted to remove an SP comrade, who has been re-elected to the NEC on the LU slate, from all other PCS positions. Whether or not the individual deserves such treatment – his politics are sectarian but no more than they have always been – it adds to the sense of divide and will lead to further LU in-fighting in Scotland.
Further conflict between the LU camps, perhaps sometimes hidden and sometime open, appears inevitable. When the battle lines between the Mark Serwotka/SV and SP camps were being drawn up in May 2018 the two parties opportunistically resorted to inventing or grossly exaggerating their industrial and political differences. They had no option because for many years it was impossible to get a political feather between the (now) protagonists.
But such unprincipled behaviour has its own logic and reinforces rather than clarifies the hostility of the two parties and those “political” differences are likely to grow and be added to.
Perhaps most importantly, Mark Serwotka was nigh on launched as the LU candidate for General Secretary at conference and before any discussion within LU itself (the nomination period opens later this year and the election will take place next year). It is difficult to see the SP wanting genuinely to support him but if they do not their passive support or active hostility will become another serious source of conflict within LU.
Both the Mark Serwotka/SV and the SP camps will have to decide whether remaining nominally within the one organisation whilst slugging it out, is tactically preferable to either walking away or seeking to push the other side out. It’s a vile mess which is a direct result of the years of courtier politics at HQ, careerism, the defeats presided over by the two parties when they were a single leadership, and unprincipled politics.
Adding to the potent mixture at the 2019 Conference was the PCS IL’s long standing and comprehensive criticism of the PCS leadership and active IL supporters on the Conference floor; the impatient sense of many hitherto loyal delegates that things are not quite as the leadership claim; and a certain distaste amongst some delegates for the unprincipled behaviour manifested in LU’s civil war.
It won’t surprise you therefore that we are calling for activists who find all of the above distasteful, those who want a better union and all who worry about the way the union is going, to join us.
IL is the only principled socialist grouping within PCS. Certainly the only one which encourages different viewpoints, rather than denouncing them. We believe that freedom of speech is vital, not only in the workplace and in the general union but vitally in the political fractions within the union. Unlike the LU leadership and their opponents do, we don’t attack people on personalised and bureaucratic grounds. We don’t exaggerate policy differences to justify enmity.
If this is what you want then join us. Only if we band together can we achieve a better union.