Time to ditch the ‘broad left’ model!

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/

Phil Dickens

Terms and conditions

At this year’s Trades Union Congress (TUC), unions supported a statement that moving to a four day working week was an achievable goal “this century.” This comes as more and more research supports shortening the working week and allowing workers more leisure time in response to automation and digitalisation – whilst employers are trying to make us work longer and in worse conditions so they can make do with less of us.

The Modernising Employment Provisions deal offered in Ministry of Justice, which sought to increase pay by trading off terms and conditions, is just the latest such deal to come from the bosses. A deal that most unions in the NHS accepted has now been revealed to be worth less than originally claimed. Asda increased pay in exchange for changes to working patterns and the removal of in social premiums in a deal accepted by GMB. Sainsbury’s are now looking at a similar deal, but unlike Asda are threatening to dismiss anyone who doesn’t accept the terms rather than allowing an opt out. Returning to the civil service, HMRC are watching the response to the MoJ offer very closely as they want to do similar things to terms and conditions.

There is a definite trend here, where deals that are accepted in one workplace give the bosses confidence to push further in the next. The DWP Employee Deal is not the same as the MoJ MEP offer, but just as the acceptance of the Asda deal was followed by the more vindictive Sainsbury’s deal, there is a clear chain reaction – one explicitly supported in the case of civil service employers by the Cabinet Office pay remit. Getting workers to surrender hard won terms gets you more money in the pot.

This only underlines that the bosses will make concessions only so long as that is less disruptive to them than the benefit of not doing so. The advance of the gig economy and the widespread of outsourcing are both defended as these sectors are largely unorganised, and even where unions have a presence – including strongholds of the public sector – the bosses feel confident enough to go on the offensive.

In this context, a cynic might say that the TUC appears over ambitious calling for a reduction of the working week even within a 100-year timeframe. But in reality the confidence of the bosses comes back to the decades-long retreat of the unions and a lack of ambition. After all, the TUC is far from the head of the pack in making their call. The radical IWW union was first to take up the call, but even the likes of the Green Party came to this conclusion ahead of the TUC.

What unions need to do now is, rather than waiting to resist or (more likely) moderate the decline of terms and conditions is to regroup and go on the offensive. Demand a shorter full time working week with no loss in pay, and more – every worker will be able to point to other rights lacking in their workplace, or even for one group of workers in that workplace since multi-tier workforces are the norm now.

It’s easy to say that this is a pipe dream, that it is unrealistic or unworkable. Many workers may even think it themselves. This should not be a reason to avoid the fight.

The CWU’s “four pillars” victory in the Royal Mail put the union on the path to a shorter working week and  to an improved pension scheme for all workers that ended the previous two-tier scheme. This was despite the employer’s initial intent, as elsewhere, to make terms and conditions worse on the back of privatisation. The turnaround happened because they organised, because they put forward ambitious demands and, most importantly, because they engaged with members on the question of what could improve and what would be necessary to win that. This led to an impressive ballot result that got them what they wanted without having to take a single day of strike action.

There’s no point having aspirations for something that might happen within a century. We need to organise now, not just to slow the decline but to win real improvements. From the CWU winning their four pillars to small, independent unions beating zero hours contracts and the gig economy, we know it can be done.

We just have to be realistic, and demand the impossible.

The Pay Campaign – What Next?

The last National Executive Committee meeting saw decisions taken on a number of issues, most prominently the pay campaign. A video update from Mark Serwotka gave us the headlines: departmental pay campaigning continues, and there will be members’ consultation meetings in the likes of HMRC and DWP. The legal challenge against the imposition of the pay remit goes to the High Court in the first week of October. Most crucially, if the pay cap remains next year there will be a further national ballot in the spring, one that we of course hope to win.

There was an extensive debate on pay at the NEC. Between now and a spring ballot there is a lot of work to do to put us in the best position to win that vote. The PCS Independent Left (IL) member of the committee, Phil Dickens, pointed out that there are essentially three strands to this: more effective organising across the board, a pay claim that captures the imagination, and a strategy members can buy into.

On organising, it’s welcome that there will be a further round of the training that came out before the last ballot. This was extremely well received and we believe it needs to be rolled out wider. It would also be helpful for this to be part of an ongoing programme to equip all reps with the knowledge and confidence to get their workplace organised.

IL also argued that the lay structures which emerged with the ballot, such as Town Committees, need to be nurtured and encouraged everywhere. The NEC agreed to this. Our other proposals, on utilising the skills of lay activists by possibly seconding organisers during any ballot campaign and incorporating the skills of local branches into a national media and communication strategy, wasn’t agreed at that meeting but will receive further consideration at the Policy and Resources Committee. Though this doesn’t guarantee anything, that the union is finally giving proper consideration to effective use of the skills our lay activists have is a good thing.

Mark Serwotka summed up the issue with our pay claim in an article for the Guardian: “Our own research shows that the effect of the pay cap will be that by 2020, average civil service pay will have fallen in value by more than 20%. Given what our members have had to put up with, our 5% claim this year was a moderate demand.”

Likewise, our current position on an industrial action strategy leaves much to be desired. We have moved away from holding a one day strike every few months. We have a fighting fund. We have run several consultations on forms of targeted and selective action that may be effective. But no strategy has been developed from that, indeed there was no intent to do so until we got a positive result. Worse, that we have moved from one day strikes hasn’t been effectively communicated to members on a nationwide scale.

Our Annual Delegate Conference in May will be too late to address either question for 2019, especially if we are balloting in spring. One alternative is a Special Delegate Conference on pay, but the majority on the NEC are opposed to this, preferring instead an “event” to launch the next phase of the campaign – effectively, a talking shop and photo opportunity.

So how do we address this, and get proper democratic input into our claim and strategy in time for a 2019 ballot?

There are two options at this point: a Special Delegate Conference can happen if branches representing 25% of the membership sign up to a letter demanding the General Secretary calls it. Otherwise, branches holding Autumn General Meetings may wish to agree motions to put to the NEC. Though these appear on the NEC agenda only for noting, enough branches making the same demands will have to be seriously considered.

We urge all reps reading this to raise the matter for discussion with their Branch Executive Committee. If your BEC is willing to back either approach (or both) then contact us so that we can ensure branches who agree with this call are working together.

Baugh and Godrich: Two peas in a pod



If you click on the window above you will see Janice Godrich giving full support to Chris Baugh. The write up that goes with the video states:

 PCS President, Janice Godrich, (speaking in a personal capacity) says re-elect Chris Baugh for PCS Assistant General Secretary as part of the Democracy Alliance slate in the forthcoming elections in April 2014.

As you listen to Janice support Chris, you hear no criticism, no hint that according to her now, for ten years Chris Baugh has been playing a disruptive role within the union.

It was only when Mark Serwotka made it clear that he could not and would not work with Chris Baugh that we learned of his supposed bad behaviour.

We have commented in an earlier post that there is no real politics in any of this. The Socialist Party accurately states that there is no substantive difference between Janice Godrich and Chris Baugh. We go further and say that this has been case for the last ten years and more. We have no doubt that there were tactical differences between them as how to do this or that but no major difference in where the union went and what is has become. They were, and are peas in a pod.

What we have is court politics where the King has fallen out with one of his nobles and there is battle to replace the rebel courtier.

Our candidate for AGS by contrast will stand on a substantively different platform from either Chris Baugh or Janice Godrich. That person, like the rest of the Independent Left (IL), wants a membership organised and confident enough to put pressure on and hold any leadership to account – IL or otherwise – and to act independently of the leadership, if necessary.

If you think likewise then join us. Now is not the time to stand on the sidelines.


To SWP comrades: where’s the politics?

The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) have decided to back Janice Godrich in the upcoming AGS (Assistant General Secretary) election within Left Unity. Of course this puts them in opposition to Chris Baugh and the Socialist Party (SP).

You can find the SWP’S reasoning for their decision here.

Once you get past what can only be described as political verbiage you get to the meat:

It is the SWP’s assessment that Mark Serwotka has been a driving force behind all of the national industrial action taken by PCS in recent years.

This does not mean we would never criticise Mark Serwotka’s leadership of the union. It is true that there has been an increasing reliance on officials rather than lay structures over the years when PCS has come under attack but has not managed to launch a national fightback. However this is a criticism that could equally be levelled at all of the senior officers of the union and is reflected in the operation of Left Unity as a whole.

However we think that of all the national officers of the union, Mark Serwotka’s policies are the ones that are most likely to lead the union to successfully fightback against the attacks we face. 

We believe that Janice Godrich is the candidate who is best able to work with Mark Serwotka to implement these policies. We also welcome her commitment to work to revitalise Left Unity.  It is on this basis we have decided to back Janice as the Left Unity candidate for AGS.

Boiling all the above down, the SWP’s position is that we don’t want to fall out with the General Secretary and so we will support Janice Godrich.

Note that they don’t demand as part of their support that there be less reliance on officials and more on lay structures; they don’t demand that Janice stand on a worker’s wage; they don’t demand that Janice should be recallable; in other words they don’t put any of their own politics forward.

Instead of demands and making their support conditional on those demands being met, they say:

We will argue within her campaign that it is necessary to renew the left in the union based on relating to the political movements outside of the union, combating racism and all forms of discrimination and at the same time re-building workplace based organisation and the most militant possible action to defend our members both locally and nationally.

Of course, Janice Godrich knows that she can ignore the SWP’s arguments as they have pledged their support already.

Their position is more akin to court politics rather than class politics. They see that the King wants one candidate rather than another. Instead of independently, in terms of their own politics, evaluating the candidates, putting demands on those candidates, or even standing their own candidate in LU, they go along with the King’s preference. All this whilst acknowledging that Mark Serwotka has not managed to launch a national fightback for years – which if course is true of Janice Godrich and Chris Baugh.

In contrast the IL will stand a candidate on a worker’s wage, who will argue for a bottom up transformation of the union where members are really in charge and led the union. In other words our candidate will be much closer to the formal politics of the SWP than Janice Godrich. So comrades in the election you have a choice; the King’s choice or backing someone who actually will try and deliver what you say you want in the PCS. So whose side are you on?

The tasks ahead for PCS

PCS is at a crossroads. Having failed to break the 50% threshold in our first national ballot since the Trade Union Act came into force, we still have to deal with a government and employers on the offensive against our members. All whilst the ruling Left Unity (LU) faction digs the trenches for a bitter civil war. Where do we go from here?

When it was first announced, ahead of the union’s annual conference in May, President Janice Godrich’s decision to stand for Assistant General Secretary against incumbent Chris Baugh raised eyebrows. The Socialist Party, of which both were members but which backed Chris as AGS, was incandescent.


Others at Conference had a mildly entertaining source of gossip as the dividing lines were drawn up. Many of us wondered at the decision to put all this in the public domain right as the union was set to debate a national strike ballot over pay which would be our biggest test in recent years.

Thankfully, the spat never took off beyond a few Facebook rows and some tension at Conference. Not only would it have diverted from the pay ballot, but it would have widened the divide between the PCS leadership and members. Less than 10% vote in national elections, and there’s little reason to expect a dramatic shift from that in the AGS vote. If they don’t care who is AGS, why would the dispute over who is LU’s candidate to be AGS or the SP’s candidate to be LU’s candidate to be AGS bother them?

But with the pay ballot now a month in the past, the battle within LU has flared into life again. Support for Janice has coalesced into ‘Socialist View,’ a faction-within-a-faction. The Socialist Workers’ Party has, to nobody’s surprise, backed Janice because that goes against the SP. The SP, in their turn, have dedicated nearly 5,000 words to all the apparent shortcomings of LU’s leadership of the union. Of course, the SP valiantly tried in vain to set things right with only a commanding majority in the faction, but now have no choice to reveal it all now that it appears electorally beneficial to do so, instead of denying or justifying it as they had previously.

This utter farce may be amusing at a distance. But sadly, it’s all going on right when the union needs to regroup after the pay ballot result, when pay battles at Group and branch bargaining unit level are still going on – most notably in the Ministry of Justice, and when it’s clear that in some areas PCS needs to be entirely rebuilt from the ground up. Neither LU candidate is offering that, because LU itself is a significant part of the problem.

Not a broad left but a fighting rank-and-file

The SP is now claiming, as many of us have known for a long while, that PCS has been beset by creeping bureaucratisation and the handing of control from lay reps to full time officers. However, they were part of the problem, and their analysis of how it arose and how it can be changed misses the mark.

Despite their claims, there was never any great effort to democratise and transform PCS. The wholesale corruption of the old right wing is gone, of course, but this merely moves us back into line with the mainstream of the Trades Union Congress. The occasional left rhetoric cannot disguise that. Whilst the blame is placed upon Mark Serwotka for not acting on a motion to increase the number of senior full-time posts that are subject to election, the fact is that this motion itself only emerged late in LU’s (and the SP’s) dominance over the union structures. Other measures that should go alongside this, such as the principle of workers’ representatives only taking a worker’s wage, have consistently been resisted.

Both sides of LU remain wedded to the ‘broad left’ model of organising, trusting that putting the right people in positions of influence is enough to set things right. They can, from above, guide members to the fight and counter the pressure upon all union leaderships to reach an accommodation with the bosses. This is of course nonsense.

What we have seen in practice is that LU wasn’t the victim of creeping bureaucratisation but that from the off it transplanted its own into the pre-existing bureaucracy. Jobs for the boys/party members. Meanwhile, it cemented its own power by recruiting and expanding in the apolitical way that cults do – establishing loyalties through friendship before making membership part of that friendship, so that instead of political allegiance you have out-group hostility where disagreement is immediately taken as (and in consequence, from them often manifests as) personal attack.

Trade union leaderships, left or right, will always face pressure to accommodate the bosses. It’s part of the job – why would they give the union a seat at the table if they couldn’t keep their members in line once a deal is made? And if everything is run from the top down, as in the broad left model, there’s no counter pressure.

Negotiators aren’t able to win concessions from the employer through their wits and silver tongues, whatever some may claim. The bosses will talk and make a deal when the union has leverage – a strength of numbers and feeling that, if not assuaged, could threaten disruption. But if that leverage is controlled from the top, as in the way PCS have tended to run things with members moved like chess pieces when convenient, it’s essentially a bluff.

To go beyond that, we need a movement organised from the bottom up. Not a broad left, but a rank-and-file which can cause disruption for the bosses if they won’t bargain – and a headache for the negotiators if they give too much away or reach a compromise the workforce aren’t happy with.

This is the other piece of the puzzle. We need a change in leadership, of course – the Independent Left doesn’t exist because we think LU are doing a great job. But we also need a membership organised and confident enough to put pressure on and hold any leadership to account – and to act independently of the leadership, if necessary.

The need for a pay conference

The last meeting of the NEC agreed to discuss in September the date for an ‘event’ around pay. There was some disagreement over this, with the SP arguing for it to be held urgently in September or October whilst the rest of LU supported the idea of it being in November or January.

The date such an event is held isn’t the key issue here. It certainly shouldn’t be put off into the new year, nor held so hastily that there is no chance for all members to have input into it. Far more crucial – as the Independent Left’s member on the NEC, Phil Dickens, argued – is that branches are encouraged to hold members’ meetings ahead of time in order to properly mandate delegates so that it can be as democratic an event as possible.

Members in many areas question why we are still asking for 5%, a claim now several years old, when our pay has fallen an average of 12-14% behind the cost of living. During the ballot, it became clear that many expected a positive result to lead to a one-day strike or a series of one day strikes. A special delegate conference on pay is the chance to properly engage members on these points, amongst others, and to get the broadest possible buy in for both demands and a strategy that are far more radical than anything we’ve ever put forward before.

It is also a chance to see what other issues fit well alongside pay in a national campaign. The employer is determined to link pay to terms and conditions, and we should seriously discuss whether our answer to that is radical demands for vastly improved conditions as well.

Build the Fighting Fund

Independent Left members argued for years that the union needed a fighting fund for prolonged selective action. Now that we finally have one, it is coming up short in terms of money and no serious effort has yet been made to build it.

Part of the problem is that not enough members are paying into the levy, which does need greater take up. But as both the National Gallery and the Merseyside ISS disputes showed, this is only part of the battle. Great amounts of money can be made through crowdfunding, bucket collections, motions of solidarity at trades council meetings, and more.

On a more ambitious scale, fundraising events are a way to at once fill the coffers and build a cohesive sense of community around the union. The film Pride covers the Pits and Perverts concert organised by Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, whilst all the current talk in the media of reviving the Anti Nazi League should remind us of the massive carnivals that they organised to bring in money.

The trade union movement is still capable of organising such things, on both a local and national scale, and there needs to be a serious push to do it. If we put the work in, the target agreed by Conference of £2m by 2020 will appear under-ambitious.

Organise outsourced workers

Across the government estate, there are a great many outsourced workers. Those who have either been privatised or brought in as contractors are occasionally PCS members, but more often they’re not – and no serious effort has been made to organise them on a national scale.

The recent three-day strike at the Ministry of Justice by cleaners in the United Voices of the World union puts this into stark relief. Whilst the Culture Sector is ahead of the curve in this area, perhaps because their members have overwhelmingly been privatised across the board, the scenes at Petty France were unprecedented across most of PCS. The vibrancy and militancy of the picket even put the higher density areas of the civil service to shame!

The UVW’s efforts should be applauded. But PCS should not be waiting on another union to come along and do this work, it is something we need to be doing ourselves.

We know the reasons why it isn’t. When Bootle Taxes Branch were trying to get their ISS campaign off the ground, they were discouraged at every turn and the union’s organising department bluntly deemed it not worth the full-time resource. Fortunately, the branch dragged the union along with them by doing it anyway, but should we really have to fight the union to organise in this area?

A coordinated fight for better pay and conditions across in house and outsourced staff would boost the confidence of both. Victories would create an upward pressure on wages. Perhaps most crucially, a serious commitment to organising privatised staff undermines the main incentive of privatisation – cutting costs and eroding workplace rights. The task is as urgent as any in the union.

Let’s do something about it!

PCS Independent Left will continue to consistently argue for the concrete change needed to put our union on the front foot. We will stand candidates in elections on that platform, including for the hotly-contested AGS post. We will also continue to put our money where our mouth is by working to make it happen in our branches, our groups and nationally.

Do you agree with what we’re arguing for? Why not join us and get involved?


Continue reading