NEC election results

Naturally we are disappointed by the results; we had hoped for better. So we will have to undertake a thorough look at our campaign to learn lessons for the future. Of course we maintain a presence on the NEC with one of our comrades elected. Indeed for a number of years we have had one or more comrades on the NEC.

Setting aside our disappointment, the real horror story is the turnout, down to 7.5%, with the vast majority of the members not voting. The legal requirement for postal voting reduces the vote but does not explain the year on year fall in the turnout. The simple truth is that members are not sufficiently interested in voting; they don’t see the point. In this context the backslapping amongst Left Unity supporters is ridiculous.

The PCS Independent Left wants to turn this around. We will continue to argue that only radical change can save the union. We want a union where the vast bulk of members vote in NEC elections; where voting makes sense to those members. If you want that sort of union then join us.

 

Mobilise the memes

The powerful have always hated being ridiculed or shown that they have no clothes.  Slow moving, ponderous armies have been defeated by more flexible, fast moving opponents.

Whilst the employer is powerful in the work place and increasingly more sophisticated in its corporate messages, the key problem it has, is that the reality it pushes does not match up with the real world.

So it claims to be against bullying, harassment and discrimination (BDH) but the scores from the People Survey shows endemic levels of BDH. It claims to believe in diversity and inclusion whilst running HR systems that systematically discriminate.  It says that staff are its’ chief asset, that staff welfare is its primary goal, whilst shutting hundreds of offices, allowing real living standards to decline with year after year with sub inflation pay increases and tolerating shocking levels of unequal and unfair across the Service.

The union has to play on the differences between the corporate message and the reality. And this will be all the more important in any ballot that takes place following conference.

A rational union would therefore call upon the hundreds, if not thousands of members who are active social media users, asking them to work with the PCS to get messages out about the vote etc. This is more than just passing on what the union says, but it is members putting out their own complementary messages and also feeding back to union HQ themes, messages, ideas  for the union to broadcast far and wide.

The model we should be aiming for is the social media set up that has grown up in the Labour Party. Faced with the mass hostility of the press and broadcasters, the leadership of the LP has tried to bypass the media and go direct to voters via social media. In this they have been helped by Momentum and the Digital army.

We need the same set up but it will require a radical shake up in the way we communicate. Out with official communiqués with the obligatory quote from Mark Serwotka; instead we should have daily if not more frequent messages, graphics, videos etc. We should mock and satirise the employer. Humour is a vital weapon to deploy.  This means the union has to turn things around in hours rather than ponderously get agreement from the General Secretary and all relevant senior managers and lay officials.  We have to be nimble.

If you want a union leadership that understands we are in the digital age, rather than the analogue age (to reuse a phrase) then vote PCS Independent Left in the NEC and DWP/HMRC GEC election.

Making things easy

We may well be carrying out a statutory industrial action ballot following this year’s conference later this month. And if so we can be sure that the employer will do all it can to stop the union communicating with members in the workplace.

The Tories proclaim that we live in a free society where free speech is protected – indeed sacred, but their actions in the workplace shows otherwise.  Union free speech is to be attacked, not protected!

Being able to quickly communicate with as many members as possible without restriction is vital. The union therefore is making a major drive to get people to sign up to its email service. To do this though you have to a webpage and answer 10 compulsory questions out of a total of 14. What the union is really trying to do is get members to update all their contact details, including their ballot address. Whilst this is understandable from a union HQ point of view, does it make sense from ‘why are we doing this’ point of view?

If you want to receive emails, e-messages from the union why do you have to answer 10 questions, just to register your email? Why not just register your email address/mobile number?

We understand the objections. Firstly management spies may sign up. Unfortunately the employer has spies who are union members. In any case, we want the employer to know what we are saying. We are not a secret society. Then non-members might sign up. Good. The union should/would give its right organisational arm to have all non-members receive messages from the union. Again we are not a secret society or an exclusive club; we want to talk to all staff.

The best objection is that we want to make sure that the ballot address is correct. But making members answer 9 questions before they can change their ballot address does not seem to make sense.

Many web companies experiment to find the best way to maximise responses from ‘customers’; we should do the same.  They key thing we are looking for is results. If one way gets more people to sign up, then let’s use that way rather set things in stone.

As far as we know, the great bulk of those voting in the consultative ballot did so by electronic means. Therefore tens of thousands of members have already shared their email addresses with us already; addresses that we can link to membership numbers and hence names. The union should therefore have been thinking of ways to contact those who didn’t vote, rather than making general calls to all members.

All this brings us to a key difference between the PCS Independent Left (IL) and the current leadership. Whilst being firm in our principles we must be flexible in how we operate. In contrast, Left Unity – the majority grouping in the PCS leadership – seem to be rigid in thought and practice.  If you want a union leadership that tries to think things through rather than rigidly does the same thing again – and then again then vote IL in the NEC and DWP/HMRC GEC election.

 

What’s happening to PCS in the Ministry of Justice?

PCS density in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is collapsing.

The Organising statistics, sent to Branch Secretaries this month, but noticeably absent from the website, illustrates another year of haemorrhaging of members in their Department.

The statistics don’t reference the overall density rate in the MoJ. Despite calls to publish these in order to be open and honest with members, the perennial leadership excuse is that they don’t want the employer to know how weak we are. A crushing admittance in itself, but also self-defeating: They know how weak we are through our inaction, their own statistics and the overall membership figures we are willing to publish online.

However, the stats that are published show another 10%+ drop in members in the department, which by our reckoning puts the density under 20%.

Staff and members in MoJ enjoy some of the worst pay in the entire civil service and some of the largest proliferation of out-sourcing and use of agency and casual staff. The union response to these attacks over the past 5 years has been ineffective if not non-existent and it appears members are voting with their feet.

Indeed, the union’s relevance in one of the top-5 largest Government department is so low that the United Voices of the World (UVW)– a very small non-TUC union without the resources of PCS – has successfully organised cleaners at MoJ HQ and have launched a campaign of action, including strikes, for better wages and conditions. A campaign that should inspire and be supported by PCS and our members, but that seriously raises the question – where is PCS?

Despite all this, the Democracy Alliance are asking you to support a number of leading members of the MoJ Group for election to the National Executive. We ask, are they standing on their record? And if so, is it really one we want replicating at a national level?

An Independent Left NEC would support the MoJ GEC and branches to completely rethink their organisational strategy; including learning the key lessons from the rank-and-file, issue led campaigning that unions such as the UVW have been so successfully able to employ in such a short time. We would also be completely open and honest with members about the organisational challenges faced by the union to illustrate the seriousness of the situation we’re in.

Using all the talents

The union is starting to wake up to the enormous challenge we face. As well as winning a Yes vote, we also have to get a 50% plus turnout.  Unlike the CWU which spent over seven months preparing the membership for a ballot, we are going to do the same in about seven weeks. Already you can detect a faint odour of panic in PCS HQ as people are starting to realise that this is real.

Given that we don’t have time anymore (in essence the union wasted all the time since the consultative ballot) we have to mobilise activists in numbers as quick as possible.

A rational leadership would ask each group/national branch to put forward the names of the best organisers/reps and either seek to second them (though we probably don’t have the time to arrange that, and in any case the employer would probably say no) or ask them to take unpaid special leave (which is more likely to be agreed) with the union paying them or for them to take annual/flexi leave. This would create in a short time a pool of activists who could work full time – at least for periods – on the ballot.

Will PCS mobilise activists in this way? Probably not. Many of the best activists are not in Left Unity.  Unfortunately, particularly in the DWP, LU is sectarian and would see these activists as a threat, who might infect people with ‘Independent Left (IL) ideas’ if they were given free range.

And that is the difference between the IL and Left Unity. We are not sectarian and don’t put organisational needs above those of the members. Therefore we would second LU activists to help. The key thing now is to win the ballot and then the strike action. That should be the one goal.

If you want a union leadership that puts the members first, that is not a crude calculating machine that puts factional needs always front and centre then vote IL in the NEC and DWP/HMRC GEC election.

A discussion that must be had

Whatever happens in this year’s NEC election we want to step up the discussion on the direction of our union. We can have more of the same, decline – albeit slower than before – or seek a fundamental change and reverse that decline.

Such turn arounds have happened frequently in the past, and they can happen in the PCS.  But that requires  acknowledgement of where we are now.

That of course will not happen under the current leadership.

Outwardly they peddle a number of myths; that we are the most ‘left wing’ union in Britain (which will be news to the RMT, IWGB, the Bakers, FBU) that the government is uniquely frightened of us and that is why it has uniquely targeted us (we just happened to be the only union it could get at directly) and that we have survived the crisis and are on the up (the first part is true for now; the second part is untrue).

So how do we go from the present state to a union that is growing, that is really membership led and that militantly fights for better living standards and terms and conditions?

We think voting PCS Independent Left is a step in that direction, but it is not nearly enough.  That is why we are hoping to hold a school later this year to learn from past turn arounds and see what is relevant to us.

Of course that doesn’t mean we won’t know what to do on a day-to-day basis until we have the school. As you will see from the other postings on the website we have a lot of ideas. But unlike the current union leadership we realise that you do need a strategic direction for the union and that we need more than day-to-day ‘management’.

In the run up to the school we will publish case studies from other unions and how they fought back to become effective unions.

If you are interested in joining this discussion then join the school – it will be open to all – take part in our debates, and why not join us?

Vote PCS Independent Left.