Bev Laidlaw for PCS General Secretary

68513582_110173283677342_4591186500300832768_n

Bev Laidlaw is the Independent Left candidate for General Secretary of PCS in the upcoming union election.

Bev is an experienced lay activist who currently sits on both the DWP Group Executive Committee and the union’s National Executive Committee. She is standing on a platform of:

  • A return to national pay and terms and conditions
  • Robust opposition to job cuts and office closures
  • Equality at the heart of organising and bargaining
  • Rebuilding the union into a serious fighting force
  • A workers’ representative on a worker’s wage
  • Elected full time officials and transparent PCS structures
  • A union that punches above its weight in politics

Find out more by reading Bev’s manifesto here.

Volunteer

As with any union campaign, the key to winning in this election isn’t a website or social media, but face to face contact with members on the ground in workplaces. If you agree with what this campaign stands for, then please get in touch and volunteer to help.

Volunteer to help Bev’s campaign here.

Donate

This campaign doesn’t have the machinery of the union at its disposal. In order to fund campaign activities such as printing leaflets, attending hustings, etc, we rely on the generous donations of those who believe in what we’re trying to achieve.

All donations are gratefully received. Donations received and spending from them will be properly accounted, and any excess funds at the end of the campaign will go to the PCS Fighting Fund.

Donate via Go Fund Me here.

Donate via PayPal here.

John Moloney: I will only take a workers’ wage

I have now signed a contract with the PCS and have become an employee of the union from the 1 July. As such I am entitled to a salary of £69,466 a year (£5,788 a month).

As part of my election platform though, I promised not to take the full AGS salary but only take home the wage of a DWP Executive Officer (EO) working in London.

EO is the most common grade in the Civil Service; DWP is the biggest part of the Service and I work in London. Therefore it seems to me that the EO salary is a representative wage of members in the union. Further, in my opinion it is a workers’ wage.

I asked the union only to be paid this but PCS stated that I had to take the full money. Therefore I am donating the difference between the AGS net pay and EO net pay to the fighting fund.

According to tax calculators having a gross monthly salary of £5,788 should mean earning £4,069 net.

DWP London EO salary is £30,303. According to the same calculators this leaves £2,012 net. Therefore I will be giving back £2,057 a month to the PCS; 24,684 a year.

To put this into context, the recent week long strike by BEIS cleaners/catering staff cost the union approx £20,000 in strike pay.

I have opted out of the PCS pension fund. If I am not taking the full wage, it seemed wrong to me to get the indirect benefit of the full salary through the pension scheme. I have decades of reckonable service in a Civil Service pension so I am lucky compared to most. I can well understand therefore someone with much less pension service opting into the PCS pension scheme.

It is my intention to publish my end of July wage slip and my standing order to the Fighting Fund, so proving that I have fulfilled my pledge. I will ensure that in the annual accounts, my contribution to the FF is shown (rank does have some privileges).

I must stress that my stance on the AGS wage is not that of a hair shirt moralist; it is political. During the five years of my contract, my take home will only increase in line with that of DWP London EOs. Poor pay awards will hit me in the same way as members. Therefore there will be a real organic link between my material well being and that of members. So at least in the pay sense, I can say I am one with the members and have no separate material interest to them.

John Moloney

PCS Assistant General Secretary (in a personal capacity)

Building Environmentalism into Workplace Struggle

With catastrophic climate change to the world today, the term “climate emergency” has entered common use. The environmental crisis continues to grow day by day, and whilst the responses of our and other governments continue to be woefully inadequate, the movement demanding action continues to grow.

For the trade union movement, the question continues to be how we can use our industrial muscle in this battle. This is particularly relevant given the successive global climate strikes by school age children, and the question now being asked of how we can build towards climate strikes by workers.

A Crisis of Capitalism

The first thing that needs to be recognised is that the environmental crisis is fundamentally a crisis of capitalism. The position we find ourselves in, both in terms of how much we have already contributed to climate change and of the resistance to serious action to reverse course, both have their roots in a system built around unrelenting economic growth.

Capitalism, fundamentally, means money making more money. Whilst it may be easier to think in terms of greedy bankers or similar, this ignores that the CEO of the most ethical company in the world, with the greatest social conscience, is beholden to their shareholders. Their business must grow, not only making profit but increasing profit. Just as we see situations where factories are closed and workers laid off not because the company is making a loss but because the profit it makes is slightly less than before, so this ideology of continuous growth drives the aggressive resource expansion polluting the environment and heating up the planet.

Against this, it simply isn’t true that “every little helps.” It doesn’t. Certainly, it’s good to recycle and to re-use your plastic bags, but it’s not going to stop climate change and having a narrative tying the destruction of the planet to individual guilt – including horrendous anecdotes of disabled people being guilt tripped for needing to use straws – does nothing to solve this crisis.

Equality in ecology

Climate change will affect the whole planet, but we also know it will affect different communities differently. Class struggle is at the heart of this, since the bosses exacerbating the crisis, funding those who deny it even exists, or perhaps offering piecemeal, PR-friendly answers are best placed to remove themselves from the worst of the damage. The working class of the world are the ones who will bear the brunt of the damage.

Within the working class, we also know that it will be people of colour in the third world at the sharpest edge of this. The negative effects of climate change are primarily felt in countries that are majority people of colour, especially black and brown people, even though most of the planet’s CO2 emissions come from China, the United States, and Russia. People of colour are also more likely to be exposed to industrial pollution.

Disabled people can often have a greater vulnerability to environmental disasters such as storms, floods and extreme heat, meaning that in those communities at the sharp end of climate change disabled people are particularly threatened. Closer to home, we have already touched on how reducing environmental issues to personal and consumer choice does harm to those who need even as seemingly insignificant a thing as a straw to do that which others might take for granted.

70% of the world’s poor are women. They are often tasked with gathering and producing food, collecting water and fuel, and so on, all tasks that become more difficult with extreme weather events. Massive pre-existing gender inequality will only be exacerbated by this crisis.

The movement to tackle climate change must be rooted in equality, and take these issues and concerns to heart. This is why, whilst many have applauded the willingness of Extinction Rebellion to use civil disobedience and direct action, the way they have gone about it has raised considerable red flags. The legal observer organisation Green and Black Cross has distanced themselves from the group, saying they do not believe XR does enough to safeguard its activists. Tactics of soliciting mass arrests, even aside from utterly naïve pronouncements such as that jail time allows for the pursuit of yoga or falsely claiming racism isn’t an issue in prison because most guards are black, puts those without a high degree of privilege in serious danger.

Diversity of tactics

Though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, it is worth counterposing civil disobedience to direct action. Where civil disobedience’s shows of mass disruption are aimed at getting their protagonists arrested to show off the injustice of the system and give them their day in court, direct action is fundamentally about leverage. The working class, taking matters into their own hands, forces their target to meet their demands or face the consequences. Arrests may happen, but they are certainly not sought, and the movement does what it can to prevent them, so that those taking the action now are not removed from the fight for the future.

Strikes are a form of direct action just as much as occupations, blockades and sabotage are. In the new unions such as United Voices of the World, and even in more militant struggle from traditional unions such as the fight against blacklisting, we often see strikes accompanied by road blockades, occupations of business premises, and so on. That diversity of tactics, which the traditional unions are more often fearful of due to strikes done in the “right” way having lawful protections and the rest not, is something we need to see in environmental struggle.

So how do we get from the school strikes over climate change to strikes by workers in pursuit of the action necessary to save the planet?

Making radical demands

The fact is that the broader trade union movement is in a position now where engaging most of its members in lawful strikes is difficult. In specific workplaces with high levels of organisation, the response is strong, but across bigger bargaining units the difficulties arise. The UCU has had to disaggregate its ballots to be able to take some colleges and universities out on strike over what are effectively national issues. The CWU built for seven months to decisively win the ballot at Royal Mail over its “four pillars” campaign, and even that was subject to a legal challenge. PCS has now twice failed to pass a 50% turnout in an aggregate ballot of the whole civil service.

It would be easy to instead demand unlawful strikes, circumventing the requirement for a 50% turnout in a secret ballot. But if we can’t deliver a lawful strike, what suggests there is a mood for unlawful strikes, except in pockets? The call to a climate general strike on a certain date, like previous calls for general strikes through the height of the Occupy movement back in 2012, is unlikely to yield any actual strike action.

That doesn’t mean nothing can be done. It just means that we have to start from the shop floor, to organise around genuinely radical demands tied to the sort of massive, social change we need to see to address climate change.

Take, as one example, the demand for a shorter working week.

We already know that this “unrealistic” demand is absolutely necessary in purely economic terms. To increase work life balance, to stop workers burning out particularly in hostile environments like contact centres, and to allow workers to feel the benefit of digitalisation rather than it leading to job cuts and spiralling workloads. The Industrial Workers of the World have been calling for it for the better part of a century and now some businesses have come around to the idea even before some trade unionists.

From an environmental point of view, it also starts to address the problems of pollution caused by mass commuting and congested motorways. Replacing petrol cars with electric equivalents, even by as late a date as 2050, requires massive resource extraction. This just shifts the carbon emissions from the UK to the global south, as well as putting communities there in the firing line of further neo-colonial violence and exploitation.

This is far from the only such area of struggle. The government estates strategy means closing countless local workplaces and forcing civil servants to make longer commutes, increasing congestion and pollution. Rigid shift patterns rather than flexible working hours contribute to the pollution pinch points of rush hour. The successive attacks on our pensions and the driving up of the retirement age force people to work far longer than they would otherwise need to, because working class people are meant to pay into pensions and then die so that rich people and pension companies can reap the rewards. And so on.

Struggles around these issues won’t end capitalism or solve climate change. But by tying demands which don’t just resist the slow decline of the last three decades but actively seek to make things far better for workers to environmental issues we reinforce the point that climate struggle and class struggle are connected. By rooting these struggles in serious, systematic organising on the shop floor we start to rebuild a fighting culture that teaches workers they are the agents of change if only they harness their own collective power.

And if we spread these struggles, link them to external direct action over the environment, and make explicitly and unapologetically the point that capitalism is the problem, we might just have the start of something big.

 

Left ‘Unity’ civil war continues

41654963_1473101569500581_4108052587020812288_nThe 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.

 

 

Civil Service Pay: Three things the union must do to make this our third time lucky

After a lengthy and at times heated debate, PCS Conference passed motion A292 in support of the National Executive Committee’s strategy of a third national, aggregated strike ballot.

It was fair to say that opinion was split on whether this is the right way forward. On a card vote, the motion passed by a narrow margin of 62,676 to 60,991, and many branches argued for an alternative strategy with two rival motions suggesting different approaches. PCS Independent Left were amongst those who felt something different might be needed, and that committing so rigidly to a third aggregate ballot would be unnecessarily limiting.

Nonetheless, now that the debate is done this is the agreed strategy of the union. It is important that we discuss our strategy openly and robustly, but it is equally important that we win. Theresa May is going, but unless there’s a General Election around the corner she isn’t about to take pay restraint in the civil service (or any of the other horrendous policies the government is implement) with her.

To beat the pay cap, we need to beat the Trade Union Act ballot turnout threshold. If we’re going to do that, then there are a number of things that need to happen.

The campaign must begin now

One thing PCS desperately needs to improve on is its ability to build and maintain momentum. The NEC agreed a second ballot almost straight away after the first failed to pass the 50% threshold, and yet in the intervening months the delay before the campaign began was interminable.

Some might say this was due to what became a protracted and entrenched debate over whether we should have an aggregate ballot or coordinated but disaggregated ballots, the latter option allowing individual groups who got over the line to take action whilst those who didn’t regrouped to try again. We would disagree; regardless of which form the ballot took, there was plenty of organising, agitating and campaigning activity which could have begun in earnest following the decision being initially taken in July. Instead, the campaign proper began in the new year with just a few weeks before the launch of the new ballot.

That cannot happen again. With the debate on aggregation or disaggregation settled by conference, there’s now no excuse to delay. We need to be in campaign mode from this very second, laying the ground for what must be a decisive win if we are to stave off the very real threat of demoralisation.

Deep, systematic organising

Knowing that there will be another ballot coming, there’s a lot that branches with experienced organisers and organising teams can do. Many branches will be able to build upon their hard work from the last two ballots; mapping out their workplaces, identifying the areas and individuals who need to be engaged with to bring them on board with the campaign, increasing the number of activists involved in the work, and so on.

The ERS turnout data from the most recent ballot and the detail recorded in the app can help immeasurably with this and needs to be made available as soon as possible. We also look forward to the app re-emerging as a general-purpose organising tool, facilitating the one on one conversations and mapping that branches need to be engaged in.

The union centrally does need to take a more proactive coordinating role, however. Not just providing useful data to branches already well equipped to deliver high ballot turnouts, but giving branches not in that position the resources, skills and tools to get into a similar position. This means training, for those who may not be as familiar or as confident in deep organising methods. It means engagement, working with branches so they feel supported and listened to rather than put upon. Fundamentally, it means working to identify and raise up lay leaders, building the structure needed to win in the workplace rather than providing full time officials as a substitute for that.

Doing all of this and doing it well requires being systematic. The PCS Organising Department has done incredible work in identifying what needs to be done and providing the tools to enable that, but all too often in the last ballot it felt like other parts of the union cut across that. The last-minute kick off to the campaign left full time officials running around frantically, trying to deliver the vote, rather than taking their time to identify and support the workers on the ground who would deliver the vote. Targets dictated deployment; PCS staff parachuted in when the app showed a branch wasn’t doing too well, and dragged straight back out once the magic 50% was achieved.

None of this was the fault of those staff, who like lay reps should be commended for their efforts. But panic isn’t the driver of a systematic approach, and panic was the clear driver of management decisions in the regional offices. That cannot be the way we take things forward this time.

We need to win members over to our strategy

Since before the consultative ballot in 2018, the union has had a clear strategy to win on pay. National strike action to be supplemented by longer term, targeted action in strategic areas, with the wages of those taking that action paid for by the Fighting Fund.

The problem is, even now, many members still don’t know that. After the first statutory ballot involved lots of reps having conversations with members who weren’t supporting action because they didn’t think sporadic, one day strikes had any effect, the NEC agreed that the second ballot should involve clearly fleshing out and communicating the paid, selective action strategy to members. However, as you may have noticed, that didn’t happen.

Towards the end of the first ballot, there was a consultation with groups about what areas should be engaged in such action. The National Disputes Committee was tasked with drawing up a detailed strategy on the back of this. No such strategy has yet come to the NEC, and communications to members haven’t gotten this across.

This has to change. Upping our organising efforts and making them more systematic may well improve turnout to the extent that we get across the line. But to do so decisively, and then once we’ve won the ballot to win the dispute, we need a strategy that can win – and that members believe can win.

Fighting to win

PCS Independent Left members will be arguing these points on the NEC, as we believe they are vital to actually deliver victory in this campaign. At the same time, there is a lot that branches can do, and in many places they are.

Branches using town committees to link up with one another directly and share resources and best practice, the development of local leaflets, bulletins and other propaganda to agitate amongst the membership, holding public meetings, rallies, social events and so on to engage with members. All of these things will be crucial to building up real rank and file strength across PCS.

The national union cannot, and should not, seek to dictate such activity from above or substitute itself for the workers in the offices. But if central activity is more systematic, hitting the ground running now and seeking to communicate an effective strategy to win, then it can be the accelerant that turn a thousand sparks into a fire this government cannot extinguish.

PCS ADC 2019 bulletin (Tuesday): On pay

On Tuesday we discuss ‘what next’ on pay. The NEC’s position is that there should be another ballot. We agree – but that should only happen after there has been a serious debate as to why we lost the ballot (indeed why we have lost two ballots) and we put in place the necessary corrective actions to ensure victory in the third ballot.

Of course using the word ‘lost’ is misleading. We only ‘lost’ because we did not get above an arbitrary threshold set by a Conservative government; we didn’t lose the ballot in true democratic sense that a majority of members voted against action. The irony of course is that the Tory’s can only fantasise of having a similar majority vote in the upcoming EU elections or indeed in any future general election.

Nevertheless we have to face the fact that despite the sheer hard work of many reps and Full Time Officials we didn’t get over the 50% limit. Before trying for a third vote we have to know why this was the case.  Why couldn’t we persuade over 50% of members to take a piece of paper out of an envelope, mark it with a pen and post it off?

It seems to us, though the open debate we are looking for may point in other directions, that there are five main reasons why we did not get over the 50%.

  • Firstly members didn’t believe we could win our pay demand. We heard comments that a 10% pay increase would be ‘nice’ but many were sceptical that it could be delivered. A reason for that is that the union didn’t spell out in any real detail what industrial action would be triggered if we voted ‘Yes’.
  • Secondly members were not energised by the demand; it was just a number. It had no emotional grip on them.
  • Third, the level of organisation across the union is variable. Some branches got over the threshold easily, many struggled and some got nowhere near.
  • The level of preparation for the ballot was not as good as it should have been (the app was produced late in the day, volunteers for phone banking  were only called for close to start of the vote, no final leaflet reminding members of the cut off date for posting their ballot was produced etc).
  • Lastly during the balloting period, the state, in the guise of the Civil Service effectively banned freedom of speech and freedom of association for the union in the work place e.g. you were not allowed to hold strike meetings on the premises.

A secondary factor was that a minority of members who didn’t want a strike had worked out that not voting was a better way of scuppering action than actually voting ‘no’.

So what to do?

We should confirm that there must be a further ballot. Without strike action, it is inconceivable that we can get better than a 1% pay increase. But just to go for one more push using the same methods as the last vote would be a mistake. We have a wealth of data to show us where branches did well and where they did not. That data should be freely available so that Groups, branches regions etc can direct help to where it is needed.

As said, there must be an honest debate amongst members and activists as to why we didn’t get over the line. In some parts of the union e.g. DWP that will be difficult as leading reps tend to respond along ‘party lines’, repeat formulas and heavily criticise those who don’t do the same. Without an honest debate though, we won’t learn anything. Also nothing should be off limits in the discussion. Therefore the debate must include examining the pay claim. It must also look at what action we would take if we win a fresh ballot.

Armed with the results of the debates we can carry out the necessary corrective actions and work up a detailed plan – a plan that had been discussed and agreed by activists in advance.

Then there has to be a serious campaign of preparing members in advance of the third vote. The CWU spent seven months preparing for its strike ballot in Royal Mail. Their hard work was rewarded with a huge yes vote. They didn’t hope to win, they planned to win. Now we are not advocating a seven month run up to the third ballot but we are saying that we should take the necessary time.

Although there will be a top down plan, we want the members to be the active ingredient, for them to show local initiative. The union’s task is therefore to persuade members/activists into self activity; for there to be local campaigns as well as the national one; for local messages in parallel to the national ones. Everything possible must be done to encourage this local activity.

In our view the objective conditions (e.g. real living standards continue to fall) exist for a successful ballot and for there to be a real fight over pay. So it is YES to a ballot.  The subjective factor, how we win members over to fight for pay is the difficult part. That can be done but requires real democratic debate and working up a plan; a plan with prior buy in of members and activists.