Don’t embarrass us, organise!

The PCS National Executive Committee are currently running a consultation on the pay campaign. You can respond to it online here, and all PCS members are urged to do so. This will, at least on paper, shape what happens next when the NEC “push the button” on the campaign when they meet on 5 February.

However, in recent days the union has also released a survey. Where the consultation contains open questions, this contains two closed questions: whether you agree with the pay claim and whether you would vote for industrial action in a ballot. This may be useful in terms of testing the mood for action, but how can members say whether they agree with the pay claim when that claim is still under consultation? Both Phil Dickens, the Independent Left member on the NEC, and the Branch Executive Committee of PCS Bootle Taxes have argued for a more ambitious and comprehensive claim than the “8-10%” suggested in the consultation. Will such views actually be taken into account?

If there’s doubt on that question, they are compounded by a recent article from “Socialist View,” the faction-within-a-faction which wants to purge Left Unity of any perceived disloyalty to Mark Serwotka. Dealing with the question of aggregated or disaggregated ballots rather than the pay claim, it nonetheless seeks to turn an open tactical question on a consultation into an existential one wherein the very future of the union is under threat.

They write: “This unnecessary distraction is in our view undermining our efforts to deliver on our national pay campaign, with time that should be spent on building our engagement with the wider membership and improving our organising capacity, being used to debate a failed strategy.” And: “Socialist View call on all members of Left Unity, and indeed Independent Left, to pull back from pursuing this strategy and unite to deliver a successful ballot result.”

Two questions arise from this.

First, should we not be able to deliver our pay campaign organising whilst discussing these matters? We don’t know about Socialist View or Left Unity as a whole, but the Independent Left can walk and chew gum at the same time. It was our understanding that the work necessary to deliver the ballot should already be underway, and if we don’t have a leadership that can organise whilst having these tactical discussions, then we need one that can.

Second, if even discussing this puts the campaign at risk, why did you open the consultation in the first place?

It’s fortunate that most of the internal bickering in Left Unity has little exposure (and less relevance) to members. Far from “defending” the national pay campaign, this kind of cheap aggression is an utter embarrassment for our union.

PCS elections 2019: John Moloney for AGS

This year, PCS will re-elect its Assistant General Secretary. John Moloney is standing for the position.

John is a member of PCS Independent Left and a well-respected activist in the DfT. If elected, John has pledged to take the salary of an EO in the DWP rather than the £90k+ the post currently pays, as he believes workers’ representatives should be on a worker’s wage.

If elected, John will fight for:

• National pay: that those on the same grade should have the same pay, instead of the current cross-departmental inequality.
• Rank-and-file control: the union should support all groups of workers willing to take action, not offer barriers to them doing so.
• Accountable full time officials: all full time officials for the union should be elected by and answer to the members, not to any internal staff hierarchy.
• Organising all government workers: PCS should take the lead from unions like United Voices of the World and our own activists in BEIS, the Culture Sector and HMRC Bootle to fight privatisation by helping outsourced workers fight for a living wage and conditions in line with civil servants.

If you agree with the above, nominate John Moloney for Assistant General Secretary and PCS Independent Left candidates for the National Executive Committee at your branch Annual General Meeting.

Click here for video statement from John and our full slate for the NEC.

 

Trade unionism against fascism

Last Saturday (5 January), fascists masquerading as the British version of the French gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement, staged a protest in Manchester. It was  poorly attended, overall, but the numbers were enough for them to stop and harass a picket line of RMT members at Victoria station. This reinforces the point that the far-right is the enemy of the organised working class. It also underlined the need for a serious working class self-defence against fascism.

It has been heartening to see the mass outpouring of solidarity with the RMT and the commitment of other unions, activist groups and local Labour Party branches to swell the numbers on their pickets. Aside from the broader principle that the working class should support our own in struggle against the bosses, it is also true that fascist aggression should be directly confronted.

There has, this past year, been a renewed debate on the left about what form our anti-fascist activism should take. The position of the PCS Independent Left is that we should face the far-right head on – our mobilisations aimed at halting their marches, drowning out their voices, defending those they would seek to physically attack. We also believe that opposition to fascism should be organised on a class basis: led by organised workers including the trade unions, and not attempting to build phoney “unity” with others who, whilst not fascists, attack the working class in other ways such as through cutting jobs and rolling back hard won rights.

Various dedicated anti-fascist and anti-racist organisations exist, such as the Anti Fascist Network, Stand Up To Racism, Hope not Hate, etc. Within and between those groups, there are political differences about how fascism and racism should be tackled, as well as legitimate criticisms of the behaviour of some of them and of the parties behind them. We believe that such positions should be addressed robustly and honestly, whilst not resorting to simple sectarianism. We also don’t believe that the trade unions should seek simply to outsource our anti-fascist work to such organisations.

It is past time that we saw the growth of a mass anti-fascist movement led directly by organised workers. A movement that is able to confront the far right both physically and ideologically.

When fascists are on the march, we should seek to block them and shut them down. When they attack our meetings and our picket lines, our events should be stewarded in such a way that they are heavily defended. And when their propaganda spreads, we should be actively inoculating the working class through education and organisation.

Fascists latch on to the fears and insecurities of those who feel abandoned in order to turn them towards racism and hate. It is a movement built on hate which sees the organised working class as its enemy. A confident and well organised workers’ movement should be able to repel the threat they present and offer up a militant, progressive, solidarity-conscious alternative.

BUILD PCS AMONGST OUTSOURCED WORKERS

A large and increasing number of workers on the government estate, or providing services to the government are outsourced, usually low paid and precarious. As the largest union operating within this area, PCS needs to take  organising these workers seriously and dedicate proper resources to this task.

Between 21 and 23 January cleaners, security guards and receptionists at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in London will stage a 48-hour strike. This is the second period of action in their campaign for the Living Wage and equality of terms with civil servants, and an expansion of the dispute since the first strike by cleaners alone inspired the guards and receptionists to join the union. Both of the ballots returned a 100% vote for strike action on a 100% turnout.

This sort of organising is exactly the kind that the union movement needs to see more of in general. For outsourced, precarious workers in particular it’s the model of what PCS should be doing. However, PCS isn’t doing it, and instead the inspirational United Voices of the World (UVW) union has stepped into the vacuum.

PCS Independent Left stands in full solidarity with UVW members in their fight for better pay and conditions. We equally support the organising efforts of the PCS branch in BEIS, just up the road, who after a recent successful ballot of their outsourced members will be coordinating strike action for similar demands. The latter efforts demonstrate, just like the fight by cleaners in PCS Bootle Taxes Branch a few years back, that it is entirely feasible for our union to organise these groups of workers. So why isn’t it happening?

There are a number of potential reasons.

One is that the time and energy of activists is limited. The BEIS dispute, the Bootle Taxes dispute, and various outsourced worker disputes in the Culture Sector have succeeded through the efforts of lay reps who have put the work in alongside both other union duties and their day jobs. Not every activist is able to commit to such efforts, meaning that even where they support such initiatives, they can’t emulate them.

Alongside that we have lukewarm official support from the national union. There will be publicity once a campaign gets rolling, and various senior figures will want their photo opportunities and to give quotes when we reach that point. The road to that point, however, must be taken alone. We have seen PCS refuse to dedicate full time officer resource to such work and tell activists to ensure they don’t appear to be doing more on these campaigns than on those for civil servants, both of which probably represent the union at its least obstructive to fledgling campaigns.

On 28 November, the PCS Private Sector Forum took place in the Liner Hotel, Liverpool. Activists in attendance who had been involved in such campaigns voiced their frustrations that PCS sees them as secondary to civil servants. That they don’t understand the position of precarious workers and are slow to get behind the organising techniques best suited to these areas.

There is support from some areas of the union, of course. The Forum is now established as an annual event, and there are reserved seats on the NEC for the Commercial Sector. Unfortunately, these gestures still need to be matched by a serious commitment to grassroots organising.

The UVW is able to do what it does with the support of a tight-knit network of dedicated organisers. The McStrike campaign, whilst rooted in the heroic efforts of the McDonald’s workers themselves, wouldn’t exist without full time organisers whose entire job is dedicated to building up strength in workplaces.

Unfortunately, the union movement as a whole is not dedicating the necessary resources to this kind of organising, and PCS is no exception. We are making the transition, slowly and painfully, from declaring ourselves an organising union to being one. But our organising officers still spend a fair amount of time as admin staff, and what organising they do is focused on targets and statistics. None have been tasked specifically with building outsourced workers on the government estate into a force to be reckoned with.

Even from the perspective of the union as a business, this makes no sense. The sheer number of potential members and potential subs income, when the union continues to lost both amongst the core civil service, should be enough incentive even for those in HQ who can’t see beyond numbers on a spreadsheet. If you truly believe in organising the working class, it’s a no-brainer. If we build enough momentum to start winning and create upward pressure on pay and conditions, we by default remove the incentive for privatisation.

We need a campaign now to organise all outsourced workers on the government estate around three core demands. A Living Wage of £10 per hour (£11.55 in London), parity of terms and conditions with civil servants, and an end to outsourcing.

If the central union won’t do it, then we need to build it from the ground. The first step being to support those who are leading these efforts. Support the strikes at the MoJ and BEIS!

You can sign the petition for all in-house and outsourced staff to be paid the real living wage here.

PCS Pay campaign: For a better claim and a disaggregated ballot

The December meeting of the National Executive Committee agreed a 2019 pay claim and campaign plan which members will be consulted on in January before the NEC formally “push the button” on a fresh ballot in February.

In that consultation, PCS Independent Left are urging members to make their thoughts known regarding our pay claim and the need for a disaggregated ballot.

 

Pay claim

When the NEC met, PCS Independent Left member Phil Dickens proposed the following claim:

  • A living wage of £10/hour (£11.55 in London) for AAs
  • Pay at all other grades to be uplifted in proportion to this
  • A spot rate for AO and EO grades based upon the pay max
  • Contractual pay progression where there aren’t spot rates
  • Contractor and outsourced pay in line with civil service pay

We have previously made the argument that 5% (or £1,200) goes nowhere near addressing the pay injustice PCS members have suffered. Not only that, although the living wage and common pay rates across the civil service both appear in the pay claim, there has been little or no emphasis on them and the fact that they don’t underpin the claim makes the likelihood of them being addressed minimal.

What this claim does, as opposed to an arbitrary percentage, is to make common rates and a living wage the central points on which the claim hinges. At a stroke, the claim eradicates the worst injustices of the current pay system: that there are civil servants who don’t make enough money to live, and that civil servants doing equivalent jobs at the same grade can have wildly different rates of pay. If these things remain apart from the claim, the government could arguably agree to the percentage PCS asked for without giving a living wage to all or equal pay for equal work.

This claim was rejected by Mark Serwotka and the rest of the NEC, on the basis of it being “too complex” and the points about spot rates and progression pay being mere “details for negotiations.” This despite the lack of contractual pay progression being as big any issue for many members as the lack of a substantive pay rise in itself.

Disaggregated ballot

The other amendment put forward by Phil was that the ballot should be disaggregated, but with a clear central steer on the demands. As we have argued previously, this doesn’t divide or erode the national nature of the pay claim but instead serves as a backstop against further failures to meet the 50% turnout threshold.

The argument against this approach essentially turned on the DWP and HMRC being able to carry the whole civil service vote if they got over 50%. It was claimed that a disaggregated ballot would leave weaker groups exposed, and that if any group got over 50% they could still subsequently run a ballot on their own.

The problem with this line of thinking is that any group unable to deliver a 50% turnout, given the efforts put in place in both the 2017 consultative and 2018 statutory ballots, would be less likely to deliver the turnout in any subsequent action and so would leave themselves exposed. There is a serious strategic and organisational deficit in replying on the biggest sections of the union to drag the rest over the line. Moreover, as we saw with the MoJ pay offer that followed the ballot, an aggregated ballot doesn’t hide organisational weakness from the employer – but even from such a weak position, the reps in that group pulled off a heroic effort to see off the attack. In a disaggregated ballot, any group which didn’t make it past the line could similarly regroup, but instead of having to do so alone they would have the cover of an ongoing campaign with those groups that shattered the threshold at the vanguard.

Unanswered questions

A number of questions that were put to the General Secretary over the course of the last three NEC meetings remain unanswered.

The NEC was told that the Policy and Resources Committee would consider recommendations on whether the union could second experienced activists to support the organising required in the pay campaign, how we could co-opt the skills and communications utilised to great effect by branches for use on a wider scale, and how the union could ensure that branches had timely access to local printing for bespoke leaflets and materials. If these questions were considered, that has not been reported back. More likely, addressing these questions was deemed secondary to engaging in a destructive factional war most members have little knowledge of and less interest in.

The best organised branches are not only able but eager to produce their own materials to promote PCS activity. This is made harder by limited funds and a number of bureaucratic hurdles. Bootle Taxes Branch was able to provide templates for leaflets of various sizes and secure a guarantee that the Revenue & Customs Group would reimburse reasonable printing costs for R&C branches. They shouldn’t have had to – this should be what the national union is there to do for us.

Next steps

The union has moved an incredible distance in the past few years.

That we are now talking about a national pay campaign with potential selective action paid for by a Fighting Fund would have been unthinkable as recently as 2013. The emphasis on fundamental, root-and-branch organising is something we have been lacking for a long time, even if there still remains resistance to and scepticism of it from certain quarters. Even something as simple as the intent to use a ballot result as leverage in talks is a significant shift from what Mark Serwotka has candidly referred to as an era of protest strikes with no serious plan to win.

The movement we have seen, and every increase in our chances of winning that comes with it, has been fought for against a recalcitrant leadership. This is not their natural territory, and even as the restrictions of the Trade Union Act make it necessary, you can see their nervousness.

Decisions on how the campaign goes forward, even the most basic ones, have been kicked down the road from July to December. The emergency NEC in November put £1 million from the £3 million court victory over the DWP into the Fighting Fund (and baulked at the Independent Left suggestion to make it £2 million). But the decisions it was supposed to make on the campaign were deferred to December, where rows centred upon the split within Left Unity dominated a four-hour debate.

Nonetheless, finally, we have gotten somewhere. January’s consultation (finally) marks the beginning of the lead in to the ballot, and members still have the chance to shape what comes next. We believe the changes needed are a disaggregated ballot and a more substantive pay claim underpinned by a £10 and hour living wage.

If you agree, then now is the time to make your voice heard.

PCS pay fight: On disaggregated ballots

Now that the union is on course for another national ballot in March 2019, a key question is what we need to do in order to this time beat the 50% turnout threshold imposed by the law. One element of this is considering whether a disaggregated ballot would stand us in better stead.

What does this mean?

The civil service is the largest ballot constituency in the trade union movement. Whilst other unions are larger than PCS, their membership is spread across a great many employers in the public and private sector. No other union is likely to need to take such a large number of members into a dispute at once as PCS, and certainly not on any kind of regular basis.

A disaggregated ballot, simply, breaks that massive ballot into more manageable chunks. The civil service ballot becomes separate ballots of HMRC, DWP, HSE, DfT, Land Registry, Home Office, Ministry of Justice, etc, synchronised to occur in tandem.

The UCU did this for their dispute over pensions recently and have just done it again regarding pay, balloting each university and college individually. Unlike PCS’s last ballot where it was all or nothing, in this scenario those who passed the 50% threshold were in a position to take action – and those who didn’t could regroup and re-ballot.

Isn’t our fight with the government, rather than individual departments?

Absolutely. This is why the ballots would be coordinated and on the basis of common demands over pay. There would need to be national oversight of the campaign and what a settlement would look like, and the NEC would need to use the leverage of the ballot in talks with the Cabinet Office.

In other words, the only difference in a disaggregated ballot from an aggregated ballot is in the practicalities of the vote itself.

But isn’t one department as likely to beat the threshold as another?

We all know well that levels of organisation differ starkly across the union, and this would more than likely be represented in the spread of results.

If this is the case, the entire civil service doesn’t have to be held back by the sections who still have work to do. Those sections can take stock of they don’t cross the threshold and use the results and action elsewhere as part of their efforts to agitate and inspire members when moving to re-ballot.

If it’s not, then we will see that in all sections crossing the threshold – meaning there is no difference to an aggregated ballot in outcome. There is a far greater risk of the union falling short in an aggregated ballot than a disaggregated one.

This makes a disaggregated ballot sound like a sensible practical measure. What’s the elephant in the room?

The elephant in the room is the split in the Left Unity faction. There’s a civil war on between supporters of Chris Baugh, the incumbent Assistant General Secretary of the union, and of PCS President Janice Godrich, who wants the post.

The reason this matters in the question of aggregate or disaggregate ballots is that the split is the result of General Secretary Mark Serwotka wanting Baugh gone for not being an unquestioning disciple. It’s entirely personal, and so political and strategic differences are being manufactured to disguise the fact. This in turn means that every question becomes one of which side you support rather than being considered on its own merits.

Chris Baugh is amongst those arguing for disaggregated ballots, and therefore the idea is opposed as a knee-jerk reaction by the Serwotka-Godrich axis.

None of the opposition holds up to serious scrutiny. In fact, it is all based not on disaggregated ballots in and of themselves but on disaggregated ballots combined with rolling up demands on terms and conditions into the national pay campaign. Whilst this may be what some of Chris Baugh’s supporters are arguing, it is not an approach the Independent Left favour, since we have seen the “laundry list” approach to demands in the past – usually when responding to the failure of individual disputes by lumping them together. The fact is that opposition to adding demands on terms and conditions to a dispute over pay is not a serious argument against disaggregated ballots as part of a national pay campaign with proper coordination by the NEC.

The ballot in March 2019 will be a crucial test of the union. That we may lose it on the basis of personal dislike and resultant childish spats amongst those running the union is yet another reason we need a change in leadership.