PCS’s membership is in crisis. The union has a target of achieving 200,000 members by 2020 yet has fewer members now than when it set that target. Cuts to the civil services, currently spear-headed by the aggressive office closure programme, are a key part of this reduction. However, PCS faces the same challenges as other unions in a changing workplace environment, with the age demographic of the membership not necessarily reflecting that of the workforce. Meeting this challenge head on will require several measures:
3.1 Comprehensive subscription reform
PCS has the lowest subscription rates of any union in the TUC, with a progressive system of rates based on salary. However, the cap is set too low and means that members at higher grades are paying a lower proportion of their wages than those at the lower grades.
We need a comprehensive review of subscription rates to ensure that they are set at an appropriate level to ensure that we can attract the greatest number of members at the lowest salary levels in the civil and public sector and working for on-site contractors, ensure the financial security of the union, and are fair to members across the pay ranges, so that some members do not pay a significantly greater proportion of their salary than other members.
This will also give more flexibility to ring fence more income for the Fighting Fund and to not have to raise subs above pay increases.
3.2 Activist working groups
PCS has a huge pool of activists across branches, with a wide variety of skills that the union doesn’t fully utilise. This includes social media “super users,” experienced organisers, and more, who can contribute to the efforts of the national union without necessarily being on the NEC or a GEC. These informal activist working groups would complement the work of executive committees and paid staff, helping to direct resources where they are needed and share best practice.
3.3 Deep, systematic organising
We need to rebuild the union workplace by workplace, branch by branch, in a systematic way. Full time officers involved in these efforts should not seek to substitute themselves for the workforce, as in the previous pay ballots where their primary focus was getting out the vote. Instead, they should have a clear, long term task of identifying and building up workplace leaders who will then take on the tasks like getting the vote out.
PCS needs to develop realistic metrics of how well organised or not a workplace is and provide support accordingly, rather than deploying staff reactively based on arbitrary targets.
3.4 New approaches to negotiating
There is currently a void between the union’s organising work and its bargaining work. We can strengthen both by bridging that gap and recognising that our ability to make gains at the negotiating table is fundamentally predicated on the leverage we hold as a result of being well organised. We need to end the practice of negotiations in confidence and move towards open negotiations which hold both the negotiators and the employer accountable. We also need to look at how we can use more open negotiations to improve our campaigning, with agitation and campaigning on the shop floor throughout the process. In this way, the members can proactively shape the product of talks rather than waiting to be mobilised in response to the final product that is offered.
3.5 Education and succession planning
A whole generation of experienced union activists are approaching retirement, whilst redundancies from office closures are removing many more. This is stripping many branches of valuable experiences and leaving newer reps in a sink or swim situation.
The main task for any good organiser is to continually replace themselves, by building up new workplace leaders. PCS needs to do this systematically, de-mystifying its structures and sweeping aside barriers in order to ensure that all our activists receive the education they need to take up the mantle as their predecessors leave the union.