About turn!

A serious leadership when it is proposing a turn should explain and justify that turn. Yet PCS’s leaderships have made two sharp turns without proper explanation; first saying that we will fight the government on our own if necessary and secondly highly emphasising the use of selective action in any dispute.

Up until very recently senior members were clear that no one union could take on the government over pay or indeed any major issue on their own, citing the National Union of Miners as a cautionary tale of what happens if you ‘go it alone’.

At conference the General Secretary did explain that we couldn’t trust the other unions to fight, so we have to ballot on our own – but that has been obvious for over 10 years; why has Mark Serwotka only discovered it now? The fact that the Tories are a minority government might be a factor as well but that was not mentioned.

We have argued for over 10 years that whilst wanting an alliance with other unions we should fight on our own if need be. That argument was consistently dismissed until now.

We have also argued for over 10 years for targeted action alongside mass action; hitting those parts of departments that are vital for their smooth running. In our conception we would pay members in those areas to come out, putting them back when their action become ineffective. Of course all this would be with the agreement of the members in the affected areas.

Now it could be when the PCS leadership talks of selective action they mean taking out members on no pay in those vital areas. Of course that would make the action short lived and therefore of not much use. Besides why are we trying to build up a strike fund if it is not for targeted action?

Again until recently we were criticised for arguing for selective action, it being said that we wanted selective action instead of mass action. That has never the case. We have always seen selective action as an addition, an adjunct, to as much mass action as we can win. Instead of the usual leadership tactic of a one day strike followed by months of inaction, we saw selection action as filling in the gaps, continually hurting the employer. After all strike action must be to win; it is not a protest.

Whilst we have always said mass action PLUS selective action, the mood music from the leadership now seems to be targeted action plus (some) mass action.

Again this shift of position has not been explained, let alone democratically argued for amongst the membership. Indeed we think the over emphasis on targeted action is wrong. The emphasis must always be on getting as much mass action as possible. So YES for strike action – Yes to mass strikes.


The reality of poverty

The Guardian reports that UK’s largest food redistribution charity is helping to feed 772,000 people a week – 60% more than the previous year. Of course that number will include PCS members.

To read more please go here.

In the article the paper states that a staggering one in eight people in the UK go hungry every day at a time, according to the official figures, of very high employment in the UK.  This shows in a different way that pay has not kept pace with inflation.

Of course if this level of hunger is the case in so called ‘boom’ times, what will happen when the boom goes to bust – as always happens in capitalism. The one in eight figure will become one in seven etc and food banks will feed a million plus or more.

Crossing the borders

Just before PCS conference, the founding congress of the International Confederation of Labour’, a new initiative to unite independent unions and workers’ organisations across frontiers took place in Parma.

The idea behind the union confederation is to reignite practical international solidarity between workers in struggle that, in the words of Spanish CNT union organiser Miguel Pérez, ‘has to be shown in acts that go beyond issuing communiqués or holding pickets of solidarity.’

To read more please go here: http://notesfrombelow.org/article/uvw-presente-international-independent-union-congr

Smashing it



Whilst the PCS Independent Left has many criticisms of the way the union has prepared and is preparing for the pay ballot, we will do our utmost to win the vote and get over the 50% threshold.

The objective conditions for a resounding YES vote are there of course. Civil Servants, along with the rest of the civil service have suffered years of pay freezes and pay squeezes.

Our take home pay has not kept up with inflation as a result and so many of us are  worse off in real terms than in the past.

The spark this year is that the government has relaxed the pay strings for the NHS and others but not for us – as yet.

Therefore the raw material is there to work on. As always, of course the activists will bust a gut to get a vote out but PCS HQ now has to up its game drastically. If we are going to win a ballot, let alone deliver strikes, then we have to flood branches with material now. The union also must co-opt activists/members into the planning and running of the ballot campaign/strike action. We believe that it is vital.

We have argued that the union should be an enabler. Therefore PCS should be asking branches to provide text which can be worked up into local leaflets. After all branches, should know what ‘plays’ in their patch; what members are talking about and what will motivate them. National material is vital but it must be accompanied by local material. The national union has resources that local branches don’t; resources paid for by the members.

We have also argued that 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.

We have also said that the union should 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.

If the above ideas were adopted then we think we can smash the 50% barrier. In any case, that is what we have to do. Vote YES for strike action.


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.