PCS has been the backbone of resistance to the coalition government’s austerity cuts and privatisation programme. Because of that we now face an all out assault aimed at destroying our ability to represent members and defend jobs, conditions and services. This is the most serious attack on trade union and democratic rights since the Miners Strike. The principal purpose of this attack is to destroy any organised resistance to the destruction of the public sector under the guise of austerity. Osborne’s Autumn Statement revealed Tory plans for a stepping up of their unremitting, brutal, class war. Under cover of this statement Cabinet Office Secretary Frances Maude slipped through plans for a staggering £20bn privatisation bonanza for the City. Unchallenged these cuts will represent a catastrophe for the working class and middle classes too. Their aim is not to “reform” the public sector. The coalition government represent the political and business elite which now demonstrates many features of an open kleptocracy which is driving, with no mandate, the systematic theft and destruction of the nations assets and services in order to line their own pockets, with Maude himself personally conducting the onslaught on PCS. He was humiliated by PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka when his justifications for the theft of public sector pensions were forensically exposed as lies.
Maude’s strategy to crush PCS so far has been based on the following tactics;
1 – Refusal to negotiate with PCS on national bargaining issues like pay, jobs, privatisation etc and “justifying” this by claiming PCS doesn’t want to negotiate, a calculated, politically motivated lie. The Tories believe that by restricting engagement to departmental level they can divide the union and systematically remove bargaining rights on a piecemeal basis.
2 – Attack union facility time. This is specifically designed to destroy or marginalise the activist base of PCS in order to weaken the union’s ability to effectively represent its members and bargain on their behalf. The union’s leadership has been specifically targeted with, for example, the Deputy President having had all facilities removed.
3 – Removal of check-off in a deliberate attempt to financially destroy the union. PCS is the best organised and most effectively administered union in Britain and will manage to get the majority of its current membership signed up to direct debit. But all previous removals of check-off demonstrate that it can take many years for a union to financially recover from such an assault.
4 – Launched a major politically motivated attack in the HMRC group. As exposed in the now infamous “Excom” leaked document HMRC management have embarked on “an enemy within” type union-busting campaign which includes: – refusing to negotiate unless the union drops all rights to challenge or even disagree with their job cuts and office closure programme; the removal of facilities from reps generally but with the group’s leadership specially targeted; the setting up of a staff association i.e., a scab union (with HMRC senior management directly working with an ex-PCS activist who was barred from holding office for three years by the union for trying to have fellow activists disciplined or even sacked by management}.
5 – The Home Office hysterical over-reaction to a survey on staffing shortages by PCS and ITV News by securing a secret injunction against both on the grounds of endangering national security and bizarrely claiming that identifying staff shortages at airports and ports would be useful for terrorist organisations like ISIS and Al Qaeda.
6 – Maude is also conducting a drive to divide the union movement. He has already issued a direct instruction UNISON be granted negotiating rights in the civil service. Maude’s aim is to ideologically and materially isolate PCS. He argues he is very happy to work with “responsible” and “pragmatic” union leaders. This view was echoed by some civil service union leaders in an article in Civil Service World that implies PCS had brought these problems on itself by not negotiating “pragmatically” with Maude i.e., giving up jobs, conditions and services without a fight. Maude has also instigated a shady Cabinet Office project “Responsible Trade Unionism” conducted by the same HMRC Human Resources officer who is coordinating the union-busting attack in that department, a clear political initiative designed to destroy effective, campaigning trade unionism in the public sector.
PCS has argued consistently that joint coordinated action across the public sector would defeat austerity or at minimum wrest substantial concessions. In fact PCS’s view that campaigning works and action gets results has been proved true time and again, most recently in preventing the privatisation of Land Registry. In calling for “pragmatism” from “reasonable” union leaders Maude is effectively saying that unions abandon, for all time, the tactic of industrial action – the only sure weapon workers have that is genuinely feared by the employer and the government. The attack on PCS is not just about the survival of PCS but about what type of trade union movement we will have in Britain to defend the public sector and interests of our members and our class. It is also about whether we have a free and independent trade union movement rather than “company” unions whose only purpose is to police members, attack activists and deliver for the employer by stifling campaigning.
NECs response to attacks
The removal of check-off in the DWP group must make it clear to every activist that PCS is now the subject of a vicious politically driven war designed to destroy our union. We are involved in a battle for survival. We will emerge from this stronger and more effectively able to defend jobs, conditions and services but only if we take the hard decisions necessary in a disciplined and unified fashion to ensure we do. The Democracy Alliance National Executive Committee has responded to these attacks by prioritising the drive to sign up as many members to Direct Debit as possible. No union facing this attack has ever achieved the sign-up rates PCS has. But we must accept in the short to medium term damage will be done and our key responsibility must be to secure the survival of our union.
Job Cuts and the removal of check-off will reduce the union’s finances by as much as £6.5 million. A number of financial and organisational measures have been taken. And further hard decisions will need to be made, including a considerable reduction of PCS staff over the coming period. These initiatives are clearly about ensuring survival in the face of this unprecedented attack but are also designed to ensure that in the best condition to deliver for members. In this regard the sale of the Clapham headquarters is not about acquiring a sum of money to be squandered on short term spending but ensuring the union’s long term survival and viability. In any case, the sale of the building will not be completely settled until well into 2015.
Difficult but necessary decision
The most difficult and controversial measure the national executive committee has, with great reluctance, to take, has been to cancel the national and group elections for one year only. Events are moving at pace and while the January national executive committee was due to discuss further measures it was recognised it would not have been right to allow branches to go ahead with planning on the basis of the elections going ahead, so a special NEC was called.
PCS is one of only two major unions to hold annual elections, part of the democratic member-led tradition which has been established under the current left leadership of PCS This decision has been taken for two principal reasons: -
1 – The elections cost upwards of £600,000. It is clear such an enormous sum simply must be examined. This is an emergency situation, forced upon the union and which has created the most dangerous and exceptional circumstances. It inconceivable any genuinely responsible and serious leadership, committed and determined to ensure the survival of the union, could do other than take this decision.
2 – The very clear need to concentrate all the resources of PCS – not just financial – but its most precious resources – its members, activists and full time staff to devote their entire energies and concentration on delivering the maximum sign-up to Direct Debit to ensure the survival of our union.
Either of these imperatives would justify the decision to suspend the elections for one year only, together they constitute an unarguable case. This decision was not taken by the most committed, democratic, campaigning leadership in the trade union movement because other easier more palatable decisions were available. On the contrary this decision was made not because the national leadership wanted to make it. But because it had to make it – in order to ensure the union’s survival. The decision was also made within the context of an absolutely clear commitment to yearly elections. 2015 national conference, to be held on the same basis as 2014 conference, will have the opportunity to endorse or reject this decision.
Left Unity is absolutely clear that the decision was the only one that could have been taken in the circumstances. The highest possible standards that have been set by the Democracy Alliance national executive has its roots in many decades of struggle to secure the greatest possible democracy for our union. On merger PCS had two-yearly elections and conferences. It was Left Unity, including all the members of the current PCS leadership active at the time, that fought against the right wing to secure annual elections and conferences. Securing national elections was not just won by votes at conference alone. Mark Serwotka and Janice Godrich went to exceptional personal risk in fighting for the right in the High Court, including risking the loss of their own homes.
PCS members will understand and support this decision when it is honestly explained – so too will PCS activists. Right wing opponents of the national executive will attack the decision. Their history in resisting the democratisation of our union and its predecessors will expose their criticism for what it is – shameless hypocrisy. PCS must survive PCS is facing the greatest crisis of its existence. There is no doubt this vicious attack can be defeated but only on the basis of arming activists and members with an honest assessment of its scale of the attack and carrying out the hard decisions intended to defend our union against this attempt to destroy it. PCS’s leadership does not expect blind loyalty or support but it is a matter of indisputable record that no leadership in our movement has fought harder or given greater priority to building an effective, democratic, inclusive, campaigning union – the very reason the Tories want to destroy it. The reality is this. We are confident we can defeat this attempt to break our union but if we take the necessary measures outlined here. To fail to do so would threaten the future of our union. And that would be a real betrayal of union democracy.