PCS is the outstanding advocate amongst the trade unions for a workers’ movement which is prepared to fight back against austerity. At every point, the elected leaders of PCS have stood up to attack the cuts to public services implemented by the Westminster political caste – and their epigones in council halls and devolved national parliaments. Yesterday was no exception. Thousands of PCS activists – with the full support of their union – joined the demonstration called to highlight the terrible state of the NHS under a pro-privatisation, pro-austerity government. Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS, one of the few socialist general secretaries in the trade union movement, spoke to the rally in London.
Mark reiterated the view of the PCS National Executive Committee: that all unions must unite and fight back against austerity, especially against the pay caps imposed by the Tory government. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, under pressure to fund social care and NHS services, has already said that there will be no “spending spree”, and has asked all government departments to find an additional 3-6% of “savings”, i.e. budget cuts.
Meanwhile, councils, at the absolute limit of what they can do without the wholesale shut down of services, have begun to plan for significant rises in council tax. This is just a different way of hitting working class people – instead of taking it out of pay packets directly, through wage freezes and cuts, it will come out as tax. The policy of PCS – proposed by the socialist-led NEC and backed by conference – is that councils should use their reserves instead of cutting services or raising council tax, and should launch mass campaigns to force the government to back down on its austerity agenda. A mass programme of coordinated industrial action would be the most powerful weapon, as part of such a campaign, which would have the support of millions of workers.
Coordinated action by Aslef and the RMT against Southern Rail, on staffing, driver-only trains and health and safety show the scope for action across the private sector too. Mass, sustained, coordinated action that started in the public sector, if nurses, civil servants, council workers and teachers struck together, would not stay there. Hundreds of thousands of shop workers, care workers and other unorganised workers would see the opportunity to rise from the conditions of poverty pay in which they are kept by the bosses.
Pressure on the viciously right-wing, anti-democratic leaders of USDAW and other unions would rise. USDAW is the shop workers union and works in “partnership” with employers like Tesco. However, candidates like Robbie Segal, herself a Tesco shop worker, have run for President of the union and got 40% of the vote. A united campaign in the public sector would almost certainly produce amongst shop workers a demand for the bettering of their appalling conditions and pay. The most right-wing union in the TUC could become the most left-wing.
Demonstrations such as yesterday’s magnificent march in London are a lever. They can raise the confidence of workers to take on the bosses. They also put pressure on union leaders whose strategy is to batten down the hatches and hope for a Labour government. This is not enough – and ordinary members who attended the march yesterday will take away the clear message that more can be done. Members of PCS will know and be involved with the battles across the union, in the civil service – on office closures, for fair pay, for better staffing. What is needed, to decisively win on the issues which affect the whole public sector, is a campaign between the key public sector unions.
Mark also spoke about the terrible and cynical use of the status of EU migrants currently in the UK, as a bargaining chip with the European Union, in order for Britain to get a deal that allows it to stay in the single market.
PCS Annual Delegate Conference endorsed the strategy put forward by the National Executive Committee, in the run up to the EU referendum. Rather than go for an “in” or “out” strategy, the NEC ran a “we inform, you decide” campaign. This recognised the huge division amongst PCS members on the subject. In other unions, some right-wing leaderships decided to back the “In” campaign without members getting a say, much like they did over the Scottish referendum. The NEC position agreed by Conference recognised there were valid arguments on both sides.
For those members leaning towards an “In” position, there was huge fear about a Tory bonfire of health and safety and other regulations, which many member saw as protected by EU legislation. For those leaning towards an “Out” position, the role of the EU in smashing the elected left wing government in Greece and the debt-bondage to which the European Central Bank reduced Portugal, Greece, Spain, Ireland and Italy were reason enough to leave. What the NEC was absolutely determined to do was challenge the anti-immigrant lies being spewed.
A booklet on Brexit has been produced, which tackles the myths in the right-wing press, about how immigrants and refugees are the cause of the problems faced by British workers. At AGMs across the UK, these booklets have been distributed and have proved very popular. Any rep can get copies by getting in touch with their PCS regional office. The cause of the failing NHS, failing social care services, rising costs of public transport, unemployment and so on rest with government cuts. It rests with Vodafone and the other tax dodgers. It rests with the capitalist class, who sit on piles of money worth billions of pounds, refusing to invest it because it will not bring them profit.
In this way, the richest in the UK – and the world – are choosing private profit before the needs of real people.
Unions must unite and fight against that. Under the Democracy Alliance, which is a coalition of the PCS Democrats with PCS Left Unity, PCS has had a leadership which plays its role,which ensures the union is a lay-led union – run by the members and their elected reps, and which puts the full support of the union behind the campaigns which aim to defend the rights of members at work and in their communities. We urge all members to vote for the Democracy Alliance in the 2017 elections – but to go further as well and JOIN PCS Left Unity, the socialist group in PCS.