PCS Left Unity: Fighting to defend our union

Kevin Mc1Kevin McHugh Left Unity editor details the back ground to the NEC decision on suspension of national and group elections for a maximum of 12 months. Download the leaflet here for distribution in your branch. 

The Financial crash of 2008 and the Tory/Liberals Austerity programme has become the pretext for a transfer of wealth to the richest in our society. It has also become the pretext for an attack upon all the social gains won by trade unions in the post war period.. Because of the national campaign we have waged in defence of members interests and being in the forefront of demanding a co-ordinated response to Austerity, this Government have targeted PCS.

The  cuts in facilities, removal of national facility time, union busting documents for the HMRC Board, Unison officials negotiating with anti-union Maude to secure bargaining rights where PCS is the recognised union, and the ending of check off in major departments represents a crude union busting agenda. This is about reducing the influence of PCS and leaving members defenceless against the cuts and privatisation agenda.

The moves to end check off are a cynical ploy to attack our membership income that funds our vital work representing members on an individual and collective basis.

The strategy for uniting to defeat the union busting agenda is set out in the Left Unity statement and an article by Mark Serwotka in Civil Service World. This statement concentrates on the steps taken to protect PCS and our capacity to fight back. It summarises our financial position and sets out the arguments behind the decisions taken, including the suspension of elections for a maximum of 12 months.  This is fundamental to protecting the union’s financial position and funding our work in fighting for member’s interests.

The 2014 Financial Report gave a full and accurate report of the union’s financial position. It reported that a deficit in 2012 was successfully turned around into a small surplus in 2013. This was down to planning, reducing expenditure and balancing our bargaining, organising and campaign priorities.

Key Facts –

The ‘cautious optimism’ for a surplus at the end of 2014 has been borne out. The 2014 budget was based on a detailed estimate of reduced income. This estimate of 20,000 fewer members is based on the reductions for each year since the Tory/Liberal government took office. 20,000 less members means 1.9 million less income and this is explicitly set out in the Financial Report endorsed by ADC. PCS was in good financial health but still faced an enormous challenge. It is in this context that this provides the reasons behind the decision to suspend the national and group elections in 2015.

PCS publishes a 70 page Financial Report with 4 page summary for branches and conference delegates which are published on the website. It gives a detailed breakdown of all areas of union expenditure and is put to ADC for endorsement. PCS publishes a level of information about our finances that far exceed our legal requirements to the Certification Office. The threat to check off was the subject of an NEC Emergency Motion, the National Organising Strategy and was a recurring theme throughout the conference.

At ADC in May PCS was pressing the Cabinet Office and Departments and lobbying politicians against ending check off PCS prepared a detailed case for retaining check off in the event of departments consulting. To protectour financial and organisation independence from future employer attacks ADC agreed to immediately start signing up members by direct debit with a target date of April 2015. As departments notified PCS on ending check off, detailed projections of the impact were drawn up. The projections are based on a detailed analysis of the monthly/annual income of each group facing an end to check off, the estimated date when check off would end in each department, the DD sign up rate and an estimated monthly loss of income in each department. The estimate shows in order for PCS to produce a budget that balances our income with expenditure, we will need to reduce expenditure by 6.5 million from an annual budget of 26.4 million.

Reducing expenditure by 6.5 million in 2015 alone would involve significant reductions in employment costs (these represent approx 55% of union expenditure) and significant reductions in non-staff costs (set out in the 2014 Financial Report). PCS has  rightly given assurances on avoiding compulsory redundancies. Voluntary redundancies take longer and is why we are setting a 2015 Budget with the aim of providing a balanced budget over a 3 year period (the end of 2017). To ensure we are able to continue balancing our bargaining, campaign and organising priorities the NEC are conducting a strategic review of union structures. This means we need to identify savings from every area or union expenditure. This work was reported to the December NEC with a range of options. Savings of over 3 million were set out as options but further consultation was needed to finalise figures. These included conference, campaigns, affiliations, network administration and travel and subsistence with all budgets looked at for savings. As part of the overall figure of 3 million, the union could reduce expenditure by 600,000 if the annual national and group elections were suspended in 2015. To realise a saving of £600,000 would need a decision prior to the New Year break. Branches need to receive briefings and regulations covering AGM’s, motions to group and national conference and elections in advance of AGM’s.

The elected leadership of PCS needed to take prompt and difficult decisions in the interests of protecting the financial position of the union. The primary reason for suspending the elections is financial but a number of factors needed to be weighed up. PCS has a strong democratic practice and culture. Annual elections are an expression of this. The elections are suspended for a maximum of 12 months only. Not making this significant saving would mean adding 600,000 to the deficit at the end of 2015 or having to make equivalent savings from other budgets. To protect our financial position we are aiming to keep the end of year deficit for 2015 as low as possible as this assists us in reaching a balanced budget by the end of 2017. The non-staff savings identified for 2015 (including the suspension of elections) are the product of a detailed and rigorous examination of all areas of union expenditure. No area is immune from this process.

Signing up 180,00 PCS members to paying subs by direct debit by the end of March represents the mother of all recruitment exercises. The huge resources, work and energy required to do this effectively means to run national and group elections over the same period would divert much needed resources away from this vital work. This is a major factor when you consider the work involved around AGM’s and Group and National Elections and the 50% cut in representatives facility time. While we have already signed up an impressive 75,000 PCS members (50% of members in departments affected) there is much work to do in a very short timescale if we are to minimise the loss of income in the months of April, May and June in particular.

These are the facts that explain the steps PCS has taken to deal with the greatest challenge we have ever faced, an attempt by the government to destroy our union. The hard decisions taken by our campaigning national leadership, including the suspension of the national and group elections, were to ensure the survival of our union. We can defeat this attack if we work together in unity and solidarity.

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PCS Left Unity

Left Unity is a faction within the Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS) that is represented at every level of the union, from branches and workplaces to the National Executive Committee. We believe in a democratic and fighting union and have a proud history within PCS and its predecessor unions in delivering for members.