Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/419/4780
PCS Left Unity conference backs union leadership on pensions
NORMALLY A meeting of a union broad left would be of interest mainly to left activists in that particular union but last Saturday's 150-strong national conference of the PCS broad left (Left Unity) was important for much wider layers than PCS activists.
Top of the agenda was the debate on the recent 'framework agreement' on pensions between the government and the public sector unions, including PCS.
The leading role of the PCS, its general secretary Mark Serwotka and the Left Unity majority on the PCS NEC was crucial in forcing back the government's attack on at least three million public sector workers. (Local government workers and others have not yet been offered the same deal, see Pensions: Strike back at Labour's attacks).
The pensions issue and the deal that came out of the negotiations between the government and the unions, was fundamentally determined by the balance of class forces between the workers in the public sector and the government representing the interests of the capitalist profit system.
The deal, as we have commented before, was a partial retreat by the government in the face of the threat of mass strike action by public-sector workers. It was the PCS and its socialist leadership that forced the pace of unity across the public sector unions. The government retreat at the very last moment meant that existing workers would still be protected and able to retire at 60.
Unfortunately, the deal as it stands means that the government still wants the next generation of workers to retire later.
In the case of the civil service, the negotiations are ongoing and there is hope that the outcome would afford some protection for new, younger workers.
The discussion at the LU conference revolved around those who thought that the leadership of the union, including Mark Serwotka, were right to accept the framework agreement and those who thought they were wrong and that the union should therefore tell the government that they are pulling out of the agreement.
The so-called "Socialist Caucus" (an amalgam of ultra-left groups) in their resolution called the deal a "sell-out".
In their speeches, they called Mark Serwotka "high and mighty" and a careerist who had led the campaign for unity (against the government) and was now leading a retreat. The fact that he was at the conference and was being judged on his actions, proves the opposite.
There was much talking about: "The bottom line is ensuring that the next generation is entitled to protection". But as Steve Ion, a Socialist Party member from Liverpool said: "the issue is how can this be achieved. The bottom line for socialists of course is a socialist society but the question is how it can be achieved".
"The question is", Steve said, "have we got the power to beat the government, given that not all the unions are led by the left and were only too willing to concede compromises for the existing workforce, including only protecting workers who retire before 2013?".
Martin John, an NEC member who resigned from the SWP because he disagreed with their line on pensions, said that only one branch had sent a resolution to the NEC opposing the deal. And when Mark Serwotka visited the branch and spoke to the workers "there wasn't a single word of criticism".
The SWP voted for all the resolutions put by the Socialist Caucus but didn't put one of their own. This was in stark contrast to their comrades on the NATFHE NEC who have called for the union to withdraw from the deal and appealed to the PCS and the NUT to do the same.
It is ironic that they are saying this just at the time that the government has refused to offer the same deal to local government workers.
If the PCS and the NUT were to follow the advice of the SWP, the only people who would cheer would be the government, as they have been under relentless pressure from the capitalists to renege on the framework agreement. They would dearly love to be able to say that all workers will retire at 65.
At the LU conference, 80% of the delegates voted with the leadership and endorsed the actions of the NEC and Mark Serwotka.
Left Unity is a growing and democratic organisation that is able to hold the leadership of the union to account.
The fact that it supported the deal is an indication that the socialist leadership of the union has proved itself in battle. Based on years of experience, they are not afraid to face up to the bosses or to map out the necessary steps to take the struggle forward.
They have demonstrated that they are prepared to give a lead to the members and are not prepared to go on ultra-left adventures which can only benefit the interests of the bosses.
The debate revealed the gulf between those who are prepared to take a serious attitude to the workers' struggle and those who are ignorant of the basic issues that affect the historical struggle between the classes.
Civil servants' strike ballot
THE BALLOT amongst PCS members working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has started. As reported in previous issues of the socialist the ballot for a two-day strike is over job cuts in the DWP. 30,000 DWP jobs are under threat, out of 104,000 civil service jobs under attack by the government. The ballot closes on 6 January.
In The Socialist 8 December 2005: