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PCS Executive Passes First-Year Test
THE 2004 conference of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) was a test of the first year of the Left Unity-led national executive (NEC) by delegates and union activists from across the country. They backed the executive on all the key issues confronting the civil service and PCS members.
Mark Baker, PCS NEC, personal capacity
Conference opened with a motion from the NEC setting out our strategy to fight the 40,000 job cuts announced in Brown's budget statement.
General secretary Mark Serwotka left the conference with no illusions: "If the government says there will be 20,000 jobs cut in this or that department regardless, we will vigorously protect those services and jobs... including the very last resort of industrial action. It was a disgraceful sight seeing a Labour Chancellor, cheered on by ministers announcing 40,000 job cuts. Real people with real lives doing real jobs"
Members have shown in the recent PCS elections that they trust this NEC to take the campaign forward.
The disputes across the civil service in recent months have focussed public attention on the madness of delegated pay. The NEC have stepped up the campaign to expose the insanity of 229 different sets of pay negotiations. This has resulted in senior government figures authorising talks about a national dimension to civil service pay.
The problems of low pay, pay inequalities and the Treasury driving down pay by capping wages across the civil service remain. If these Treasury imposed limits remain for 2004 and 2005, conference called on the NEC to seek legal advice on whether a legal dispute involving all the membership in the civil service can be held and if so to ballot members for industrial action accordingly.
Another main campaign during this NEC's first term has been the defence of our members' pensions in both the public and private sector and their ability to retire at 60 with full pension rights. This has culminated in the TUC demo on 19 June instigated by PCS. Conference agreed further campaigning activities among members on this issue.
The civil service's use of consultants and other high-cost faddish means of managing staff were the subject of a motion demanding an inquiry into management techniques employed in this sector. Socialist Party member Rob Williams, for the NEC, roundly condemned the waste of public money and lack of accountability of civil service consultants.
One important task for the NEC over the next year is dealing with a number of important equality issues. A plan to involve more black members in the union will need to be drawn up as conference remitted a motion to the NEC calling for reserved seats to be extended. This will be given a high priority.
Socialist Party members Jane Aitchison and Emily Kelly proposed an important motion setting out ways of improving participation of under-represented groups in the union including charters, active monitoring and annual reviews of progress made.
Conference also agreed to step up its campaigning against domestic violence but there was unfortunately not enough time to take a debate on abortion for which PCS has no official policy. This will need to be considered and developed by the new executive.
The union's youth work was discussed and the NEC congratulated on setting up a database of 25,000 young members. A series of campaigning initiatives were agreed under the direction of a new national youth organiser.
A successful fringe meeting was held where we sold out of copies of the new International Socialist Resistance campaign pack against low pay (see right).
The international section of the agenda inevitably focussed on the situation in Iraq and the Middle East. Socialist Party members Roger Thomas, Katrine Williams and Lindsey Baker all provided the clearest analysis of the struggle taking place and put a class position.
The whole conference took place against the backdrop of the European and local elections and the threat of the far right. Conference unanimously endorsed affiliation to "Unite Against Fascism" and following a fringe meeting on the Wednesday night went out and leafleted around Brighton.
Socialist Party member and new assistant general secretary, Chris Baugh, for the NEC was happy to endorse the affiliation but reminded conference that the lack of a political fund placed certain restrictions upon what we can and can't say regarding political parties and organisations.
Conference supported the NEC recommendation to consult members and explain the benefits of having a political fund to enable the union to develop its campaigning activities to defend public services, jobs and pension rights as well as taking forward a political campaign against the far-right.
A further motion was moved by Labour Party members which sought to ballot members immediately on the issue but be ambiguous on the question of political affiliation. This was defeated.
At the Left Unity fringe meeting, Mark Serwotka said that he could not see any circumstances under which PCS would use the fund to affiliate to the Labour Party and suggested that the time was right for trade unions to explore political alternatives to Labour.
He also said that some preliminary discussions had taken place with the Left in UNISON about joint campaigning activities.
The NEC were defeated on a few issues regarding union finances but on all the key policy issues the executive and activists were at one. This is a far cry from previous union conferences. The discredited "Moderate" group had nothing to say until some of them launched a new "Group" on the last day of conference, comprising the two right-wing factions on the NEC who had previously been separate organisations.
This new group has no name and no policies so it remains to be seen whether they will be able to resurrect their fortunes.
The Socialist Party demonstrated its credentials at the conference and a lunchtime fringe meeting attracted about 40 delegates. We now have eight members on the executive following the recruitment of one further NEC member at conference.
A New Delegate Reports
Below BERNIE LYONS, a PCS member from Bristol, gives her thoughts on her first conference.
Attending the PCS conference as a delegate for the first time gave me the chance to see how the policies and practices of the union are formed and decided.
It was clear from the contributions that the majority of issues had arisen from the personal experiences of ordinary trade union reps and the members they represent in the workplace. There was also a strong emphasis on wider issues that affect our members. These ranged from campaigning against domestic violence, the continuing inequality of pay between men and women and the under-representation of black and ethnic minority members.
We also heard how the government's privatisation programme affects the living and working standards of our members. This was a memorable debate in which speakers from private sector companies were able to share their members' experiences. We subsequently carried a motion which called for a survey of commercial sector members which will help the union to determine and resist attempts to exclude workers from the benefits of 'family friendly' policies.
Action is also planned to counteract the pension problems suffered by our private sector members involved in 'second generation transfers' - civil service functions which, having been transferred to a private company, are later transferred again to a different private company.
Left Unity held one of the largest fringe meetings. This excellent meeting was chaired by the union president Janice Godrich. General secretary Mark Serwotka and Chris Baugh, the newly elected assistant general secretary spoke.
But the first speaker was Carmel Gates from the Northern Ireland Public Services Association (NIPSA), the sister union of PCS in Northern Ireland, which represents both civil service and local government workers.
Like our members in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), NIPSA workers are involved in continuing strike action after suffering government attacks on their pay and conditions. Carmel explained how PCS has been an inspiration to NIPSA activists and members.
Carmel herself was an inspiration as shown by the reception she got at the meeting and the standing ovation she received at the DWP group conference prior to the main conference.
In The Socialist 19 June 2004:
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