The Socialist 28 May 2008 |
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PCS conference: More battles ahead on pay and jobs
This year's conference of the civil service union PCS was a resounding success. The union is seen in the forefront of the campaign against government attacks on the public sector.
Bill Mullins, Socialist Party industrial organiser
As general secretary Mark Serwotka said at the Left Unity rally: "This union is seen as a model for other unions to aspire to". The right-wing leaders of other unions are increasingly under pressure from their own members to be as militant as the PCS in defence of their members.
Mark also raised the possibility of trade union candidates in local and national government elections and perhaps the PCS, FBU and the RMT getting together with other activists to stand.
PCS president Janice Godrich, a member of the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Scotland, listed this year's campaigns and successes of the union in her opening address to the conference. In a period where the government continues its unrelenting attacks on public-sector workers: "We have managed to get a national protocol agreement on job losses and privatisation for the first time".
Trade union membership density has gone up from 56% to 62% in the civil service, despite the continuing fall in the number of jobs. "We have a very good young members' organisation which will be copied by others in the future," Janice said.
She accused the government of being a "Robin Hood in reverse", with its policies of rewarding the rich and taxing the poor.
In his report, Mark Serwotka praised the membership for its support in the fight back against the government's pay policy - particularly on 24 April, when 100,000 PCS members joined with teachers and lecturers on their day of strike action.
From the very start, the conference discussed how they would fight the government's public-sector pay policy which seeks to keep wage increases well below the rate of inflation.
Mark Serwotka explained that one quarter of PCS members earn less than £16,000 a year and thousands are on little more than the minimum wage.
The conference adopted a policy for a new minimum wage of £8.15 per hour, which directly confronts the low pay culture of the civil service.
There was overwhelming support for an emergency motion from the national executive, which called for a national strike ballot after the conference, linking up with the rest of the public-sector unions.
Jane Aitchison, a Socialist Party member and president of the DWP section of the union, seconded the emergency motion. She said she had been tremendously proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other public-service workers on 24 April. "It gave our pay campaign a massive boost".
Other motions on pay called for selective action with strike pay. But as Mark said in his reply: "This creates the illusion that 'somebody else will fight for us' and when this does not lead to success it can create disillusionment".
A motion on workload revealed the increasing crisis in the civil service as workers who leave are not replaced and others are expected to do their work.
The debate on the commercial sector showed the vital role of the union in the privatised public sector. Replying to the debate for the national executive (NEC), Socialist Party member Chris Morrison said privatisation and outsourcing had created a minefield for the workers.
Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary and a Socialist Party member, introduced the discussion on the national organising strategy. The union has managed to develop a whole new layer of workplace reps despite the ongoing job cuts and closures.
In the session on call centres, Socialist Party member Kevin Greenway, speaking on behalf of the NEC, invoked the spirit of France 1968 when he said that low-paid workers would come to the fore in the battle for their rights at work.
In a revealing session, workers from HMRC talked about how they were being made scapegoats for the loss of data which hit the headlines recently, one suggesting that when the police investigation was over, management found the missing disc in the back of a TNT depot. TNT had taken over the department's courier service when it was privatised.
HMRC management meanwhile are introducing "lean" methods of work which turn white-collar workers into factory slaves. "We said enough was enough and took five days of strike action," said one delegate. This issue is now developing across the whole of the civil service.
The Socialist Party intervention included over 200 copies of The Socialist and conference wrap-rounds being sold and over £1,000 raised for the Fighting Fund from delegates who attended the Socialist Party fringe meeting on France 1968, where Clare Doyle spoke.