Activists from across the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) met on Saturday 20 January to hold the annual conference of the PCS Broad Left Network (BLN), the socialist group in the union in which the Socialist Party participates.
In 2023, following massive strike mandates and brave action by members, the current leadership of PCS, including the ‘Left Unity’ grouping, dismantled the union’s national strike campaign on pay, pensions, rights and jobs.
From September until December, elections were held for general secretary and assistant general secretary.
Marion Lloyd, Socialist Party member and BLN supporter, stood for general secretary and came within 800 votes of defeating the then president of the union and candidate of the current leading group, Fran Heathcote, winning 48% of the vote.
Marion stood on a joint ticket with John Moloney, a supporter of another left group, the Independent Left (IL), who successfully retained his position of assistant general secretary.
Marion and John stood on a worker’s wage, pledging not to take the £70,000+ salary but to return all money above their civil service wages to the union’s strike funds. They stood on a programme of rebuilding the national campaign on pay, pensions, rights and jobs, of strengthening support for branches and group-wide campaigns, of making the union more accountable and responsive to members.
BLN Conference 2024 endorsed this programme again, and the need for a continued united front – not just with IL but with others who also want a democratic, fighting union.
Strong left challenge
Marion’s general secretary campaign has laid the basis for a serious, principled challenge in the elections for the National Executive Committee (NEC), which start in April.
BLN is working with independent socialists across PCS and with the new ‘Alliance for Change’ in the Revenue and Customs group, which has been formed by activists leaving Left Unity in droves, to secure the election of a left NEC.
The BLN conference heard from activists about bureaucratic, undemocratic manoeuvres by the current union leadership to undermine the current group structure of the union. This includes dismantling the BEIS group, of which Marion is president, and the Scottish Government group, without any consultation with the elected group leaderships.
The number of PCS reps has fallen in recent years. BLN supporters are determined to replace this leadership and to re-build the fighting, democratic traditions of PCS.
In addition to the election programme, BLN supporters debated and voted on motions covering key policies for the union, which they hope to see passed by branch AGMs and by the union’s annual conference in May, including on Gaza and the anti-trade union laws (see bln.org.uk for more details).
Members across PCS face falling pay relative to inflation, high pension contributions with low end-of-career benefits, rising workloads and stress levels, and a government hell-bent on getting rid of offices that ensure that people can access local services. On top of this, the Tories have announced 66,000 job cuts. BLN conference agreed to launch campaigns to mobilise members to defeat these attacks. Activists also agreed plans for restoring union democracy, including the need to elect more of the union’s paid senior officials.
BLN, which only ran candidates for election for the first time in 2021, has rapidly developed into the linchpin in the fight for democracy in PCS and for a combative strategy. While we will work with all forces who want to achieve this change, we urge all socialists in PCS to consider joining the BLN.