PCS members strike at Department for Education in Sheffield. Photo: Alistair Tice
PCS members strike at Department for Education in Sheffield. Photo: Alistair Tice

Battle against bureaucracy ahead

Socialist Party members in PCS

The newly elected National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents UK and devolved civil servants and privatised workers on government contracts, met for the first time on Tuesday 4 June.

A new left majority – composed of supporters of the PCS Broad Left Network (BLN – in which Socialist Party members participate), supporters of the PCS Independent Left (IL) and independents – tried to chart a new direction for the union, in line with the clear views expressed by the union’s recent Annual Delegate Conference (ADC).

All supporters of the new majority, which won 19 seats on the NEC in this May’s election, including three Vice President posts, want a serious battle over jobs, pay, pensions, rights at work and all of the issues faced by members. Socialist Party members and our allies are united by the belief that the now-minority, under PCS Left Unity, are directly responsible for the failure to launch that serious battle.

The Left Unity-led leadership, including general secretary Fran Heathcote and president Martin Cavanagh, failed to to organise a serious strike campaign when the union won a mandate in 2022-23 for 135,000 members.

They delayed the launch of action by six weeks, resulting in the loss of the strike mandate in Northern Ireland entirely. They delayed national action by three months. They refused to seriously analyse what action would work. They halted the campaign from June 2023 to March 2024 on the basis of the first paltry offer made by the government.

Undemocratic manoeuvres by PCS Left Unity

That same faction, despite defeat in the union’s national elections, now seems intent on using the powers of the president post, a post which they won despite losing their overall majority, to undemocratically block serious business being transacted by the NEC.

“Chair’s rulings” made by the president, which ought to be used sparingly and not as a means of closing down debate, were first used to force the new NEC to adopt undemocratic standing orders (rules of procedure for meetings) by a two-thirds majority, or face the total suspension of all NEC business indefinitely by the president, leaving crucial issues facing PCS members undiscussed.

Knowing full well that the general secretary and president would rejoice in the NEC not meeting, and therefore being unable to scrutinise their actions and hold them to account, the left majority coalition voted for, with three symbolic votes by the union’s national vice presidents in protest at the undemocratic decision.

Further chair’s rulings were used to totally dispose of, without a vote, two serious motions on political strategy, each proposed and seconded by elected members of the NEC. These motions grappled seriously with the issues facing the union, including how to exert pressure on any incoming government to concede to our national campaign demands in the context of the general election. Ways in which a serious political strategy, with high-profile demands on Labour could be used to prepare and mobilise members for the fight we know is coming.

A weak ‘make your vote count’ style approach was passed (this refers to an old approach where PCS would write to candidates and parties and publicise their responses, but would not actively support candidates who support the union’s campaigns on pay etc).

Also passed was a stronger motion, based on the A12 motion passed at ADC, supported by all parts of the majority left coalition, to make putting demands on Labour central to our strategy during the general election period.

Shamefully, and despite proposals by BLN supporters both to reorder the agenda to ensure that the report on a key update on how the NEC is urgently implementing ADC policy on victimised reps was taken early on, when the meeting reconvened after the President suspended it, and to “suspend Standing Orders” so as to extend the meeting so that this item of business could be heard, the NEC adjourned at 1.30pm and no report was heard on this vital business of defending our reps.