Building A Fighting Leadership For The PCS

Members of civil service union PCS will be voting in elections for their union’s president and national executive (NEC), starting on 6 June.

Janice Godrich, the union’s current president, spoke to the socialist about the elections.

Why is this election so important?

I guess I am perhaps the only union president to support having to seek re-election a year earlier than I needed to. However I am pleased to do so. The events of the past twelve months in PCS have exposed once and for all the moribund nature of the right wing in our union.

The Moderates and their allies in the Inland Revenue Membership First (IRMF) grouping tried to hijack the union. In the face of mounting attacks from New Labour on pay, jobs and privatisation they didn’t put forward one proposal to defend the membership.

Instead they spent the year trying to overturn Mark Serwotka’s election as general secretary, remove my powers and latterly to create four deputy general secretaries and two senior national officers for themselves.

The Left Unity (LU) NEC members ensured that the union has campaigned with some success against New Labour’s attacks, while fighting the undemocratic attempts of the Moderates and IRMF to use the union for themselves.

The election is only happening because members voted to return to annual conference and national elections. This was against the recommendation of the Moderate-led NEC who opposed this basic extension of democracy.

Members now have a golden opportunity to rid themselves of the right-wing careerists and elect a leadership which has already demonstrated that it will fight for members and not for themselves.

If the left win a majority, what will this mean for the membership?

It will mean that the union will be run by those who have members’ interests, not their own, at heart. I have spent the vast majority of my time as a union rep combining official work and my union activity.

I’m not a career trade unionist. This means that I understand the union must direct its resources when they are needed most – at the front line. This means more recruiters and organisers, not a top-heavy bureaucracy with a myriad of overpaid senior officials. It means support for branches and reps, help not hindrance from the union’s structures.

Most importantly it means that conference policy will be respected and implemented. Conference policies are our armoury to develop the campaigns to make our members’ lives better.

What are the policies the Left are campaigning on?

PCS members in the public and private sectors face ever-increasing attacks on their pay, jobs and conditions. New Labour intends to extend its privatisation of civil service jobs. And in the budget, Gordon Brown signalled a further attack on national pay bargaining when he trailed the issue of regional pay for the civil service.

Members in the private sector face growing attacks as they are expected to pay for the reducing profitability of the companies which employ them. And all the economic signals are that things will get worse, threatening all PCS members wherever they work.

In the face of all this, PCS members will need a strong determined leadership prepared to mount campaigns to defend them.

The Left has already ensured that PCS campaigns in support of public services delivered by the public sector and for a return to national pay bargaining. We will resist any attempt to move to regional pay bargaining.

We have directed more of the union’s resources to help members in the private sector. The Left have already shown, even in a minority position, that they are able to offer that leadership. It is imperative that they have a majority to continue.

How do you think that the fight against low pay and privatisation will be resisted by the membership?

Members have already shown in many areas of the union that they are prepared to fight privatisation and for decent pay, with some notable successes. But they know from bitter experience it is not enough. That’s why we have launched national campaigns to use the full force of the national union.

I believe that if members are given a clear and determined lead they will respond positively. But they have been held back by the corrupt right wing who have refused to offer that leadership.

What is the role of Socialist Party members in the union and how do the party’s policies fit in with the union’s policies?

As socialists we need to lead by example. We offer our socialist analysis of the situations and promote policies which address the issues members face. And that analysis inspires confidence.

We stand up for members in the workplace in the face of the daily attacks they face. We explain how it is the current economic system and the drive for profit which generates these attacks and we explain the need for socialism as an alternative.

A number of trade unions now have Left leaders. If the Left win a majority in the PCS, how should they link up to defend the public sector?

We believe that there is not only a need to build a national campaign to defend public services within PCS, it needs to be across the whole trade union movement.

After all every working person and their families need and use public services. Where these are lost or reduced it is working people who suffer most, only the rich can buy alternatives.

So the TUC should organise a serious campaign uniting all working people in defence of public services. PCS should work with those other Left leaders within the TUC to call for such a campaign. And we should ensure that the Left unions work together to support any members of any union who are fighting to defend the public services they deliver.

The PCS will soon be having a membership ballot to decide on a political fund. The last ballot was held just after the union was formed in 1997 and there was a majority against. Do you think this was because many members thought it was about financing the Labour Party? How do you think the ballot should be handled this time?

I think there were two major reasons for the rejection of a political fund. Firstly there was no serious campaign mounted by the right-wing leadership to explain the importance of having a political fund. And there is no doubt that many members thought it was to pay money to the Labour Party who only weeks before had announced the biggest ever privatisation of civil service jobs with 4,000 National Savings staff sold to Siemens – despite promises to the contrary only weeks before the election.

This confirmed that the Labour Party’s intention was to continue with the Tories’ plans to attack the public sector. In the next ballot we need to mount a major campaign explaining to members the importance of being able to fund the campaigns needed to resist the attacks we face.

Should the new ballot explain that setting up a political fund means the union could support other parties that, unlike New Labour, represent the interests of the membership?

Of course you can have a political fund without affiliating to any political party. PCS has never been affiliated to the Labour Party and while in the past many socialists, including myself, argued strongly that Labour would provide us with a political voice that is not the case now.

New Labour are no different to the Tories and in some ways are worse, as they pretend to represent working people while following a big-business agenda.

While ultimately I believe PCS members will need to address the need for a political voice at some stage I would argue the union should not affiliate to Labour. Instead we could support candidates in elections who support our union’s policies. But ultimately that will be decided by members if and when we set up the political fund.

Why do you support the Socialist Party and its sister organisation in Scotland, International Socialists, as well as being a member of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP)?

Working people need a socialist alternative to vote for. The decision to form the SSP has been proven to be absolutely right. The election of six MSPs in the recent election shows this.

People in Scotland put their faith in the Labour Party for years only to be let down, now they have a serious socialist alternative. And the SSP have consistently supported PCS members, such as in the recent disputes over health and safety in the Department of Work and Pensions and during the attempted coup by the Moderates.

There are many strands of socialist ideas that make up the SSP debating the best way forward for working people in Scotland. The International Socialists play an integral part in that work and those debates and, for me, offer the clearest analysis and policies.