Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/488/2439
Public-sector unity to defend jobs and services
THIS YEAR'S PCS conference came on the back of a stunning fifth victory in a row for the left in the national executive (NEC) elections.
This was despite a crazy attempt by a sectarian small group to put up a slate of candidates who could have spilt the left vote and let the right back into power.
Janice Godrich, PCS president and a CWI member in Scotland was elected for a sixth time with over 14,000 votes. Her nearest right-wing rival got 9,000 votes. The minority ultra-left candidate got just 3,000 votes.
The support for the left continued into the conference when their position on the strategy to fight the Labour government's attacks on jobs and conditions was overwhelmingly endorsed.
Both the right wing and the minority left attempted to demobilise the struggle. The right always oppose industrial action, as they did over the two national one-day strikes this year. The ultra-lefts opposed the strategy and attempted to argue that the way forward was to have small sections of union members on union-paid strikes.
As Socialist Party member John McInally said, speaking on behalf of the NEC, this was the tactic of "find the small number of magic members who will win the strike for us".
Speaking at the beginning of conference, general secretary Mark Serwotka said that the union was a beacon to the whole of the trade union movement. By leading the struggle against privatisation and job cuts it was demonstrating in action the way forward to workers everywhere.
He said that despite the government programme to cut over 100,000 civil service jobs, of which 60,000 had already gone, the union's combative defence of its members' interests had meant that workers were flocking to join the union.
PCS now had 72% of eligible civil servants in its ranks, whereas the public sector overall had 59% of workers unionised. In the workforce as a whole, 30% is trade union-organised.
He continued by saying the union now had to face a new period where Gordon Brown, the architect of the government attacks on the public sector, was now to be installed as prime minister.
One of the main demands of the union was over national pay coherence. The government has split the civil service into 200 separate agencies, each of which has its own pay bargaining arrangements. But like everything else that the union is fighting for, the government is resisting the workers' completely justified demands. It is beginning to introduce regional pay bands for certain sections of workers over the heads of the union.
Socialist Party member Kevin Greenway spoke for the NEC on the courts service. "This will introduce differences in pay of up to £7,000 a year for court workers," he said.
As well as privatising the public sector, the government has also opened up a new front by farming out work to the so-called charity sector. As Mark Serwotka said in his opening speech: "all these so-called reforms are for the benefit of big business vested interests". Under Brown this process is bound to continue.
The strategy of the union now is to continue to organise its own members for further national strikes and other forms of industrial action. This is on top of group level actions, for example in the MOD and the courts service. Both of these groups have been taking their own strike action, as well as being involved in the national one-day strikes.
The conference agreed that there should be the biggest-ever consultation with the membership on the next waves of struggle. This will include national and local action.
But as well as this and running in tandem with it, the union is embarking on a major campaign to spread the struggle over pay, jobs and privatisation into the rest of the public sector.
Mark Serwotka read out a letter of solidarity he had received from Dave Prentis, the general secretary of UNISON. Amongst the things Prentis promised was to: "liaise with PCS on developments on pay, so where there is industrial action we co-ordinate where possible such action".
All the conference delegates were given a copy of the letter and were encouraged to go back to their areas and meet up with fellow UNISON activists to plan their action jointly.
It will undoubtedly take an enormous effort to get joint action with the other unions, particularly a national one-day strike over Gordon Brown's public-sector pay freeze.
The TUC met recently and were told that there is not much support for strike action in the public sector! This flies in the face of successive union conferences. For example the teachers, health workers and now postal workers are preparing ballots on striking over pay.
Of course the different start dates for pay settlements in the public sector, including in the civil service, make it difficult to co-ordinate but where there's a will there's a way.
PCS is seeking to invoke the spirit of the pensions struggle in 2005, this time over pay. Then, with the PCS in the lead, there was a united front of most of the public-sector unions. This led to a partial retreat by the government, who were forced at that stage to keep the pension rights of existing public-sector workers intact.
As part of this strategy the union is not only going through the TUC but also seeking bi-lateral arrangements with the unions separately.
Whatever happens, PCS members will have to continue the struggle. But it would be much better if all five million public-sector workers, who are all victims of government attacks, were in struggle together.
In a separate session, John McDonnell, who is the chair of the union's parliamentary group, spoke to conference, just hours after his bid to get on the ballot paper for the Labour leadership had failed.
Out of sympathy, the conference gave him two standing ovations for all the things he had done for the union in publicising their case in defence of jobs and services. But he would have had even more ovations if he had finished his speech by declaring the time has come to launch a new workers' party.
PCS gives a lead
AS THE above report shows, PCS conference boosted the campaign to link together the public-sector trade unions' battle for jobs and services. PCS president Janice Godrich, a member of the Socialist Party's sister party in Scotland, made an inspiring speech to the conference. These are extracts:
"The vibrancy of PCS compares favourably to the situation of New Labour. The recent election results were a disaster for them. For the first time in fifty years they are no longer the largest party in Scotland. Their organisation is falling apart. They struggled to get canvassers out on the doorsteps. In contrast, and with your help, we have twice mobilised an army of reps and members in defence of pay, jobs and services..."
"Workers across the public sector face a common problem - in that we are all facing cuts in pay, jobs and services to pay for the illegal war in Iraq. Growing numbers of ordinary members are re-learning the meaning of the expression, 'an injury to one is an injury to all'.
I give you a pledge on behalf of the national executive, the senior officers and myself that we will do everything we can to link up the struggles in the public sector and transform the desire for common action into a living force."
In The Socialist 24 May 2007:
Labour Party leadership
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Marxist analysis: history
Environment and socialism