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Posted on 23 August 2018 at 14:05 GMT

PCS members in Bristol demonstrating against the government's pay cap, photo Roger Thomas

PCS members in Bristol demonstrating against the government's pay cap, photo Roger Thomas   (Click to enlarge)

PCS pay campaign: Important discussions needed on way forward

Socialist Party members in PCS

'Socialist View' (SV) has been launched by those in PCS who are supporting the candidature of Janice Godrich for assistant general secretary against Socialist Party member Chris Baugh who is the incumbent and has been in office since 2004. We believe that this is a further divisive step in splitting the left in PCS, following the announcement of Janice's candidature at PCS conference in May, which for many delegates overshadowed the launch of the strike ballot on pay.

We believe that no political justification has been made for such a serious step but SV's initial statement on the PCS 2018 pay campaign and ballot have brought out important differences on how the union ensures members and reps digest the lessons and prepare for next year's pay round.

The Socialist Party rejects the view of Socialist View that all that is required for success in 2019 is to do the same as 2018 but be better organised. We disagree with this thinking and approach. A special conference will help us draw on the experience of the activists in branches and groups, to openly debate the lessons of the 2018 pay campaign and to decide our approach in 2019.

On this question, we stand fully and unapologetically in the democratic tradition of our union. Nobody has all the answers but we do believe there needs to be an open and thorough discussion of these issues if the union is to develop a strategy that can mobilise our industrial strength against the Tories' continued assault on the pay, jobs and conditions of PCS members.

The Socialist Party argues for this and will continue to campaign for these decisions not to be the sole property of the national leadership and its full-time unelected officialdom but of members and activists through the democratic structures of PCS.

Tories' attacks

Without the Tories' 2016 anti-union Act which imposed a 50% threshold for a legal strike, PCS would be celebrating the biggest vote for action in our 20 year history.

The turnout and the high vote for strike action are a tremendous achievement. Huge credit for this is owed to the thousands of members in branches and groups across the union.

The Tories have again singled out civil servants for special treatment. They allowed talks in Local Government and the NHS and while they were still insufficient and deliberately divisive, they did concede increases above the pay cap.

In Scottish Government, as a result of union pressure, in particular from PCS, we have secured average increases of 5% with increases up to 11% going to the lowest paid.

The Tories have shown utter contempt for their own employees by ignoring the vote of PCS members and imposing the Treasury Pay Remit and pay cap without negotiations with PCS and the other civil service unions.

This has prompted the unusual but welcome step from PCS, Prospect and the FDA who have collectively lodged a judicial review against the government's failure to consult us.

This is a useful complement to the national pay campaign but PCS also clearly needs to conduct an open discussion on where next.

There is a sense of disappointment at the turnout and frustration that the law has been used to obstruct our democratic right to take strike action to fight the pay cap.

PCS will need to continue to expose the hypocrisy and perverse restriction to voting by post. We will need to continue campaigning to repeal all the anti-union laws.

Critically we need to continue to make the case for the role played by PCS members in providing vital public services despite massive job cuts, office closure and attacks on terms and conditions on an unprecedented scale.

Of course, PCS members both deserve and need a pay rise but without the necessary pressure, such plaintive appeals alone won't force the Tories to negotiate on our pay claim, the Treasury Remit and pay cap, and the restoration of collective bargaining.

This is essential to not just break the pay cap but address the decline in members' pay suffered under so-called delegation and accelerated in the name of austerity.

To learn the lessons of the pay ballot and maintain the momentum of the national campaign, we need to discuss and agree a way forward in several ways.

Discussions needed

The first is how to maintain pay pressure at delegated level. Everyone now agrees that senior lay reps' forums should be organised regularly for the national union, groups and NDPBs (non-departmental public bodies) to align our demands to the employer and explore the basis of joint or coordinated action.

Members of PCS in the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) have started a ballot to reject a pay offer and contract MEP (Modernisation Employment Programme) which offers modest average increases over five years with no opt-out, in return for accepting increased hours and worse contracted conditions.

With support from across PCS, MOJ can resist this attack on conditions. Elsewhere the absence of extra funding means that major departments are moving to impose pay offers within the pay cap, including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HMRC.

The National Dispute Committee needs to urgently discuss and plan joint meetings with the lead group pay negotiators from DWP, HMRC, MOJ and any other group/NDPB that thinks there is the potential for a pay dispute so we can align our message to the employer, explore joint campaigning and the timing of consultative/statutory ballots.

There is a clear and practical need for much closer liaison between the national union and groups to prepare and support joint action at a delegated level. This will help apply pressure on each departmental management and on the government itself.

The pay strategy was endorsed at conference in May. This called on the NEC to convene a statutory ballot as soon as possible in order to win a clear mandate and force the government to negotiate. This has not worked. In view of the position PCS now faces it is complacent to argue we already have a set policy which makes consulting the most informed and active reps at a special delegate conference somehow redundant.

There are of course questions of limiting costs and the best timing of a conference but in view of the ballot results, the government's refusal to negotiate and its focus on delegated pay deals that offer small increases for giving up terms and conditions, there is a need to consult the widest number of delegates at the policy-making body of the union. It is a matter of record that the Socialist Party and Left Unity have been the strongest defenders of conference policy.

Such a conference should not be confined to discussing organising based on the useful data from the pay ballot. So the second key issue is the important role a special delegate conference can play and how PCS can renew and refresh our mandate on how we press government to bargain with civil service unions, how we best support joint group disputes, how we increase the fighting fund to pay for future targeted action, and how we build links from a local to national level with other unions, particularly those prepared to fight, as well as our members in the commercial sector privatised areas.

Organising

The third issue for the union is what we mean by "organising". The ballot data gives us important information that can help better focus our organising work. There is not one organising approach but many.

Of course union power comes from building our organisational strength from the workplace up. The Tory attack on members' conditions has been accompanied by an all-out attack on our union's rights. This is reflected in the 50% cut in facility time, a leaked HMRC senior management document plotting "the organisational degradation of PCS's capacity", and the ruthless attacks on union finances by removing check off.

PCS has defied those attempts to break us and we've come out fighting, expressed in a number of notable group disputes.

With the unparalleled cuts to civil service jobs, PCS has suffered a large decrease in its membership and its financial income.

From a high point of over 310,000, we are now at 180,000, with a membership that continues to show a gradual decline despite the regional hubs structure with its significant investment and deployment of PCS staff and union resources.

There needs to be a careful analysis of recruitment rates by region/nation and our voting strengths in the ballot but this also needs to involve looking at our union's density and how to increase the networks of reps and the activist culture that has been so important in the union's recent battles.

Without this it is close to impossible to affectively direct the union's resources towards organising the tens of thousands of non-members in PCS-recognised areas.

Organising needs the active involvement and agreement of lay reps at the branch, the regional and group levels.

It needs to be linked to the issues and problems at work and the campaigns we conduct to tackle them.

Arguably, Land Registry and ACAS exceeded the 50% threshold not just because of good levels of union organisation and high density but because of the recent industrial/bargaining disputes they've conducted. This is an important lesson for our future organising activities across the union.

In the Socialist View statement, NEC member Martin Cavanagh rightly highlights our achievements but effectively argues that we carry on with the same strategy.

We agree there are key organisational lessons to be learnt but this does not take place in a vacuum. Organising alone will not allow us to reach the threshold. We believe this is both a one-sided and complacent conclusion.

As part of learning the lessons, there is a widespread belief that other questions need to be asked and properly discussed:

The CWU and UCU held statutory ballots which achieved the 50% threshold. In PCS, we have held statutory ballots exceeding 50% in a number of areas, including BEIS and ACAS.

It is unlikely that organisation alone explained why these ballots succeeded and the 2018 pay ballot did not.

We believe that to conduct an analysis purely on the basis of 'organising' is a mistake. The 2018 Annual Delegate Conference mandate needs to be reviewed and a fresh mandate given.

We do not believe this should be delayed until the Annual Delegate Conference in May 2019, especially as the employer is pushing ahead with its pay plans for 2019.

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