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: opens in new window)

Marion Lloyd, Broad Left Network candidate for PCS president

A meeting of the PCS union national executive committee on 19 February agreed to relaunch the union’s national pay campaign. PCS represents civil and public servants working for central and devolved governments, as well as private sector workers on government contracts.

Its leadership, drawn mainly from a group called Left Unity, spent most of 2018 and 2019 arguing that the campaign should only be about pay. But now, in a significant about-face, they have conceded that demands put by Socialist Party and other left members that pensions, redundancy rights and terms and conditions be added.

The new campaign will, at some point, involve a ballot of members covered by the government’s pay policy, by the civil service compensation scheme or by the principal civil service pension scheme, which has members far beyond the core civil service.

However, no timeline has been offered, and an industrial action strategy has yet to be proposed.

Despite there being a clear opportunity to build the anger of members into a serious national campaign, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka refused all attempts to strengthen the union’s strategy.

He opposed amendments to his campaign paper that would have made explicit the call by PCS for the 2% that all staff have been overpaying on their pensions to be backdated to 2015; that called for an immediate £10-an-hour minimum wage as a step to £12 an hour for low-paid staff; and which highlighted the real cause of attacks on our redundancy rights – the desire to cut jobs.

Serwotka’s proposals for the campaign are nothing new. The proposal that individual senior officers of the union’s national executive now have responsibility for things like communications, for coming up with an industrial strategy, and so forth, are good – insofar as they represent a degree of lay oversight that has been lacking. Yet anyone who attended the union’s national conference in 2019 and heard the debate there will be left asking, why wasn’t all of this done in 2019?

The reality is that the union’s current leadership is lost at sea. They lack confidence when it comes to tackling the government, they lack a strategy that members can believe in, and they have the mistaken belief that if they keep calling ballots, the big push involved to turn out the vote will help to halt the falling membership of the union. They’re wrong. People join unions when those unions win things.

Socialist Party members in PCS support a new organisation called the PCS Broad Left Network, which has set out a powerful platform for how to change the union, how to democratise it and move back towards the basic tasks of winning things for members; telling them about it and drawing them into union activity by demonstrating that this has concrete value.

The Broad Left Network is putting forward an alternative leadership for the union by standing for national president and supporting candidates for this year’s elections in April-May 2020.

The closing date for nominations is 5 March. We urge all PCS members to nominate and vote for the Broad Left Network-supported candidates, details of which can be found at pcsblnwordpress.com.