MARK SERWOTKA, a Left Unity member standing on an independent socialist ticket, has been elected general secretary of civil service union PCS. His election is an indication of the deep discontent amongst members with the right-wing union leadership and its failure to represent their interests against the Blair government’s policies.
Kevin Kelly, PCS Land Registry, personal capacity
That leadership have meekly accepted a partnership agreement with New Labour, which has meant the worsening of working conditions, performance-related pay and the break-up of pay bargaining into over 200 units. Mark Serwotka’s victory was celebrated by rank-and-file members who will see it as an opportunity to repair this damage to pay and working conditions.
His unexpected victory over Hugh Lanning, PCS assistant general secretary, was by 40,740 votes to 33,942, on about a 30% turnout. It comes after the earlier success when right-wing general secretary Barry Reamsbottom withdrew from the election.
The final outcome of the whole election campaign was a testament to the correctness of the position of Left Unity, including Socialist Party members. When Barry Reamsbottom refused to stand for re-election, in spite of a 1998 conference resolution, they played an important role at the May 2000 conference in winning support for a general secretary election. This support was then turned into a yes vote for a new election in the ensuing membership ballot.
When Left Unity held a selection meeting, dependent on whether or not they finally decided to stand a candidate for general secretary, Terry Adams, a Socialist Party member and PCS national officer, won against Mark Serwotka.
The Left Unity conference decided, following a full debate, that the priority for the PCS and the wider trade union movement was to defeat and remove Reamsbottom. Terry Adams correctly accepted that decision.
Left Unity decided to give very critical support to Hugh Lanning to avoid splitting the anti- Reamsbottom vote and on the basis of assurances given by Lanning about his programme.
Mark Serwotka participated in this discussion but refused to accept the Left Unity decision. Many Left Unity members argued that he risked losing the opportunity to get rid of Reamsbottom by standing as a candidate.
The Left Unity decision to give critical support to Lanning, together with the campaign waged against Reamsbottom over many years by Left Unity and the Socialist Party, forced Reamsbottom to cut and run and seek a deal from the union.
It was subsequently revealed that he only got 32 branch nominations instead of the required 50. The deal was that Reamsbottom would withdraw from the election and withdraw his court case against the union, provided he could continue as general secretary until 2002 and be paid until 2004.
Reamsbottom’s forced withdrawal was a major victory, greeted with jubilation by activists both inside and outside the union.
In the light of Reamsbottom’s last-minute withdrawal, Socialist Party members called upon the PCS leadership and the candidates, Lanning and Serwotka, to reopen the election process to allow members, branches and political groupings to nominate fresh candidates. This was refused.
Faced with an election between Mark Serwotka and Hugh Lanning, the Left Unity national committee recommended support for Mark Serwotka. This Left Unity support was critical for his electoral success.
PCS members and activists will now look to Mark Serwotka to take up his post as general secretary elect on 1 February 2001 (see article below) and begin to argue for and develop with Left Unity NEC members, the socialist programme he stood on in the election.
Reamsbottom will continue as the outgoing general secretary for a while. Mark Serwotka will need to confront Reamsbottom and the PCS bureaucracy to establish his position. Socialist Party members in Left Unity will work with Mark Serwotka to help build Left Unity, to implement Conference policies and to act in the interests of PCS members.