JP Rosser, PCS member (personal capacity)
A week before PCS annual delegate conference (ADC) began, the Tory government made the incredible announcement that it wants to cut over 90,000 jobs from the civil service.
This year’s conference needs to agree to launch a massive campaign, with a national ballot to include job losses, office closures, pay and pensions. This should begin no later than 1 July.
Last year’s online conference was organised in a thoroughly undemocratic way. It’s likely that this experience will reduce attendance at this year’s hybrid event. Even if that is the case, it won’t diminish the significance of ADC 2022.
For two years, succumbing to ‘national unity’ during Covid, the Left Unity (LU) PCS leadership parked the national pay claim and demoted it to a mere online petition.
This year’s conference will be the first time the members and the Broad Left Network (BLN – the PCS left group in which the Socialist Party participates) will be holding them to account for that in person.
The government’s announcements just prove that weakness invites aggression.
Members have shown they are up for a fight. The pay issue was put back into the hands of members this year via an indicative ballot, which concluded on 21 March.
Members want to fight
The turnout of 45% included strong turnouts in some of the biggest union groups. It sets a solid base both for a successful pay campaign and resistance to the government announcement of over 90,000 job cuts.
However, Left Unity’s lack of confidence was laid bare in their article published immediately after the indicative ballot results were known. Their headline told the faithful: “Don’t mourn”.
Left Unity have no confidence in the ability of activists or members to deliver a successful ballot.
We only need to think back to ADC 2020, where Left Unity were still pressing for a single issue, aggregated ballot on pay across the civil service.
The strategy put forward by the BLN was to encompass multiple issues into the ballot so as to create a wide base of support. This strategy also called for consideration of a disaggregated ballot as a tactic.
Left Unity rejected this approach in 2020, but by ADC 2021 they had conceded that the issue of pensions should be included in the ballot.
The BLN continued to press for the campaign to include issues such as jobs. This was denounced by Left Unity speakers from the floor, who decried the ‘shopping list’ of demands, and from the LU national executive committee (NEC) speaker, who described these as “tired, old arguments”.
The leadership of the union reverses its position when put under sustained pressure, seizes the position of its opponents, but maintains the same vitriolic, embittered rhetoric against the very opponents whose views it has adopted!
The BLN will argue for a statutory strike ballot starting no later than 1 July. Left Unity have said they don’t want to begin a ballot until 1 September. This rules out action until the end of the year. It is too late. It’s time to fight back now.
A ballot in September would make meaningful industrial action next to impossible in 2022. The announcement to cut over 90,000 jobs makes this even more urgent.
The BLN call for a ballot in July 2022 will build on the national demo called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) for 18 June.
It would put PCS in the position of going to the TUC Congress in September with a successful ballot already completed. PCS would once again play a leading role with other unions, giving them confidence that they could create a ‘coalition of the willing’.
Another key debate will be around organising the union. The NEC has gone conspicuously quiet on the matter.
Its motion last year instructed it to report to branches early in 2022 on various matters, including extension of the election of full-time officers. But the report kicked the can down the road, with decisions now to be taken at ADC 2023.
Yet delegates would be mistaken to think this means that there aren’t changes being made to PCS.
There’s still a push, for example, for digital solutions to organising challenges. There is still a trend of centralising power away from lay activists. These attacks on activist-led democracy can be defeated.
ADC 2022 comes at a crucial time. It gives delegates the chance to adopt a fighting programme to face and reverse the range of attacks facing our members today.
This will be the first step in rebuilding PCS as the proud, activist-led union we all aspire to see again.
Socialist Party fringe meeting Tuesday 24 May at end of conference, Old Ship Hotel, 32-38 Kings Road, Brighton
BLN fringe meeting Wednesday 25 May at end of conference, Old Ship Hotel, 32-38 Kings Road, Brighton
National executive election results: BLN well placed for major battles to come
Marion Lloyd, a Socialist Party member, stood for PCS president as part of the Broad Left Network slate in the national elections. She responded to the results announced on 13 May.
“Thanks to everybody who stood with the Broad Left Network in the NEC and group elections. A number of BLN supporters have already been elected into prominent positions in groups – congratulations to those who have been elected.
In the NEC elections, BLN supporters have increased their votes. The votes for other groupings, including for the Left Unity leadership of the union, have fallen.
We are well-placed to tackle the major fights that are coming. On pay, as the cost of living squeeze tightens its grip. And, of course, the outrageous announcements by the Tories who want to cut over 90,000 jobs.
BLN supporters, whether active locally, in their workplaces, or in national positions, will continue to fight tirelessly for PCS members. We will not stop putting forward a fighting, campaigning programme capable of winning.”
DWP group executive results are in. Six BLN supporters, including four Socialist Party members, have been elected.
Further reporting to follow.