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Strategic discussion needed in civil servants' union after pay ballot
Marion Lloyd, PCS national executive committee (personal capacity)
PCS activists have been shocked by the launch of 'Socialist View' - a new group set up to campaign for Janice Godrich against incumbent and Socialist Party member Chris Baugh as the union's assistant general secretary. This is a further divisive step that is impacting the union's left after the announcement of Janice's candidature at PCS conference in May, which for many delegates overshadowed the launch of the strike ballot on pay.
Socialist View's initial statement on the PCS 2018 pay campaign and ballot have brought out important differences in how the union ensures members and reps digest the lessons and prepare for next year's pay round.
The turnout in the ballot and especially the high vote for strike action was a tremendous achievement. Huge credit for this is owed to thousands of reps and members in branches and groups. Disgracefully, the new undemocratic voting thresholds in the Tory anti-union laws meant that the union couldn't move to a legal strike because a 50% turnout wasn't achieved.
If we are to build on the momentum created by the activity during the ballot then we believe that simply putting it down to "organising," as Socialist View seems to believe, is not enough. We need a wide ranging discussion which goes beyond organisational questions.
We believe other questions need to be asked, including:
- Did we lose momentum between the November consultative ballot and the July/August statutory ballot?
- Was a national ballot the best approach? Would escalating action, something like the University and Colleges Union (UCU) carried out, be a more viable alternative?
- Should we have put the claim out for a workplace-based consultative exercise to build up membership commitment and momentum?
- Should the campaign have drawn in a wider range of issues, such as office closures?
There is no disguising that the failure to achieve the 50% turnout was a disappointment and a setback to the pay campaign. But it is possible to change this.
Socialist Party members argued at the July NEC for a special delegate conference on pay to take on board the experience of the 2018 pay campaign, and prepare for 2019. Socialist View supporters counterposed this with an 'event' at the end of 2018. Mark Serwotka stated that its purpose will be largely organisational.
But a special delegate conference would enable us to draw on the experience of the leading activists in branches and groups, to review the 2018 pay campaign and ballot and to decide the approach to pay in 2019. This is in the democratic traditions of our union that were won by members under a left leadership.
The 2018 conference mandate needs to be reviewed and a fresh mandate given. We do not believe this should be delayed until the conference in May 2019, especially as some departmental managements are already making their pay plans for 2019.
The 2018 pay campaign is not over. The Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs and the Ministry of Justice are among the groups that have not yet settled their pay and there exists a potential for coordinated action to fight the pay cap. The national union needs to take the lead in bringing these groups together, along with others who find themselves in the same position.
There are many questions arising from the 2018 pay campaign and ballot. Nobody will have all the answers. But we do believe we need to have an open, democratic and thorough discussion of these issues, which is being opposed by Janice Godrich and her supporters in Socialist View.
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