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From The Socialist newspaper, 29 May 2013

PCS conference sends defiant message to the government

Rob Williams
PCS national strike, 20 March 2013, pickets in Maidstone, Kent, photo Kent SP

PCS national strike, 20 March 2013, pickets in Maidstone, Kent, photo Kent SP

PCS union delegates met in Brighton for their annual conference last week to review the union's resistance to the Con-Dems' vicious austerity attacks.

It's clear that the union has been singled out for special treatment by the government because of the crucial role that it has played in defying spending cuts; especially in the campaign of coordinated industrial action by the trade unions that reached a peak with the 30 November 2011 pensions' strike (N30).

This attack was underlined as many delegates were for the first time denied facility time by the employer to attend conference.

There was a sober debate on the national industrial action campaign that started on Budget Day (20 March 2013) to defend hard-won terms and conditions alongside challenging the pay freeze, defending pensions and jobs, and resisting privatisation.

Despite its best efforts to reach out to other unions to coordinate strike action, PCS has had to take action on its own.

The union has been engaged in a war of attrition, with flexible tactics involving national and group action.

The next tranche of action will be headed by joint DWP/HMRC regional strikes in the week starting 3 June, potentially involving 140,000 PCS members.

There is also the possibility of strike action at the end of June to link up with the beginning of a rolling regional teachers strike, starting in north west England on 27 June.

A national teachers strike this autumn once again poses the basis for mass coordinated industrial action, up to and including a 24-hour general strike.

Time and time again in the group conferences, which preceded the national one, delegates heard of concessions being dragged out of management through group action - from stopping compulsory redundancies in DWP to protecting some workplace nurseries in HMRC - that has been almost a constant feature of union action over the past year.

PCS's role in heading up the general fight against austerity was highlighted in the debate on the welfare cuts.

The national executive (NEC) gave qualified support to a motion which called for non-cooperation with the vindictive sanctions against claimants.

The NEC made it clear that while all tactics should be considered, it must be to supplement the industrial action campaign, involving the maximum number of workers; but not allow members and activists to be isolated, which could open the door to victimisation.

Other debates included a possible merger with Unite and the issue of Scottish independence.

On Unite, a passionate debate saw motions with a positive attitude to merger but setting out clear 'red lines' of protecting PCS's lay member democracy, its fighting culture, and opposition to Labour party affiliation, passed on card votes.

This is a testament to members' determination to defend the culture that has developed in PCS since the previous right-wing leadership was ousted in 2000.

It also shows a total opposition to Labour that developed under the Blair and Brown New Labour years when 100,000 civil servant jobs were axed.

On Scotland, conference agreed to organise a debate among Scottish members that would see a special Scottish PCS conference determine the union's attitude to next year's independence referendum.

PCS has been engaged in a continual battle with the Con-Dems since 2010. Alongside other militant unions and the National Shop Stewards Network, it has been a key organisation in the anti-austerity resistance, as well as trying to maintain joint action post-N30. This conference ensured that this role will continue.

Joint regional strike action by PCS members in DWP/HMRC will start from 3 June see: www.shopstewards.net

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