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PCS conference: Preparing for more battles
PCS conference met from 19 to 22 May, yet again under siege from this Tory-led government and its austerity offensive. As one delegate remarked, it was an incredible feat to fill out the Brighton Conference Centre, when for the first time, all delegates had to use up their vacation to attend as facility time was denied.
Despite all the government cuts to jobs and attacks on union rights, the incumbent Democracy Alliance in which socialist-led Left Unity plays a leading role achieved a total victory in the recent national executive (NEC) elections.
PCS members understand that the best way to defend their interests and to protect jobs, conditions and services is to support a campaigning, dedicated, democratic leadership that is prepared to fight rather than bow down to, or collaborate with the government's austerity agenda.
General secretary Mark Serwotka did not attend conference as he was recovering from surgery. Thirteen-times elected president Janice Godrich opened up conference by highlighting the debates on the potential coordinated strike against the pay freeze on 10 July and possible merger with Unite as critical for conference and the wider union.
After Unite approached the PCS regarding a merger the leadership has looked at first joint work and then potential amalgamation. Last year's conference outlined the expectations that PCS would have in any formal talks with Unite - especially maintaining the lay democracy that has been established in the union.
The NEC motion to continue negotiations was defeated as was an openly anti-merger motion. However, a motion was passed which favoured continued negotiations but emphasised some bottom-line conditions PCS should put on a merger. The next issue of the Socialist will deal with this issue more fully.
In the debate on the pay strike, fellow Socialist Party members, re-elected assistant general secretary Chris Baugh and Department for Work and Pensions president Fran Heathcote, highlighted how PCS had been central in attempting to build a coordinated fightback against the Con-Dem cuts.
PCS was the critical force in building the mass joint pension strike of 30 November 2011 and was the main driving force in trying to maintain it after unions like Unison, with TUC support, had signed up to the Tory Heads of Agreement betrayal.
The motions that were passed set out a serious strategy that would include PCS lining up with the likes of Unison, GMB and Unite in the councils, if the current strike ballots are in favour, with the NUT and possibly others in the biggest joint strike since N30.
Conference rejected a cynical motion that "turned the PCS strategy on its head" by saying the union should take national action on its own even if other unions were not involved in order to defeat the pay freeze.
PCS's strategy based on conference policy, NEC decisions and a massive branch consultation is actually very clear. PCS will pursue campaigns including industrial action in the departmental groups, organise targeted action in areas where longer spells of action can have a disproportionally strong impact on the employer's operations, national action where appropriate and, this was the main demand of members and activists in the consultation, joint coordinated action across the public sector on those issues, like pay, pensions, privatisation etc, that affect all public sector workers.
The prospect is now raised of over a million public sector workers taking action together.
PCS will be pushing for a full calendar of action that goes into the autumn, which should also include NHS workers.
National vice-president John McInally set out the union's strategy in its fight against the draconian 'welfare reform' agenda explaining that because it was an attack on our entire class it requires a response from our whole class, especially from the whole trade union movement. "It is important that it becomes a major priority of our whole movement, not just PCS".
Socialist Party members played an impressive role throughout the national and group conferences. General secretary Peter Taaffe spoke at an excellent Socialist Party meeting on the TUSC electoral challenge and the need for a new workers' party in the week of the council and European elections.
A number of delegates signed up to join the party. Nearly £1,000 was raised from delegates who donated from their conference expenses to ensure we have the finances to continue the struggle inside and outside the union.
In The Socialist 28 May 2014:
Socialist Party election analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
The Socialist readers' comments