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PCS conference 2018: members ready to fight to end pay misery
Marion Lloyd, PCS national executive committee member and PCS Left Unity chair (personal capacity)
At the union's conference on 22 May, delegates massively voted to proceed to a strike ballot. Delegates called for the union to be, in effect, placed on a war footing to put an end to a decade of pay misery.
Last November, in a consultative pay ballot, the union gained a 99% vote to reject the pay cap with 79% willing to take strike action on a 48.8% turnout. This ballot result, within a whisker of the statutory 50% turnout threshold, gives confidence for launching the 18 June ballot.
While the ballot proceeds, negotiations with the treasury over the union's demands will be ongoing. As will plans for the necessary action if talks fail.
It will be the rank-and-file activists in the PCS groups and branches who will win this ballot. The mobilisation of this force is underway.
Winning a statutory ballot is not a given - with all the obstacles put in the way by the Tory anti-union legislation. But the UCU and CWU unions have shown it can be done, as have PCS's own members in DWP, Driving Tests, BIS and Acas.
In the conference debate, Socialist Party member Dave Semple summed up the mood. "We need a sober discussion on how to mobilise our members to fight back. But the key question is are we ready for this fight? The answer is yes, absolutely yes."
Conference prepares for action
Socialist party members in PCS
PCS union conference celebrated its 20th anniversary at Brighton last week. It also celebrated 17 years of uninterrupted left leadership following the election results announced before the conference.
In its 20 years of existence, PCS has had to counter multiple attacks on the union, its activists and members. The removal of 'check-off' and savage cutbacks on facilities for reps have challenged the union, but such difficulties have been largely overcome. The strength of the union was demonstrated by the conference attendance and debates. Staff cuts, a decade of pay misery, and office closures have been resisted, along with many other austerity measures.
First up at the conference was pay. Supported by every delegate bar a handful was the executive committee motion to hold a statutory strike ballot - fixed to start on 18 June. Small concessions above the pay cap for local government and health service workers were instanced as evidence of continued unfair treatment of the government's own employees.
More striking still is the 4% settlement for the Scottish Government's PCS members. The conference said no to the pay cap, yes to the union demand for a fully funded 5% increase, yes to talks with the Treasury on our claim and a big yes to action if talks fail.
In 2010, civil service unions negotiated new redundancy compensation arrangements. The Tories ripped these up in 2016 looking to cut, by a third, the 'cost' (benefits) of the scheme. A PCS High Court victory forced the government to reopen negotiations. PCS members, in a consultative ballot, rejected by 96% the government-imposed 2016 terms, a rejection that was reaffirmed by conference.
PCS conference decided policy on a whole range of other issues directly affecting our members, including resistance to office closures in HMRC and DWP and challenging harsh and discriminatory personnel regimes.
Conference heard from John McDonnell who pledged an end to the victimisation of PCS and its members and an end to anti-union laws. He said he and his colleagues would stand with PCS members on pay picket lines.
Conference reflected this support and acknowledged the Corbyn-led Labour Party's anti-austerity programme in agreeing PCS should make more clear its support for a Corbyn-led Labour government. Conference agreed to consult members on this issue.
A substantial minority of delegates expressed, both in their vote and contributions, a degree of caution. This included opposition to any 'back-door' affiliation and acknowledging that Labour is in effect two parties in one, with a substantial right-wing influence in parliament and local councils. Increased and more explicit support for Corbyn's Labour without compromising political independence was the position most delegates appeared to favour.
There were also important debates on issues such as the Windrush scandal, climate change, Syria and organising resistance to Trump's visit in July. Conference agreed to affiliate to Tamil Solidarity.
The unwelcome distraction in the conference venue was the decision by Janice Godrich - publicly supported by Mark Serwotka - to challenge the incumbent Chris Baugh as assistant general secretary and treasurer, posted on Facebook on the eve of conference. This announcement angered and perplexed many ordinary delegates - most of whom had supported Chris since his election as Left Unity candidate in 2004.
Sympathy and support for Chris showed itself with a rousing round of applause as he approached the microphone to make his union financial report. The divisive attack on Chris Baugh, by Janice Godrich and Mark Serwotka on the eve of the decision to launch a pay strike ballot, further angered many delegates.
See left for a report of the excellent fringe meeting which launched Chris's re-election campaign.
At the conclusion of this year's PCS conference delegates left to start work and preparations for winning the statutory strike ballot.
Strong support for AGS Chris Baugh in packed Socialist Party fringe meeting
Around 120 people packed into the Socialist Party fringe meeting at the annual delegate conference of the PCS civil servants' union on 23 May.
The meeting was dominated by the threat to unity of the left in PCS brought about by the decision of union president Janice Godrich to stand against fellow Socialist Party member Chris Baugh to be the Left Unity candidate for assistant general secretary - a position Chris has held since 2004.
The Left Unity election will take place in the autumn. This is where the political issues should be debated.
In his introduction to the discussion, Chris described his record in the union, from the important part he played in the decades-long fight to remove the stranglehold of the right under Barry Reamsbottom, to his present-day role, including in fighting for the best deal for members during negotiations on several key PCS disputes.
He referred to the way in which, in his capacity as treasurer, he had helped lead the union's successful, determined struggle against the Tory government's attempt to bankrupt PCS through the removal of 'check-off'.
Chris was also keen to point out the emphasis he has always placed on a collaborative approach, shown in his consistent willingness to work with all fighting individuals and forces. At the same time he explained that this did not mean he sacrificed his own principled position as a Socialist Party member.
Chris made clear that he was prepared to answer all attempts to impugn and undermine his record as AGS.
Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe also spoke from the platform. He set this attack on Chris in its broader political context. This included remarks on the struggle currently taking place within the Labour Party, in which the Blairites are continuing their offensive against Corbyn.
Peter pointed out the importance of the trade union movement intervening in this struggle, raising as an example the welcome move by Len McCluskey, leader of Unite the Union, to publicly confront those Blairites using smear and slander to undermine Corbyn, including with spurious claims about antisemitism.
Peter described the danger posed to the "historic conquest" of the left in PCS by this divisive move. Regrettably, Janice had called a meeting to launch her campaign to clash with the Socialist Party meeting. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, who has publicly backed Janice's stand, was on the platform. Peter explained that Chris had written to Janice suggesting the two meetings be merged and include a debate between the two proposed candidates. She declined.
Marion Lloyd, PCS group president for BIS and chair of Left Unity, chaired the Socialist Party meeting. Given the very short time for discussion - the meeting took place within the one-hour lunch break of conference - Marion explained that she would only be taking questions and comments from those attendees who were not members of the Socialist Party. Every speaker gave support to Chris.
There was anger at the fact that Janice and Mark are putting the division down to a 'personal clash' rather than any political or strategic differences over the direction of the union. Several speakers also expressed disappointment that the general secretary had intervened in this manner, essentially calling for the removal of a sitting elected official and employee of the union.
Many in the room, including those who were clear they don't support the Socialist Party, listed Chris's good work and attributes. Concerns were raised about the way in which union publications seem to have been used to boost Janice's profile and keep Chris' role more hidden.
The dominant feeling was that - at a time when the union is facing huge challenges, including a national strike ballot on pay - it is irresponsible to divide the left in this way and stand against a fighting, left, incumbent candidate.
In The Socialist 30 May 2018:
Irish abortion referendum
Socialist Party news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns