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PCS: Time to rebuild the left
Katrine Williams, vice-president PCS DWP group (personal capacity)
A meeting called in the name of the PCS Broad Left Network takes place in Manchester on 18 January. The main business will be to agree a programme and candidates to contest the 2020 elections in the PCS civil servants' union.
Following on from the tremendous support for Marion Lloyd in the recent PCS general secretary election - with over 9,000 votes - this meeting marks a further crucial step in the rebuilding of the left in PCS.
Rebuilding the left is necessary because PCS Left Unity is no longer playing the role of a fighting rank-and-file organisation in the union.
In last year's assistant general secretary election, the incumbent and agreed Left Unity candidate was opposed in the election by leading Left Unity members - including general secretary Mark Serwotka. Organised within a group inside Left Unity calling itself Socialist View, they and the Socialist Workers Party opposed Socialist Party member and incumbent Chris Baugh, breaking the rules of Left Unity by supporting a non Left Unity candidate.
Furthermore, in Left Unity now, differences on policy questions are seized on and used as an excuse for personal and political attacks - leading in 2019 to a purge from Left Unity slates of left activists who disagreed with Socialist View. This is a turn away from the inclusive history of Left Unity.
For example, tactical differences on how best to win a statutory strike ballot on pay, which PCS failed to do twice, were turned by Serwotka and his supporters into issues of principle and attacks on those who disagreed with them.
In the recent period, the Serwotka-supporting majority have weaponised differences and debate, something entirely alien to the traditions of Left Unity and its Broad Left predecessor.
These are just a few examples which reveal huge differences in how we see the role of a Broad Left and how Mark Serwotka and his supporters see it. Instead of left pressure on the leadership, they increasingly see it as a passive mouthpiece in the service of the leadership.
Instead of acting as an independent left force to develop a programme and fight for it in PCS, Serwotka and his supporters envisage Left Unity acting as a mere support group, as an auxiliary to the union.
We don't agree this is the function of a trade union broad left. It must instead be a constant and critical force with full democratic rights and a militant programme that can attract the best reps and members if it is to continually renew itself and the union.
Marion Lloyd's election campaign has given confidence to many union activists to voice concerns about Left Unity and the direction of the union. A new layer of militant activists have grouped themselves around the new Broad Left Network which played a key role in Marion's campaign.
An open discussion on the left is necessary now to bring together socialists within the union to hammer out the fighting programme that is necessary and to put forward a leadership that will carry out this programme.
We encourage all socialists in PCS to come to the Broad Left Network meeting in Manchester on Saturday 18 January. Join the Broad Left Network and support the campaign to rebuild the left in PCS.
- Broad Left Network meeting: 11am 18 January at the Britannia Hotel, Portland Street, Manchester, M1 3LA
Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777
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