John Moloney runs incumbent close in PCS Deputy General Secretary election

Submitted by martin on 1 May, 2009 - 8:16
John Moloney

John Moloney, an AWL member, won 11,547 votes in the PCS Deputy General Secretary election, and so was only narrowly beaten by Hugh Lanning with 13,755. It was a very high vote for John Moloney considering that he was backed only by the small Independent Left group within the union, while Lanning was backed by all the other groups which took a position, from the mainstream right over to the Socialist Party and SWP.

1 May: Elections to the National Executive Committee [NEC] and senior full time official posts are currently underway in the civil service trade union PCS, including for the post of Deputy General Secretary (DGS). This post is being contested by John Moloney on behalf of the Independent Left (IL) – a rank and file group within the Union which is also contesting the NEC elections.

Download a leaflet as pdf here (see "attachment", below).
John Moloney, a well respected socialist activist with a substantial campaigning and negotiating record in PCS, has vowed to accept no more than ÂŁ25,000 a year in salary as DGS and to tie his future pay increases to the average increase received by AO and EO [lower-paid] members in London;. His living standards will be tied to that of the basic grade members.

John’s commitment stands in contrast to that of the current DGS and his opponent, Hugh Lanning, who earns £75,264 pa - in a trade union in which the large majority of members are on modest incomes. Last year the national leadership highlighted the fact that “...a quarter of the civil service [earn] less than £16,500 and thousands [earn] just above the minimum wage.” The Cabinet Office said that the average civil service salary was £20,010.

This is not really a personal comment about Hugh Lanning. His very large salary, and the associated pension, is commonplace in the trade union movement and is not the highest in PCS let alone the wider union movement. It is a comment about the kind of trade union movement we have and the kind of movement we should want: trade unions that genuinely champion members’ interests; that are under the thorough going democratic control of the members; and in which the interests of the officials, the ups and downs of their living standards, are connected to that of the members, so that the ambitions, concerns and anger of members do not have to wend their way though increasing layers of significantly better paid, highly privileged, officialdom.

Trade unions should not be gravy trains for full time officials, a smart career move for people who would like to have a “nice conscience” but want to live a much better life style than the members they represent. Exceptionally well heeled officials are out of touch officials who are too prone to cosy relationships with the employer. Low paid and indeed not so low paid members do not pay their dues to finance exceptionally nice lives for senior officials.

Yet a PCS leadership dominated by Left Unity, in fact by the Socialist Party with support from the SWP, SSP, and Stalinists, in alliance with the right wing Democracy grouping, has run away from the idea that full time officers’ pay should be more closely linked to that of the members. The SP, SWP and others have piled behind Hugh Lanning, a supporter of the “Democracy” grouping and an official without a substantial record of initiative or achievement.

The electoral campaign of John Moloney and the Independent Left has to be seen as part of the longer term campaign to transform PCS, from a union where the leadership spins modest achievements or setbacks as major “success” stories, into a membership lead union championing membership interests. The “fighting”, “socialist” spin of the PCS leadership easily accommodates traditional union bureaucrats: instead of selling a weak deal as “social partnership” they sell it as a victory for a “fighting leadership.” The PCS machine increasingly resembles the old CP controlled Executive grade union which was one of the forerunners to PCS.

Obviously no union leadership can guarantee victory in any fight and sometimes a weak deal is the best that can be achieved. However the PCS national leadership’s culture is one of talking big, avoiding disputes, eventually lurching into them without any meaningful strategy, then backing out as fast as possible whilst spinning as much as possible. It sends a message to the government that minor concessions, sometimes the mere offer of talks, will be enough to buy peace.

The inadequacy of the PCS leadership is well illustrated by the current pay debacle. The would be socialist leadership of PCS avoided a serious fight for civil service national pay for many years. The consequence was that the union membership remained split into some 200 divide and rule bargaining units, scarred with low and unequal pay, feeding into low and unequal pensions, a life time of hardship and inequality. In 2006, 2007 and 2008 thousands of members across the civil service saw their real pay cut.

Yet when it launched the 2008 national pay campaign the leadership did so without proper preparation (reflected in the turnout and the “yes” vote) and despite hyperbolic claims a few months earlier that the union was close to some sort of national pay breakthrough – claims made just in time for the NEC elections and despite Brown’s public sector pay policy! Finding themselves facing a strike without any other public sector union being in dispute, the would be PCS “Marxists” called the planned strike off at the last minute for...(supposedly) constructive talks. (see our article at the time.).

The PCS leadership then abandoned the dispute altogether on the basis of a letter from the most senior civil servant, Gus O’Donnell. In the letter Gus O’Donnell gave a meaningless assurance that there was no 2% public sector pay policy - an explicit reiteration of an assurance previously given by Treasury Minister Yvette Cooper to the TUC before the PCS ballot had already begun and which the PCS leadership had dismissed. The second was a statement that delegated bargaining units could, exceptionally, on a case by case basis, on approval from the Treasury, allocate some efficiency savings to pay provided the savings were over and above those already required by Treasury and that the additional pay was in support of significant workforce reform and government pay policy. It is difficult to imagine a more highly qualified concession.

On the basis of the O’Donnell letter, which the PCS leadership called a “national pay agreement” (in the same way some people prefer to describe their drunkenness as being happy), the national pay dispute was called off and below inflation awards continued to be applied. This “pay” agreement did not deliver one penny into members’ pockets and did not meet even one of the national pay demands. In his election material Hugh Lanning has described the national “pay” agreement as “a significant policy shift by Government” but then said, “it will only succeed if it results in more money in members’ pockets.” This “pay” agreement without the pay was described by the leadership as a “breakthrough”! (For the spinning of this disorderly retreat click here.)

As we head towards the 2009 pay review round the Treasury has issued its pay remit guidance to all bargaining unit management teams. In a joint bulletin Mark Serwotka (General Secretary) and Janice Godrich (President) described the the guidance as “unacceptable” because it assumes that the average base pay rise would be 1.5%, takes no account of the cuts in living standards suffered by members in 2008, is less than the 2.3% pay settlement MPs have awarded themselves, and less than most other parts of the public sector. They might have added that it also takes no account of cuts in living standards for thousands of members in 2007 and 2006 and does not address a single one of the PCS’ 2008 national pay demands.

The conclusion of the General Secretary and President? There was no pay freeze so “the Government’s actual position suggest that it is still seeking to proceed by negotiation. This will now be tested in practice to see whether use of efficiency savings will mean improved pay in reality.” If it is not spin then it is delusional!

The problem for the PCS leadership is that the so called pay agreement has delivered nothing and the remit guidance is awful but, having seriously undermined PCS’ pay position over a number of years and most especially in 2008, they are not sure whether members are willing to move to renewed action, and this time activists outside of the Independent Left are highly critical. If I was a betting man I would lay money on the NEC submitting an emergency pay motion to conference, full of noise designed to divert attention from themselves and calling for consultation with members...whilst another year of lousy pay deals takes place.

The PCS NEC’s would be Marxists and radicals are not the kind of leadership that will successfully deal with the coming attacks in the biggest capitalist crisis in many decades. Cameron has clearly signalled his hostility to the public sector’s final salary schemes. New Labour voices are whispering similar messages. Brown wants to significantly reduce the financial cost of the civil service redundancy scheme. Both new Labour and the Tories intend to slash and privatise much of the civil service.

In these truly historic times PCS needs a leadership that tells the truth to members; that seeks to win members to the fight that undoubtedly will be needed; and that will develop meaningful strategies in place of the NEC’s once in a blue moon one day strikes. Critically, we need a union leadership that recognises that we and the wider labour movement are fighting with one hand behind our back if we fail to develop a labour movement political challenge to New Labour and the Tories. The sheer breadth of the political attacks that are looming demand that PCS now throws its weight onto the political scales to help develop a working class political alternative to New Labour.

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