The PCS union’s ballot for action on pay, which closed on 29 April, gained a turnout of 47.7%.
That is over 6% higher than in 2018, but still about 3,000 votes short of reaching the 50% threshold required under Tory anti-union laws. This has highlighted, yet again, the extreme unevenness of our organisation on the ground.
There has to be a frank and honest discussion about how we can rebuild our organisation. Involving a full autopsy of our areas of strength and weakness. In the past, the suggestion that the union leadership should be open with members about which areas are stronger or weaker has almost been viewed as treachery, because it lets the bosses know where we’re weak.
But they already know that. Rank-and-file activists need to know where the union’s areas of strength and weakness are so we can target resources for rebuilding.
We need fundamental reform of our approach to organising, moving away from a top-down, bureaucratic model based on recruitment quotas, towards a democratic, bottom-up model that aims to consolidate organisation in workplaces and target union resources to the areas where they’re most needed.
Meanwhile, the elections for the union’s National Executive Committee and Assistant General Secretary positions close on 9 May. We’ve now had six branch hustings in the AGS elections, which have been useful for highlighting the differences between candidates.
As well as having a strong social media presence, our campaign has distributed at least 5,000 leaflets individually to PCS members in workplaces across the country. It’s been a substantial campaign so far. The turnout is likely to be low, so every vote will count.
There’s a lot still to play for.
• John Moloney is the Independent Left candidate for PCS AGS.
Outsourced workers fight back
Outsourced facilities staff at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will strike on 1-2 May, following the semi-collapse of outsourced contractor Interserve.
The company, which is now run by financial administrators, has refused to negotiate with the PCS union over the workers’ conditions.
Along with outsourced workers at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and the Ministry of Justice, where workers are organised by the United Voices of the World union, these strikes form part of a small but growing wave of outsourced workers’ struggles in major government departments.
Interserve workers working for Transport for London and London Underground are also organising, with RMT supporting the workers’ attempts to resist attacks on their terms and conditions.
Outsourced Travel Safe Officers, employed by the STM agency on London Overground, who are also members of RMT, will strike again on 16 May for living wages.
Ticket office victory
Transport for London has backed down on plans to close London Overground ticket offices.
RMT reps and activists, and local Labour Party activists, handed out thousands of leaflets and travelled round the stations affected. They made the case that ticket offices are essential for people to safely access the network and for protecting jobs.
The campaign contrasted with the shocking failure of Unite the Union to raise any kind of meaningful campaign against bus route cuts, which TfL confirmed last week would go ahead.
The victory has a sting in its tail, as management still plan to cut their opening hours, mostly to just three hours in the weekday morning peak.
Once people see closed ticket offices 21 hours a day, they stop using them, and once the Mayor’s election is safely out of the way next year, we would not be surprised to see another move to shut them.
Fortunately, RMT reps and activists on London Overground are determined to keep up the fight against any cut in opening hours. While celebrating their victory in preventing full closure, they know that the battle goes on.
We hope that the union’s leadership is equally determined: the fact that the union’s press release did not even mention the cut in hours is not a good sign though.
The sound of silence
Ever since RMT announced its positive-sounding deals with various Train Operating Companies (TOCs), Off The Rails has argued that it is essential that the union keep members informed of what is going on in talks.
Arriva Rail North (ARN) guards are telling us that the silence is deafening. From Barrow to Newcastle, and all points in between, guards are getting increasingly disappointed that the union, having taken such a celebratory attitude to the deal, has been so passive since.
In mid-April the union has finally felt the need to issue an update. But between the waffle and jargon, we were told nothing more substantial than that “significant progress is being made around operation modes and that these are now being explored in further detail”.
Rank-and-file workers do need to know what’s going on: because we want to be able to guide our negotiators, because we want to be able to judge the outcome of talks from a position of knowledge.
And in case the talks fail and we have to strike again.
Solidarity with Miguel, solidarity with migrants
9 May, Europe Day, will see firefighters, trade unionists and migrant rights activists protest in support of Spanish firefighter Miguel Roldãn and in support of migrant rights.
Miguel has been accused by the Italian authorities of “facilitating illegal immigration”. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Protest organised by the Fire Brigades Union and Labour for a Socialist Europe:
Three Kings Yard,
London W1K 4EH
4-6 p.m., Thursday 9 May