Ballot papers have been sent out to 250,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) working in the civil service and associated bodies. The ballot is for discontinuous strike action and action short of a strike.
The dispute is about pay, job security, pensions, and terms and conditions. A series of regional briefings have been held in the run-up to the ballot to ask reps what sort of action, and how much of it, will members support. Feedback from the briefings suggests all is not well.
Some reps have said the pay claim (5% or £1,200 — whichever is greater) is unrealistic. This probably just reflects the low confidence of members. Others have, quite legitimately, asked what has changed between May and now. In May, the PCS Conference overwhelmingly rejected a motion from supporters of the PCS Independent Left which stated that “(PCS) should seek to build public sector trade union unity in defence of our rights whilst insisting on PCS’s right to fight as an independent union in defence of its members and without having to wait many weeks and months for other trade unions to join us in action.” The conference preferred instead the leadership motion which said that PCS could not fight the government on our own and win.
There is also now an acceptance by the PCS leadership that we cannot persist with the tactic of occasional one day strikes if we are to wring concessions out of the government on issues such as pay, pensions, and job security. It has been pointed out in briefings that we are balloting members on a “programme” of action without spelling out what that programme is.
Some departments have now published the results of their review of staff terms and conditions. Whilst detrimental changes will be introduced for new staff, particularly around paid sick leave, current staff will have their terms and conditions protected. Activists will need to find ways of mobilising members to fight on the issues they may feel more keenly.
It is important that activists seek to secure the biggest possible yes/yes vote on the biggest possible turn out.