A key factor in trashing the possibility of a united public-sector fightback this year against Gordon Brown’s 2% limit has been the decision by the civil service union PCS, although it already had a live ballot mandate for action, to withdraw into prolonged “consultations” of its membership while the POA and CWU strikes and the Unison health and local government ballots came and went. Having “consulted” and announced that PCS members supported further national strike action, the PCS leadership then... decided to call off any further national action, at least for the time being.
The main force driving that decision was the Socialist Party, but the three SWP members on the PCS Executive, Sue Bond, Paul Williams, and Andy Reid, also voted to call off action.
In the postal workers’ critical dispute, SWP member Jane Loftus did vote on the CWU’s Postal Executive against the shoddy deal eventually recommended to CWU members by their leadership and ratified in a ballot which closed on 27 November.
But she did not campaign for a no vote. Dave Warren, another Postal Exec member who voted against the deal on the Exec, did campaign, and was quoted extensively in Socialist Worker as well as in Solidarity. But there were no quotes, or appeals to vote no, from Jane Loftus in Socialist Worker.
Apparently the procedure in the CWU is that if an Exec member wants to campaign against an Exec majority decision, they must formally register their intention to do so. Dave Warren did. Jane Loftus didn’t.
According to CWU insiders, her explanation was that her position as President of the CWU made it “inappropriate” for her to campaign for a no vote.
In the first place, CWU insiders say that it would have been perfectly possible within normal CWU procedures for Jane Loftus to campaign for a no vote while being union president, once she had registered she would do so. In the second place, suppose it would have caused trouble, and cost Jane Loftus her presidential position: wouldn’t it still have been right to come out publicly for a no vote when the issues were so important?
Neither episode is a one-off.
In October 2005, the two members of the SWP then on the Executive of PCS, Martin John and Sue Bond, voted to approve the Government-TUC pensions deal. An article in Socialist Worker that same week, personally signed by SW editor Chris Bambery, had already denounced the deal - rightly, though in exaggeratedly strident terms - as an “abject capitulation”.
In March the same year, Martin John and Sue Bond had voted on the PCS Executive to support calling off the union’s planned strike action that spring on pensions, jobs, and pay. Socialist Worker (rightly) condemned the calling-off of the strike (without mentioning that SWP votes helped to bring it about), and (ridiculously) claimed that if the strike had gone ahead it would have brought instant and complete trade-union victory against the Government.
After the October 2005 episode, the SWP Central Committee tried to call the PCS Exec members to book. Sue Bond “apologised” (how much that was worth, we can now see) and was “pardoned”; Martin John refused to apologise, and resigned from the SWP.
On the CWU Executive, early in 2003, in the political crisis created by the US/UK drive to invade Iraq, SWPer Jane Loftus blocked a proposal from a Solidarity supporter for the CWU to declare no confidence in Blair. The proposal would probably have passed, but Loftus withdrew the (uncontentious) motion it was an amendment to.
Why, when the SWP had “Blair out!” on its posters and placards? Loftus said that she had consulted with leading SWPers and been told to “maintain the unity of the left”. In other words, not to embarrass CWU general secretary Billy Hayes, who was then speaking with the SWP on Stop The War platforms.
In early 2004, on the CWU Postal Executive, Jane Loftus voted for the job-cutting “Major Change” deal. Her explanation, again, was the need to “maintain left unity”.
In the CWU case, it does not seem that Jane Loftus was “freelancing”, but rather that she voted the wrong way under instructions from the SWP leadership where, left to herself, she might well have voted the right way.
The common thread seems to be the SWP’s drive in recent years to subordinate its trade union work to securing “political” alliances with leftish trade union leaders in Stop The War, Unite Against Fascism, and (so the SWP hoped, but it was not to be) Respect.
Strident articles in Socialist Worker about “abject capitulations” are no substitute for educating, training, and organising activists in the unions, when they hold positions where they can make a difference, to withstand the bureaucratic pressures and make a bold stand for rank-and-file interests.
Evidently the SWP’s new efforts to present itself as “the left” in contrast to the “right-wing” section of the old Respect around George Galloway have not yet extended as far as a solid left-wing alignment in the unions.