By John Moloney, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) executive, personal capacity
A joint left/centre electoral slate has won the National Executive elections in the civil service union PCS. On a 14% turnout (down on last year) the slate won 34 seats to the right wing’s nine.
The result sees the end of a long period of ultra-right control in the union and should open the way for a concerted fightback. The union — probably uniquely in the trade union movement — now has a left-wing General Secretary (Mark Serwotka) and President and a left/centre National Executive.
All this is a far cry from the situation over a year ago when the hard right tried to sack Mark Serwotka, the elected General Secretary!
The tasks facing the new executive are immense. With the civil service split into 172 different bargaining units it is a major task to move back to national pay bargaining.
We are facing an undeclared wage squeeze by the Treasury, which is hoping to keep settlements down to 3.6% (this is not the amount going to individual members but the increase in the pay budget).
At the first NEC meeting held on Monday 14 July it was agreed that all the bargaining units hit by the squeeze would be brought together to work out a united response. In the past, the hard right’s attitude was that each bargaining unit could sink or swim on its own. There was never an attempt to band the units together for protection. That has now changed.
Last December the Government signalled its intention to raise the age at which civil servants and thousands of other public sector workers can retire, while receiving an unabated pension, from 60 to 65. Civil and public sector workers retiring before the age of 65 after some date in 2005 will have their pension entitlements reduced for the “benefit” of going “early” — at an age they are currently entitled to stop work without such a reduction.
The Government’s announcement caused outrage amongst civil and public sector workers. Their fear of being financially blackjacked into working for another five years has been heightened by recent noises that people ought to work until they are 70. No-one trusts New Labour not to change pensions provision to compel people to work until they drop.
Behind this planned increase to pension age is a veiled New Labour threat to deem the civil service pension scheme (and analogous schemes) “unaffordable” unless we agree to work to 65.
This attack on civil and public sector pension rights cannot be isolated from the wholesale collapsing of final salary pension schemes in the private sector, the abysmal level of the state pension, and the loss of pension rights when public sector jobs are privatised.
In early July the new executive of the PCS voted to campaign against the increase in pension age, with industrial action if necessary (and it seems it will be) — and to connect that fight to a wider political campaign with other public sector unions, the TUC and other groups such as the pensioners’ organisations, over the whole issue of pensions (including the value of the state pension and its reconnection to wage movements, a link broken by the first Thatcher Tory Government).
One vital step — which the incoming PCS NEC and the General Secretary seem to favour — must be the calling of a national pensions demonstration, ideally supported but not dependent on the TUC. This month the PCS is holding a conference on the issue, jointly with the TUC.
The issue of pensions is an issue which should unite workers across the unions with the pensioners’ movement. The fight for the right to stop working while life can still be enjoyed — and to do so on a decent income — is a fight which should enable the labour movement to assert its true identity against the well-heeled rogues calling themselves New Labour.