John Moloney is standing for the Assistant General Secretary position in the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), as part of an Independent Left slate for the union's National Executive Committee. He spoke to Solidarity about his election campaign, and PCS's current ballot for industrial action over pay in the civil service.
The union's headline demand is for a 10% pay increase. That has been variously interpreted as a demand for a 10% increase to the overall civil service pay budget, or a 10% increase per worker. The Independent Left argues that the union should foreground the demand for the equalisation of civil service pay.
Currently, there are literally dozens of different pay rates for the same grade within the civil service. “Executive Officer”, the most common civil service grade, has 60 or 70 different pay rates across different departments and areas.
The union does advocate equal pay, but it's not usually a headline demand. We think it may be more effective to mobilise people around the demand for equal pay than around a percentage figure.
The pay ballot campaign is making steady progress. The sense amongst activists is that we may make it to the 50% turnout, but it is extremely hard work. The national union was better prepared going into this ballot, after we missed the thresholds in a previous national ballot, and there's a sense of grim determination to get the result. The ballot opened on 18 March and closes on 29 April.
Although the focus is understandably on getting the vote out, there are discussions ongoing about what kind of action we should take if we get the necessary turnout. Independent Left has argued for a varied industrial strategy to maximise impact, combining mass national strikes with selective strikes in particular departments.
It's likely there'll be an initial one-day national strike, followed by selective actions in departments and regions, possibly supplemented with further national walkouts, possibly over half days. There is a consensus that we need a more varied and creative approach to action in this dispute. That's positive, and very necessary, as it's likely we'll need to prepare for a prolonged dispute.
Although the government is in crisis, we can't expect them to cave. The Tories could solidify around opposing a union dispute amongst government workers.
We should bolster our industrial action by seeking political support, primarily from the Labour Party but also from parties like the SNP. It's also not inconceivable that the DUP, which relies on working-class supporters, could come under some pressure from their own base if we take action in Northern Ireland.
In terms of the Assistant General Secretary and National Executive Committee election campaigns, Independent Left is running its most vibrant campaign ever. We have a good social media presence and have already begun mass leafleting at workplaces, with more planned.
There've been two hustings with the the three AGS candidates (myself, Chris Baugh, and Lynn Henderson) so far, with several more planned in various parts of the country, where members can questions the candidates first hand. The two that have happened so far have been comradely debates where discussions have focused on real issues in terms of how we organise around industrial issues and how we win, so I'm hopeful that, whoever wins the AGS election, those discussions having taken place will put us in a stronger position to build and win disputes.
Our basic policies for rank-and-file democracy, such as the policy that all full-time officials should be elected and should be paid an average PCS members' wage, rather than their current inflated salaries, are getting out to more people than they ever have before.
Getting those policies out there and building a layer of people prepared to fight for those kinds of democratic reforms is the start of fundamentally transforming the union.