Elections for the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the civil service union PCS and for important departmental committees will soon be underway (nominations close 12 March, balloting will run from 16 April to 7 May).
Three sets of candidates will be standing: the PCS Independent Left (IL), Left Unity (LU), and the Broad Left Network (BLN).
The IL, which includes Workers’ Liberty, currently has three members on the NEC and successfully campaigned in 2019 for the election of long standing PCS activist John Moloney as Assistant General Secretary (AGS) on the basis of a workers’ candidate on a workers’ wage.
For many years now the IL has been the only opposition to the bombastic and failed PCS leadership. The IL has long advanced policies for the transformation of the Union into a membership led union with positive policies for advancing the interests of members.
Against a PCS leadership which has lost nigh on all of the major disputes and many smaller ones, the IL has argued for:
• national disputes which are carefully prepared rather than turned on and turned off by the “leadership” whenever it suits them
• which are centred on real demands that would improve members’ lives rather than uninspiring bullshit slogans such as “they won’t talk so we must walk”
• for an industrial action strategy developed and built in close dialogue with activists and members, subject to democratic membership control, and which has some hope of convincing members that they and their union can win.
In the absence of fightbacks co-ordinated at a departmental level IL activists and, importantly, independents, have led various local disputes – but with one hand tied behind their back against an employer which most certainly did have a coordinated and national strategy.
In contrast, the leading figures of LU and the Socialist Party (SP), which set up the BLN, were once part of the same closed PCS leadership. For years it was nigh on impossible to get a feather between them.
They now create or exaggerate differences to put a gloss on their unprincipled split. But when the current PCS leadership and the SP were chums, they were absolutely united, for example,
• in selling to members the Department of Work Pensions (DWP) Employee Deal;
• in refusing to allow North West Contact centre workers to ballot for action; in cancelling the 2015 NEC elections;
• in opposing elections of full time officers; in supporting massive remuneration packages for the very top officials;
• in the 2005 pensions sell out.
There are lots more examples! Unfortunately for the SP, General Secretary Mark Serwotka and leading figures in the LU leadership (including, critically, SP members in key union roles who turned on their political organisation) successfully campaigned in 2018 and 2019 to sideline SP members in the official national structures of the Union and in the unofficial structures of Left Unity.
Their campaign started with moves at the 2018 PCS Conference to eject long standing SP member and incredibly well paid senior PCS FTO, Chris Baugh. The plan went a bit awry when John Moloney won the AGS election but it eventually saw Baugh leave PCS in 2019 with a reputedly enormous pay off from the members’ dues. Hence the formation of the BLN as a vehicle for the SP to continue the fight with its former friends, albeit it has some able independents on the NEC slate who most certainly do not share the SP’s record in PCS.
The leadership of PCS remains lacklustre and unable to meet the challenges now facing members. The Left Unity slate, in the “Democracy Alliance” with the self-selecting and far from radical “PCS democrats”, is an electoral machine for their continued top down domination of the Union and must be opposed.
But the SP is not the answer to the current leadership. Certainly not when they combine vague policies with myths of the golden years of PCS when they sat high at the top table and helped to create the bureaucratic culture, record of defeat and lack of achievement that now grips the Union.
SP activists now denounce the lack of coordination against office closures in the LU-led DWP, though they did not do so when they were part of the DWP leadership, and are standing a BLN slate in the DWP elections. Yet the same SP will not stand a BLN slate in Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Instead they will stand with the LU HMRC leadership on the LU slate against IL activists and allies, despite the HMRC leadership also failing to coordinate a fightback against office closures.
Instead of starting from what needs to be done to defend jobs and living standards, the SP’s approach is electorally driven and their arguments shaped around that electoralism (who will give them slots and should be allied with, who will not and should be opposed).
If PCS activists want to change the leadership of the Union, if they want to change PCS for the better, they cannot do so on the basis of the SP’s opportunism. They should campaign for the IL and for the IL/independents in HMRC.
The Independents on the BLN slate in the national and DWP elections need to demand significant and detailed policy changes and commitments from the SP.
Nevertheless, activists who want to change the Union, irrespective of any past differences or their political organisation, could work with IL on the basis of fighting for principled policies at Union conferences and in union structures.
For instance activists could work together at PCS national conference in support of an IL motion to link the pay of full time officers more closely to that of the membership. Similarly, activists with different organisational commitments could work together on the national conference floor, and on the floor of the DWP and HMRC departmental conferences, to impose fighting policies on the national and departmental leaderships.
If people want to change PCS then they must change the policies and culture of the union, as well as the leaders; not simply swap one set of aspirants for union lay office and union employment for another.
Vote IL and build a fighting union!