Our members in HMRC [Revenue and Customs] have voted overwhelmingly to accept a department-specific offer on pay and conditions. The National Executive Committee has decided that HMRC members therefore won’t be balloted as part of any national ballot for action to win better pay, against the Tories’ pay freeze, although they may be balloted as part of national disputes on other issues.
Whilst I understand the logic of the NEC’s position, in my personal view I don’t believe that the HMRC deal fundamentally solves the real pay, terms and conditions problems that workers in that department face. We shouldn’t therefore see the acceptance of this deal as an absolute barrier to fighting for more.
One notable feature which we must build on, though, is a sharp increase in union membership in HMRC. People joined the union specifically to vote on the offer. Whatever one thinks of the offer itself, it’s positive that people are joining the union because they see it as a way to have a voice at work. We need to maintain that momentum.
That new membership needs to be organised, educated, and empowered to see the union as a tool they can use to win change, not as an external body to which they pay a monthly fee in exchange for services.
There is no shortage of issues those new members must be supported in organising around. In the first instance, the implementation of the deal will need policing. Whatever anyone thinks of it, it has now been agreed, but without pressure from below the employer may try to renege on its implementation or find ways to slow it down. And those new members should be encouraged to take up struggles around other workplace issues. Our ballots for action over Covid-related safety concerns in DVLA [Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency] Swansea and 12 regional courts are continuing. Lots of hard work is taking place on the ground to ensure we meet the thresholds.
With the budget due, we need to make and remake the argument that in order to “build back better”, to use a phrase now popular on all sides of the political divide, we need an expansion of jobs and services, with improved terms and conditions for workers, not pay freezes. The Tories’ pay freeze is a sign of what’s to come in the Budget; they want to “build back better” for employers’ profits. The labour movement must articulate an alternative.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity