PCS: we still need to transform the union

Submitted by AWL on 25 May, 2021 - 5:27
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On a woefully low turnout of just 7.5% of members the ruling Left Unity (LU) group has secured a comprehensive victory in the elections for the National Executive (NEC) of the PCS civil service workers’ union (results announced 14 May). PCS will continue to be run by the same LU faction that has failed the membership for 18 years, but now minus the Socialist Party which was for most of those years central to that leadership and its failings.

For many years the LU leadership has presided over defeat and retreat. It has lurched from inertia to belated, poorly prepared campaigns that treated the membership as a tap to be turned on and off. The PCS membership is headed for more of the same in very difficult circumstances and with the Tories once again cutting real pay.

The election was a three way contest between LU, Independent Left (IL), the only principled and long standing opposition to the leadership, and the Broad Left Network (BLN). The latter was set up by the SP to place its supporters back in PCS leadership positions after it badly lost an unprincipled faction fight within LU.

The BLN’s platform was essentially “get rid of the leadership”. The marketing point was that they were the only force capable of defeating or inflicting serious harm on their former LU allies. Instead, they achieved a much poorer result than the IL obtained in the last NEC elections in 2019, when the SP campaigned with and for the current leadership. In 2019 IL won four seats, reduced to three because successful NEC candidate John Moloney was also elected Assistant General Secretary against the LU candidate and SP member, Chris Baugh. In the current election the BLN has secured one NEC seat, for an activist who is not a member of the SP.

Even in this election, and even though losing its three NEC members (Bev Laidlaw would have been elected but for departmental limitations), the IL polled well in relation to its number of branch nominations and it continues to be the only coherent opposition to the failed PCS leadership, offering positive policies and initiatives.

The IL’s support was hit by the presence of another “opposition” slate, albeit one that ran without a genuine and developed critique of the 18 years of LU misleadership. The lack of critique was hardly a surprise given that the SP and some fellow travellers had been centrally and deeply involved in that misleadership. Essentially the SP offer the same “leadership” that they provided for so many years alongside their former LU allies: “lets go back to the good old days” is their unspoken motto.

The IL built its campaign around the need to transform PCS. The BLN campaign was built around Marion Lloyd, who trailed in third in the Presidential election, well behind IL supporter Bev Laidlaw.

When the SP approached the IL prior to the NEC elections they did so with a full slate, i.e. one aimed at IL as much as the leadership, and insisted that Bev Laidlaw should stand down as a presidential candidate. IL was not prepared to stand aside for a SP candidate who was part of the PCS leadership as late as 2018 and who was on the LU slate in 2019 and elected that year to the NEC as a LU member.

The SP/BLN representatives were not interested in discussing a programme for transforming PCS whereas for the IL an agreed programme for transforming the union is at the centre of its campaigns and is the only principled basis for joint work with any other organisation. The IL will continue to map out a way forward for serious activists.

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