Friday, 8 February 2013

Panic stations in PCS union

There was bad news for PCS on the eve of it's latest proposed strike. The Home Office Group announced the outcome of a ballot of 1,200 members in the Liverpool branch of the UK Border Agency. Local PCS representative Kevin Smith had been sacked after making what Management called a "vexatious complaint" about 4 of his managers. The Home Office Group Executive Committee subsequently called a ballot to get members to strike for his re-instatement.

Problem is that members rejected striking with 57% against on a turnout of just 32%. For some reason the "confidential" members briefing did not give the actual figures which is surprising as I always thought that was a legal requirement. Members did agree to "action short of strike action" and the PCS has announced that it was "writing to management requesting urgent negotiations". I hope they are successful in re-instating Kevin.

There are lessons to be learnt from this. You should never call a strike unless you are absolutely sure that your members are behind it. The low turnout and majority against show a clear misjudgement by the Home Office GEC.

It was a lesson certainly picked up by the PCS leadership this afternoon. An urgent message was sent out calling for reps to volunteer to do some "cold calling" of members on their home phone numbers to try and persuade them to vote yes to the current ballot. These calls will be taking place in the evenings and weekends. How members will react to this exercise is not clear.

What it does show is that the PCS leadership are worried about the outcome of the ballot and in particular the turnout. Frankly they should have thought about that before launching the ballot. 

This situation has occurred precisely because the political considerations of the Socialist Party were put before industrial reality.  Again the leadership have failed to ensure that the majority of members are behind them before proposing action. The stakes are high. Recent ballots have resulted in just small numbers of members voting for strikes.

Mark Serwotka was put on the spot just before the Olympics when he tried (and failed ) to launch a strike in the UK Border Agency with just 11% of the members voting for it. It was this action that finally led to the attacks on trade unions in the civil service reaching unprecedented levels. Serwotka and his Socialist Party friends gave the Tories the excuse they were looking for. They didn't need much of a push agreed, but that one act of foolishness could lead to PCS reps having little time other than to act as social workers during work time.

The negotiations over trade union facility time are continuing but rumours suggest that the outcome will be particularly harsh. All "PCS" time used at work could lead to the automatic deduction of pay. Most reps could not afford that and will be forced to even issue information e-mails from home. Appalling, but on the table I am led to understand.

The unions current strategy is heading for a Government trap, but the comrades are too foolish to realise it. The "socialist struggle" is wrecking PCS and has been under Serwotka, the Socialist Party and the SWP for a decade.

The damage for now is done. It will take time, a change in direction of PCS and the re-election of Labour for a reversal to even begin. Union reps have to try & hold the line but ill thought out strikes and disputes will not help, especially when they panic about the possible outcome.

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