Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Is PCS a union in decline?

Not for the first time I was approached by a member in Balham this afternoon who asked for "a form so she could resign from PCS" as she was "fed up with the way Serwotka is running the union".  I managed to talk her out of quiting, for now anyway as she tells me she'll think about it after the union elections due in a few weeks. Already one member on her section has quit the union and there have been rumblings amongst other long-term members in other offices.

One member in Wandsworth recently asked if there was another union we could all join. Of course there is, but it is not a solution I could recommend and persuaded her to stay as well. Such musings about PCS are not confined to members either.

There have been a recent spate of good PCS Reps deciding to quit their posts (but not their membership) in recent weeks in Newcastle and now the Home Office where a Branch Chair has resigned her PCS posts but will continue union work as the Joint Branch Secretary in the FDA. For those of us who oppose the Serwotka/Socialist Party leadership of the union this only makes our job more difficult.

Meanwhile things are  already getting more difficult for reps as we head to the new and severe restrictions on our union activities. For the first time, like ever a note was sent round to a number of Branches who had not registered delegates to the DWP Group Conference in May. This means there are a number of people waiting to see if the withdrawal of "paid time off" will be re-instated for DWP Reps to attend. As far as I am aware we are the only Group that has been affected this year.

The current dispute is behind the concerns of a lot of members at the moment. The strike was launched on the basis of support from just one in five members, which in turn led to a turnout on the day of around one in three members, less than 95,000 out of the 250,000 that were eligible.

Yet the far-left who are behind the strategy are in complete denial as the latest issue of Socialist Worker shows. An article by Sian Ruddick* claims that 250,000 members struck. we know that's not true so why mislead readers with a figure that is distorted beyond all reality? She quotes our glorious leader Mark Serwotka as saying:

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told Socialist Worker, “Today has been a success—the strike has had a significant impact.

“We in the PCS are going to continue fighting these attacks. But we all know it’ll be much easier if other unions joined us. A general strike would transform the situation....

Actually the impact is far less than he claims. With less than half the members on strike and support varying between Departments and locations the union is actually exposing its' inherent weakness. Management know the true level, so its' only members that these people are trying to kid.

There is another half day strike planned for Friday 5th April. We were told that this was to coincide with the increase in our Pension contributions. In the HMRC the strike will have no effect as this anonymous comment from the PCS Indy (chat room) explains:

As an HMRC rep, how can I explain to members why we are going on strike on the 5th of April when on that day our computers are down for the annual update of our software for the new tax year?
Management will be delighted at our stupidity as it is exactly what they would have wanted as they have no work for us. They are probably sorry we didn't go for a whole day's strike. 

I suppose we will have to tell members that this day was chosen because our elected officers in HMRC group are so far out of touch, they don't know what goes on in HMRC and that somebody had told them the 5th of April was the end of the tax year so it seemed like a good idea to them at the time. 

Whatever we tell them, it will be a disastrous loss of credibility for PCS to take industrial action on a day we have no work. 

He is not the only one with concerns as another anonymous Rep says:

I'm an ex-rep, not a current rep, but still a member and not completely without principles. But it is my honest view that this campaign was dead in the water when the ballot result was announced. And it's also my honest view that under better leadership the union avoided compulsory redundancies, avoided the fall-out with the department that led to facilities being suspended and reps sacked (happened before and after my time but not during it), supported the national campaign better than ever before, built membership and started to think strategically. 

If the current campaign is the best PCS can do, I think my loyalty and the loyalty of many others who came out on 20 March will be sorely tested.

Dave Vincent writing in the Weekly Worker addresses the problems of the dispute thus.

What do I think should have been done? We should have waited a few more weeks until PCS national conference in May and then decide in light of what other unions are doing. Instead conference may now see a divisive and heated debate on the strategy of coming out alone and too soon rather than attempting an inspirational way forward, as some other unions finally start to fight back. Our members will only take so much action.

PCS could end up doing itself more damage than good by continuing this politically motivated dispute. Mark Serwotka, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party are hell bent on pursuing a line for a General Strike which is not for the benefit of union members, just a sectarian strategy to recruit more members to their deranged cults.

Members need a proper union, not one that is used and abused by by organisations with interests that differ from that of most members.

Time to reclaim PCS not leave it.

Join us. Go to: http://www.4themembers.org.uk/


* I have been asked by Sian Ruddick (PCS Birmingham) to clarify that this is not her and the writer in Socialist Worker is a full timer in the SWP.

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