The main civil service union PCS began a week-long series of regional strikes in its long running dispute with the Government over pensions, pay and conditions of service, not forgetting all the other issues such as cuts and austerity measures that Mark Serwotka and his cronies have added to the list of demands. Trouble is no one seems to have noticed.
This afternoon I googled the dispute and the "top story" was from the Socialist Party's website which when accessed was just a reprint of the PCS press release. All the other first page entries were PCS website mentions plus the inevitable statement from the SWP front organisation Unite the Resistance who claimed "200,000 members were to strike". Not one single newspaper article nor references to television reports either. So what's gone wrong?
The strikes were actually taking place in the two biggest government department, the DWP and the HMRC. You'd think that would at least solicit some interest from the media? Unfortunately it hasn't and since strikes by PCS are almost constantly taking place somewhere they have no longer become newsworthy it would seem. The other problem which the PCS leadership refuses to face up to is the low turnout by members (under a third last time it went national) which continues to decline.
The announcement of the 2013 Pay offer in the DWP led to standard comments from members who were faced with a package that they were expecting. A 1% pay rise with a small but welcome bonus for all except the bottom performing 5%. There was no decision for members to be faced with either as the unions pay briefing document stated quite clearly there would be no ballot as the NEC automatically rejected any offer of 1%. Another one of Serwotka's "King Arthur" moments, he surely knows best. No point in asking us at all. Why should we bother with all this democracy nonsense, eh Mark!
Not that it would make any difference as the pay offer will be imposed on us at the end of July anyway.
This all happened on the day that Facility Time (used by Reps to deal with union/members issues) changed in the DWP, except no one Management or union knows what the new rules are. Except there's less of it, though no one actually knows how much less and any time used will be deducted from an unknown pot. Confused, we all were!
The (lack of) time to run the union and represent members was something PCS Reps knew was coming, much of what we do will now have to be done outside work, in our own time including Branch Executives and so on which will cause difficulties for Reps with children/caring responsibilities. Even locally there was a debate about not representing members who cross a picket line. Legally PCS has to, but lay reps are not obliged. Personally I think this attitude is not only impractical in the current circumstances but outdated.
With two thirds or more of members not taking part in strike action coupled with the fact people join the unions more for "personal insurance" reasons suggest that this could so easily become a self-defeating attitude. Making it difficult to get representation is more likely to drive people out of PCS. After all members costs what, around £150 a year, all most people see is the (now bi-monthly) magazine and a diary once a year. Even a former member of the National Executive opined he'd rather spend the money on beer these days having given up his membership.
Yet there is a growing gulf between members and activists as a motion at the DWP Conference actually now makes this caveat to membership official policy. Whilst this may have passed most members by for the time being, as people become aware of it and are asked (and refuse to) take part in industrial action that was actually never going to achieve anything even at the beginning, the ineffectiveness of the dispute will add to those who are already questioning the point of belonging to PCS.
Some will drift away, but a few are asking if there is another union they can join. If the PCS leadership carries on with its' current course such sentiments will grow and the PCS union may go into a decline from which it will never recover from.
A real question needs to be asked. Does the union belong to and represent its' members or does it exist only to further the interests of the activist class? At the moment the latter is the case. It's time to change that before it is too late.