Wednesday, 26 June 2013

PCS members stuck between a trot and a hard government

The PCS union launched a "day of action" following the decision of it's National Executive Committee to call of a planned strike today. Unsurprisingly there was no mention of it across most of the media and the actual numbers of members who took part was quite limited. This action comes after Mark Serwotka the General Secretary of the PCS made a speech at the so-called Peoples Assembly in which he stated:

"PCS represents some of the lowest paid workers in Britain, and we have had a strike in every single week for the last month. 

True, but to what effect one has to ask. Lets see what John McInally, PCS Vice President has to say in The Socialist newspaper:

We know our action is having a real disruptive impact but ministers are refusing to talk to us because they are trying to make deals at departmental or group level without talking to the union nationally. They want to stop effective collective bargaining.

He continues:

One of the reasons PCS is able to deliver action consistently is that we've always consulted with members and activists, so that the action will be effective and sustainable.

Really? At no stage have more than a third of members taken strike action and in many departments the turnout has been from low to derisory. The leadership have failed to motivate the vast majority of members and whilst they clearly do have what they call an "activist base", the argument with members about the necessity of action at this time has been far from won.

McInally tells us there will be a long period of consultation with the members, ostensibly to find out members views. Whether many members will bother taking part is another question. Every year PCS members are exalted to the need for industrial action, usually coinciding with the internal electoral process of the union.

The era of austerity has sent to the wild eyed Trotskyists who run PCS into a state of apoplexy. The leadership of PCS, dominated by the Socialist Party and the SWP immediately launched a campaign for for strikes without really thinking things through, let alone considering whether plans for such long term action would be sustainable by the very people who would be expected to make the necessary sacrifice needed.

More to the point could PCS really do it alone? John McInally continues to "talk the talk" when he says:

We'll also try to build as many alliances as possible with other unions. Members are asking themselves why, while every part of the public sector is under attack, PCS seems to be the only union taking action.

Every time PCS has tried to make such "alliances" they have manged to fall out with their allies. Trying to support an alternative candidate against Len McCluskey of Unite botched that one and the National Union of Teachers are more concerned about getting the other large teaching union, the NASUWT on board rather than blindly follow Serwotka and co.

Today saw a major attack on the civil service take place. The Yorkshire Post reported that Chancellor. George Osborne announced:

The Chancellor said public sector pay rises will be limited to an average of up to one per cent for 2015-16 and automatic progression pay and re-grading were being scrapped.
He said: “Progression pay can at best be described as antiquated; at worst, it’s deeply unfair to other parts of the public sector who don’t get it and to the private sector who have to pay for it.
“So we will end automatic progression pay in the Civil Service by 2015-16.
So it would seem a new dispute is in the making. Except there is a real problem. The PCS/Socialist Party leadership has spent so long on promoting a Marxist inspired "generalisation" of the class struggle as a substitute for a proper trade union campaign that they have already undermined a substantial section, if not the majority of the membership.

This reductionism  is continued by McInally who writes:

The best way forward is to build mass coordinated action, including a 24-hour general strike in order to defeat austerity.

Even the "Peoples (or activists) Assembly" did not end up backing such a call much to the Socialist Party's chagrin.  They are heading towards a day of "civil disobedience" as the PCS website points out:

A national day of civil disobedience is planned for November 5 and a second national People's Assembly will be held in spring 2014. 

Such disobedience probably means UK Uncut bothering shoppers in Oxford Street and  a few hooded Anarchists smashing things up. Not an activity that PCS members could get involved with, if they want to keep their jobs. there are rules on "conduct unbecoming civil servants" that Management would probably jump at to use against Reps.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Dan Hodges says:

Then there are the union leaders themselves. Moderates, like TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, think the whole idea is barking mad, which is why she successfully headed off calls for a General Strike a couple of months ago.
But O’Grady is expending quite a bit of internal political capital keeping the more militant unions in line. So much so, that there’s even been talk by some of them of just going ahead and organising one without the TUC’s official sanction.
There is a need not just for a futile one way consultation about the non existent prospect for further action amongst PCS members at this time, but also everyone needs to consider the future of trade unionism in these changed times.

A challenging prospect, but one that is really needed to ensure that unions not only survive and prosper but pick and choose the fights they can win without undue influence from parasitical outsiders that have their own agendas and not our interests at heart.

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