Members of the PCS union in the DWP, HMRC and Valuation Agency took part in a third day of regional strikes today across London, the South east and the Midlands today. Coverage of the dispute appeared to be minimal despite the efforts and sacrifice of Reps and members.
The PCS website makes as much as it can with talk of good turnouts in several places, whilst ignoring the lower turnouts in London in particular. No Job Centres were closed and management had already taken precautions to ensure that little disruption took place with the cancelling and rescheduling of appointments for claimants.
There was little enthusiasm amongst large numbers of members, with even those usually more active and involved stating they did not see the point of continuing the dispute. Many have indicated that they no confidence that the current strikes were or could achieve anything. One thing is clear that the current dispute, which was clearly lost from the outset, is not shifting Government policy not will any escalation that General Secretary Mark Serwotka seems to be planning at the end of the month.
The leadership of the union remain in complete denial as a e-mail received from the DWP Group Organiser, Steve Cawkwell in response to my article on Monday tried to do:
The strikes were in the NE and Y+H. Every branch reports very high levels of support. You will be pleased that there was a good deal of media coverage in the regional press, radio and television. The main rallies in Newcastle and Leeds were well attended with local media present doing interviews. In Newcastle the media did a vox pop series of interviews with ordinary members comparing our low pay to the MP's money for questions scandal. It is your turn tomorrow and I know it will go well in London.
If it did, not many people will have noticed, it didn't even make the evening London news programmes.
The fact is that despite everything that's been thrown at them, members have shown unwillingness to be used as part of an openly political strategy instituted by the Socialist Party to use the PCS union as "shock troops" to force if not a "General Strike", then at least "co-ordinated action" across the public sector. Neither of these events are achievable and the issues PCS members have struck over in their own ballot have it has to be said, already been lost.
At the same time disquiet is growing over attempts by activists to virtually turn PCS into a "two level" membership. I sent a copy of the following motion to members in DWP Avon Branch in Bristol when asked about whether PCS reps were no longer to represent members who did not go on strike. That's not quite what the motion says but it will cause waves: The motion as passed at this years DWP Group Conference says:
"This Conference applauds PCS members who followed the democratic will
of the union by taking action as part of the job cuts campaign. However,
Conference also notes that a number of members chose not to participate.
These people could have jeopardised our very successful actions and may
have undermined the efforts of colleagues by attending work. Conference
recognises that as paying members of PCS these people still have the
same rights as colleagues who took action. Conference further recognises
the moral conundrum branch officials have when these members wish to
avail themselves of our services, notably direct representation in
personal cases. Conference therefore agrees that no lay official is
obliged to represent any member who crosses a picket line and that such
cases are passed to a paid employee of PCS to deal with in the most
Members in Bristol were said to be "gobsmacked" and there was an inference that this could cause a further exodus of members. The activists have simply not kept up with the times. There is little faith that PCS can achieve the "bigger aims" that it sets itself and a large amount of growing alienation from the way the union has become politicised with its' policy of looking to contest Parliamentary elections and futile connections with the far-left in the form of the Socialist Party & the SWP.
The majority of members these days see the union as more of an "insurance policy" in case they get into trouble with Management. If they are going to have difficulties in obtaining help from the union (and there are insufficient PCS full time staff to cope with any influx of cases) then they are either going to find another union or leave altogether.
PCS is already in financial difficulties which is why the spectre of a merger with Unite was revived at conference this year. If such ideologically motivated policies continue then membership will plunge.
PCS is in danger of turning itself from a trade union into an irrelevant sect.
If PCS is to be saved then reps and members must regain control of their union from the political activists who are using it for their own political purposes.