Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Debate! No future for PCS?

Guest Post by Rick Johansen

I fear my views on the present and future of PCS are a great deal more gloomy than anything else I have read from 4themembers folk in recent times.

I speak with all the authority as someone who has never been active in PCS, having given up the fight in CPSA some 22 years ago.

I was worn down by the constant branch infighting and the pernicious influence of the DSS regional organisation led by a fiery young valleys boy with a fine line in empty rhetoric. I wonder what happened to him?

When I quit after conference in 1992 I rejoined the real world of working for a living. Years away from the coal face, it took some time for me to realise that the things that had obsessed me for many years – conference, elections, AGMs, mandating meetings – were of no interest to the vast majority of ordinary members.

I took only limited interest in CPSA and later PCS in the years that followed but I was clued up enough to realise that the union was lurching ever more to the ultra left.

The National Moderate Group had control of the National Executive Committee and, crucially, many of the full timers at HQ were sympathetic to them. In other words, they controlled the union, even if the ultra left were beginning to seize control of the annual conference.

Even Barry Reamsbottom’s desperate, unsuccessful and ultimately disastrous bid in 2003 to retain control of the union when defeated by Mark Serwotka in the General Secretary election barely registered with ordinary members in general nor me in particular. After all, re-runs after elections in PCS were not entirely unheard of, were they?

As my old friend Willie Samuel pointed out last week, this sordid affair was a turning point in the history of the union and sewed the seeds of the union we have today.

More than two decades on and I still see the same old names on the ballot papers. What were these people doing whilst I was having children (well, not me personally but you get the drift) and growing old disgracefully? And moreover, many of them are now employed by the union.

I started by saying that my prognosis for the future of PCS was more gloomy than you’d read elsewhere and here it is.

The union is controlled from top to bottom, in the vast majority of branches in the land, by the ultra left. In other words, they don’t just control the machine: they own all the nuts and bolts too.

Willie also pointed out what would almost certainly happen if 4TM were actually to win an NEC election one year and what a year it would be. One more heave, get a few more votes out, is not enough. 4TM does not have an infrastructure and arguably no strategy for power either. It stands for all manner of different shades of opinion so effectively offers nothing at all, other than change (whatever that means).

We are now in the tail end of yet another miserably failed campaign of strike action, something we always seem to have at election time in PCS. What a coincidence.

The unfocused pay, pensions and conditions of service dispute gives no clear idea of what the union actually wants nor the first clue to members as to what would constitute victory.

It all plays well on the pages of ‘Militant’ – sorry: The Socialist (the more things change the more they stay the same) – where the disciples of Ted Grant can dream on whilst the rest of us concentrate on more mundane things like trying to put bread on the table.

So this current dispute, now on the back burner pending ‘consultation’, fizzles out like the damp squib we always knew it would become.

And what’s the alternative?

My conclusion is that there isn’t one within the confines of PCS.

The apathy that has been stirred up by the fantasists of the ultra left gives them the power they crave and I see no way of ordinary members reclaiming it, assuming they want to reclaim it at all.

My experience is that an awful lot of members regard the union as an insurance policy for the fateful day when something goes wrong or something unjust happens and nothing else.

The voting figures in the recent elections were pitiful, with more than nine in ten members not bothering to vote at all.

The voting figures for the current industrial action campaign (if you can call it that) were woeful too, figures matched in my view by the numbers who are not paying any attention to calls to action.

I see no possibility of the current leadership losing control of PCS because the structures can keep them in place for as long as they want to be there, regardless of the odd electoral blip along the way, and to that end I see no hope for PCS in the short term or the long term.

A good few people I know would love to leave PCS and join another union that was relevant to them and their lives.

Due to the Bridlington agreement that isn’t going to happen and as the months and years go by I see the same people leaving PCS and not bothering with union membership at all.

PCS is just like CPSA, built on ancient and irrelevant structures like conference with the grinding inertia that they bring to the party.

I love being on the mailing list for 4TM and I am sincerely grateful to Howie for keeping it going but by the same token I don’t think they, or anyone else, could change or save PCS.

Worst of all, the government knows that better than anyone.

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