Guest Post by Willie Samuel
Without a doubt, the most significant event in the history of PCS was the idiotic attempt by Ex General Secretary Barry Reamsbottom to hang on to office in 2003, despite having signed an agreement to leave. The National Moderate Group had just won a slim majority for a two year term. They were in a position to set the agenda for PCS for the next two years and restrict new General Secretary Mark Serwotka from placing PCS on the fringes. Instead, Reamsbottom had his way and led his troops into a civil war. Within a year Left Unity (LU) had routed them, and set about creating the PCS we have today.
The event casts a long shadow. It was a gift to Left Unity who crafted a grip on power based on the Big Tent, or ‘Democracy Alliance’ (DA). In the tradition of the German Democratic Republic, the name brilliantly implies that all opponents are undemocratic. You cannot get a better campaign than one based around opposing somebody trying to overturn a democratic vote. The only serious challenge to this ‘Big Tent’ was when a grouping on the far left formed the so called ‘Independent Left’ (IL) in 2007. This challenge failed and the IL now poll less votes than any faction within PCS.
4TM was created around 2005 and grouped together a broad range of activists who opposed Left Unity. It had no political allegiance, and paraded this as a virtue. Initially it competed against a continuing National Moderate Group (NMG) but the NMG disbanded shortly afterwards and was absorbed within 4TM. 4TM boldly asserted itself to be a new faction. This was a credible claim in some ways whilst a rump NMG continued. However when NMG candidates stood under the 4TM banner, it had to concede it was the flag of the ‘Right Wing’ in PCS.
LU have continued with the Big Tent ever since. It is a winning formula for them. Each year they face an opposition from 4TM whom they brand as ‘Moderates’ and remind voters of the Reamsbottom debacle. Amongst most PCS activists they have successfully discredited the 4TM brand.
A large proportion of 4TM have clung to a belief that they represent the sleeping giant that is (they believe) the 90% of PCS members who do not participate in union elections. There is a consistent 4TM vote amongst those who do vote in elections of about 30% of those participating, and so (the theory goes) that if another 2,000 of the sleeping ‘normal people’ woke up and voted they would automatically vote 4TM.
There is little to support this. True, the Socialist Party and others win control of branches, and get elected as reps because most union members have no interest in being active. However that is where it ends. In terms of elections, there is no evidence that higher turnouts bring a higher vote for 4TM. Indeed there is some evidence that 4TM do better when turnouts are down.
4TM control an ever reducing number of PCS Branches. Where, historically, a leading activist is in place with a history of support for 4TM, that branch will support 4TM. As people retire, loose interest or get promoted these branches tend to be lost. What is not happening is a movement to gain control of new branches and activists.
There is a constituency of unaligned or ‘independent’ branches. 4TM makes no impact in these branches at all. The reason for this is that, whilst there is disillusionment with PCS leadership, the 4TM brand is unattractive.
So what does 4TM do to reach out to the unaligned? Not a great deal. 4TM has given up on collecting membership dues, or keeping any kind of membership list. The only real source of information on 4TM’s views are on the internet. A website, a PCS Grouping on Facebook and e-mail bulletins from Howie Fuller. Howie has also established a blog, which comments on PCS affairs for a significant part of its content.
There is no consistent view across this media. Whilst Howie tends to focus on the comings and goings of the far left revolutionary parties, and their impacts on PCS, there is little policy on offer. It is clear that Howie is generally opposed to strike action as an end in itself, and in most other current PCS projects. He consistently calls for a ‘change of direction/leadership’. However he offers no alternative policy to develop this theme. On Facebook, 4TM participants have no clear view, some posting proud pictures of their picket lines and boasting success in delivering action, others opposing strikes entirely.
When given the opportunity, 4TM overwhelming rejected taking any kind of political stance. Beyond ‘strikes are a last option’ it has offered no policies or vision for PCS.
So the question arises; Does 4TM offer an alternative leadership? It is interesting to imagine a fantasy election result delivering a 4TM majority to think this through. Let us imagine it is May b2014 and the NEC elections take place. Left Unity have grown complacent. After much delay, the results are announced. To everybody’s surprise 4TM have won control with a majority. Let us imagine they have also captured the job of National President.
The new NEC meets for the first time to hear reports from Mark Serwotka. All full time officers nowadays are broadly sympathetic to Left Unity. So what would be on the agenda policy priorities for the 4TM NEC?
On the agenda the continuing disputes on pensions, jobs and pay.
Mark recommends a further ballot for industrial action. 4TM want to call it off. He produces letters from 150 branches in support of his position. Left Unity picket PCS HQ. Mark challenges the NEC to take the issue to the members. What is 4TM’s position? What does 4TM do to control Mark, Chris Baugh and the legion of Socialist Party employees?
That’s just day one. What does 4TM do if LU deliver a majority vote in favour on a poor turnout. DWP Group (still controlled by LU) vote to go it alone. There’s a whole year of this and a hostile national conference with a series of censure motions to consider.
I don’t think 4TM could handle that scenario. It would fall apart very quickly, and the full time officers would obstruct knowing that Left Unity would return to office the following year. Only if 4TM had the courage to bring in a layer of new full time officers and dismiss those it didn’t like could it get things done. Only if 4TM were strong enough to stay in power delivering a NEC majority year on year could it turn things around.
The hard fact is that if Left Unity were designing their ideal opponents, they’d pick one with no policies, no membership, little experience and no threat to them. The hard fact is that this is 4TM. The grouping that Left Unity need as a principle opposition to minimise their own divisions and problems.
Having reached this conclusion, you’ll understand why I’m not going to be a 4TM candidate as things stand. What would I do?
To remove PCS from the clutches of the Socialist Party two things need to happen. Firstly an opposition needs to emerge that has a clear programme and distinctive policies. Secondly, there needs to be a movement at branch level that broadly subscribes to these policies, and networks to build support for it.
In broad terms, such a clear programme and distinctive policies exist, and can be taken ‘off the shelf’. Unions such as UNISON and UNITE already buy into it. It is called ‘affiliation to the Labour party’.
The Labour Party grew out of the TU movement, but it has had to adjust as unions have declined. It has renounced clause 4, and so therefore does not support the common ownership of industry and the means of production. In other words it does not support the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.
It also offers a clear alternative to the current PCS ‘alternative to austerity’. It accepts the concepts of public spending, the need to raise taxes to pay for them and the need to manage debt. In other words it accepts that capitalism is the least bad form of Government.
That does not mean it supports the way the Coalition Government is applying these choices. It does mean not pretending that a happy socialist Utopia can ever happen.
It is an important principle and it can be backed up. All states which reject capitalism on principle, claiming to be ‘socialist’ tend to harass their population, or deny them human rights. That included the Soviet Union, and currently includes Cuba, China and Venezuela. Most Left Wing groupings idolise one or more of these current or historic states.
The really hard part of winning back PCS is the second part. That is winning over sufficient branches to a pro-capitalism point of view. The vast majority of PCS members are pro-capitalist. Being pro-capitalist does not mean you favour exploitation, privatisation, tax evasion or a multitude of other things. It does mean that you do not think a revolution would make anything better, and would probably make a lot of things worse.
4TM fails because it is not a pro-capitalist organisation. It contains pro-capitalists, but also has people who’d really like to be socialists and many who consider themselves such. They feel comfortable when they are criticising the bankers, and a bit guilty when they can’t go along with the Trotskyite nonsense.
You can (in my opinion) be a socialist AND pro-capitalist. But I’m not going to be side-tracked into a discussion about labels.
You don’t even have to be a supporter of the Labour Party. But (at national level anyhow) the Labour Party offer the version of highly regulated capitalism that most of our members support. It is where the TUC and most mainstream unions sit and where PCS should be.
(A quick word to my friends in the SNP. The SNP is a pro-capitalist party too. In an independent Scotland there will be no SNP. Whatever it is called, there will have to be a pro-capitalist left of centre party. Same argument. If you are a revolutionary socialist who supports independence you are in the wrong party!)
How to get there? I don’t think 4TM is part of the solution any more. I think 4TM is part of the problem. I suggest that 4TM ceases to be and the current activists who support it either stand as Labour Party supporters or as independents in Group or National elections. With no substitute ‘Moderate’ slate to oppose, the Democracy Alliance will slowly unravel. It’s in the nature of these parties. They are all splitters!
In the short term, we may end up with a one party state within PCS. In the longer term, PCS will either fade into irrelevance or a movement of ordinary pro-capitalist activists will emerge as a new opposition untainted by the past.
It’s just like being in a bad relationship, sometimes you just have to let go and be miserable for a while. But the way is clear for better things to happen.