Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A quick trot around the political fringe

There are times when I despair of the myopic world the majority of the far left live in. Take the latest issue of Socialist Worker for example. It contains the wonderfully titled "Can we win real power" by David Hayes who tries to explain why  disenchantment with Parliamentary Democracy is at an all time low and wants to discuss what real democracy looks like.

He begins:

A common understanding of democracy is one where people exercise power by choosing their representatives in free elections.

Certainly is comrade. Hayes then goes on to make this observation:

Corruption and cover up is endemic

I really burst out laughing reading that given the cycle of scandal the Socialist Workers Party have put themselves through. The professors lynch mobs still ring bells in many peoples minds. It also gets published the same day as yet another group of SWP members in Manchester University SWSS quit:

Go to: internationalsocialistnetwork.org for their statement.

At the same time we read on the Socialist Party website about the memorial meeting for the demise of Militants hold on Liverpool Council (yeah the one that prompted that speech by Neil Kinnock. Oddly the meeting was co-sponsored by my union and originally Madame Janice Godrich, President of PCS was due to speak but was replaced by Fran Heathcote one of the more useless SP hacks in the union.

The occasion was used by the Socialist Party to push their wares as Peter Taffe their guru took full advantage of. Their website reports:

Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe, co-author of the book Liverpool - a City that Dared to Fight, then contrasted the Labour Party of the 1980s with New Labour, saying it was now a hollow shell incapable of representing the interests of working class people.

and went on to declare:

Peter told the meeting that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) can play a key role in building an alliance of all forces that are willing to fight for a socialist alternative, with the trade union movement being the bedrock of a future alternative mass party of the working class.

Given the presence of Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite and  a key supporter of the Labour Party in the trade union movement the potential for conflict must have been ever present in the comrades minds. Still its not quite clear from the carefully taken photo how many (or few) people actually turned for for what must have been a very dull evening.

Oh and of course the Militant control of Liverpool was a complete disaster by the way comrades...

Finally we get to a couple of election results for that "powerful alternative" to the Labour Party backed by Taffy, Crow & Co. The Trade Union & Socialist Coalition has given us a taster of what to expect on Thursday night.

In a misleadingly entitled article called "Edging the Tories out of Newcastle" we find that in South Eaton Ward the "first time carrier of the TUSC banner" polled a mighty 69 votes proudly trumpeted as 5.3% of the vote (Labour won with 798 votes) though the actual turnout is not stated it is likely to have been no more than a third or so like most local elections.

They don't say much about their other candidate but do tell us that he polled a staggering 47 votes in Castle ward. That's 1.8% by the way. They tell us that:

.. but even the more modest results contribute to building a working class political alternative to the pro-austerity establishment parties.

In your dreams comrades. I'm sticking with Labour!

Monday, 29 April 2013

The UKIP, far right and the TUSC

A few weeks ago I received a questionnaire from the Hope Not Hate campaign about taking a position on the UKIP. I did give it some thought and decided to opt for ignoring the UKIP because I did not and do not see it as part of the fascist/neo Nazi far right that I think they should be concentrating on.

The result of the consultation was published on the HNH website:

Over 1200 people replied to our email within the first 48 hours and hundreds more gave us their views via Facebook, twitter and email. These numbers show the interest in this subject and justifies us asking the question in the first place.
There were a handful of abusive replies, mainly from UKIP supporters who were outraged at us raising the question, but overall the comments - both for and against - were passionate, measured and thoughtful.
In terms of a simple vote, our supporters back HOPE not hate campaigning against UKIP by a margin of just over two to one. 67% voted to campaign, while 33% said we should continue to ignore them.
However within the attached comments the position was much more nuanced. Many of those who believed that we should campaign against UKIP believed that we should just focus our efforts and resources on those people and campaigns which are very clearly racist and plainly unacceptable to HOPE not hate's vision for a positive and diverse society rather than the party in its entirety.
There were others who voted no who said exactly the same.
Historically this approach is clearly in line with HOPE not hate's tradition of exposing and highlighting the unacceptable extremists in all of the mainstream political parties. From the Conservative Party's Monday Club, to last week's revelation about Lord Ahmed's antisemitism, HOPE not hate operates on a platform of zero tolerance towards political and cultural extremism. That means we believe we have a duty to expose any racist campaigns, comments or activities and where necessary run localised campaigns against specific candidates.
And this goes for UKIP too.

Full article here: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/ukip/

The recent Eastleigh by-election saw the UKIP coming second with 11,571 votes or 27.8% of the local electorate.  Had their leader Nigel Farage stood, who knows what the result might have been. Nevertheless the UKIP is still on the rise and is standing 1,739 candidates in the local elections due on Thursday May 2nd. The press are predicting that they will make a breakthrough (of sorts) and are hitting the Conservative Party hard.

However not all has been well with their choice of candidates. Several of these have been identified as former members of the British National Party. The Times reported on Saturday that Alan Ryall who was the party's candidate in Wickham (he quit after the story broke) admitted to membership of the BNP for "one or two years" but now "found it too extreme". The Times also uncovered Peter Lucas in Devon who was listed as a "student member of the BNP" but he denies this. As does Chris Byrne standing in leafy Surrey; That wasn't me" he claims.

The Sunday Times followed this up with a report that Chris Scrotton a UKIP candidate in Leicstershire had been suspended for being an EDL supporter, endorsing them on their face book page and appears to "trivialise racism" as the paper puts it. There are others but the one that caught my attention in particular was a certain Anna-Marie Crampton their (now suspended) candidate in Sussex who believes that the Jews were responsible for the second world war and wrote:

“The Rothschilds are Zionists. There is a difference between Jews and Zionists. These Psychopaths hide behind and use the Jews. It was thanks to them that six million Jews were murdered in the War along with 26 million Russians.

Her views get worse (she recommends the hoax Protocols of the Elders of Zion) and there is even a defence page for her on Facebook which someone linked to on Urban 75 which I refuse to do here.  Not only is it full of anti-Semitic bile but links to even more dodgy websites.

The UKIP obviously has a problem in that it is attracting some of the fascist far-right into its' ranks, but the UKIP itself is not a fascist party or formation by any description. They even have a clause in their Constitution banning former members of the BNP and other fascist groups from their party. However their rapid growth has left them open by infiltration by the far right.

The UKIP (rightly or wrongly) does express the views of a substantial proportion of the electorate with its policies on immigration and EEC membership that cut across the classes. One RMT member interviewed in the Independent after Eastleigh simply expressed his view (held by many) that the country was simply "full". In its' election broadcast they led with a ethnic minority businessman giving his views (though whether he  was real or just an actor is not known to me). The UKIP are not racist, but are the right wing of traditional conservative patriotism, and Farage himself is an ardent fan of Margaret Thatcher.

Coming home tonight I was entreated to an interview with the man in the Evening Standard where his jovial fag-smoking, pub going persona was said to make him seem "normal" (whatever that is) to ordinary voters. He's certainly "eccentric" in the Boris Johnson vein, who incidentally took umbrage with Ken Clarke today over his disparaging remarks about UKIP.

On Thursday night it will be interesting to see how the UKIP fare. They may well damage both the Tories and continue to replace the Liberal Democrats as the party of protest.

Meanwhile the comrades of the far-left in the form of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition are also seeking to build on their result from the Eastleigh by-election. That won't be difficult as they polled a mere 62 votes despite the backing of the mighty Bob Crow and his RMT union. They are standing 120 candidates on Thursday night proudly proclaiming they are contesting 5% of the seats.

Put another way that actually means they not not contesting 95% of the seats and will probably complain of a media "blackout" like last time.  When will they ever learn. They are to most people an irrelevance, at most an annoyance unless you are in the PCS union which they manage to control through their various fronts.

Still the fringe parties at least make election nights a wee bit more interesting and I'll be looking at their results at the weekend.

As for me?  I'd Vote Labour!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

PCS DWP Group Elections - Vote 4themembers

Guest Post by Joe Cox

To listen to the Group Executive Committee (GEC) you could be forgiven for thinking what a superb lean mean fighting machine we have acting on our behalf.

Unfortunately, some of the GEC’s claims do not bear the results they indicate.

During the year My Civil Service Pension (MyCSP) has been moved into the private sector. Given the precedent and impact this would have on other areas of DWP and indeed, the Civil Service, it should have been an extremely important issue. Alas, the actions of the GEC have fallen well short of ‘acceptable’. Communications were poor (the biggest branch involved was left out of circular distributions), information was constantly out of date and the general response was diluted. Many members resigned from PCS.

The precedent proved apt for other areas. Members in Shared Services were summoned to meetings in early April to be told they were to lose their Civil Service status too. Unbelievably, the GE told Rep’s to be ready to talk to members but gave no briefing or detailed information to give out !!

Now, three weeks later, members still await the PCS response.

Members in other parts of DWP and CMG (CSA as was) are facing major restructuring to the areas they work in. The PCS response is muted and too slow. Rep’s are finding out about changes too late and often after implementation. Clearly the influence of PCS in DWP is waning.

What is clear is that membership and grassroots matters are falling behind in order of importance to more political issues. Members look to the Union to tackle day to issues in a timely and robust manner. However, the GEC and Regional Committees are far more involved in organising against the government.

The message is – if we can’t get the basics right then we fail our members.
PCS in DWP needs to re-focus its efforts and tactics. The current GEC is incapable of doing that.

Vote for the 4themembers candidates

President: Di Breen (DWP North Yorks) 
Vice Presidents: Rachel Barrowclough (DWP East Lancs), Anthony Buchanan (DWP Glasgow Benefit Centre), Joe Cox (DWP Benton Park View), Christine Galligan DWP Manchester & Salford)
Treasurer: Angela Withers (DWP CSA Plymouth)
Assistant Secretaries: Howard Fuller (DWP SW Thames), Steven Jackson (DWP Falkirk CSAC)
Organiser: Gurmit Kang (DWP Devon)
Publications Editor: Peter Galligan (DWP Manchester & Salford)
Group Executive Committee:
Elaine Anderson (DWP Benton Park View)
Rachel Barrowclough (DWP East Lancs)
Di Breen (DWP North Yorks
Anthony Buchanan (DWP Glasgow Benefit Centre)
Joe Cox (DWP Benton Park View )
Peter Doughty (DWP North West Wales)
Howard Fuller (DWP SW Thames)
Peter Galligan (DWP Manchester & Salford)
Mark Hill (DWP CSA Plymouth)
Steven Jackson (DWP Falkirk CSAC)
Gurmit Kang (DWP Devon)
Stuart Leigh (DWP London HQ)
David McBride (DWP Forth Valley & Dunbarton)
Con McGinley (DWP Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway)
Dougie McKinlay (DWP Clydeside & Argyle)
Rudi Panayi (DWP Hertfordshire)
David Welch (DWP Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway)
Angela Withers (DWP CSA Plymouth)

Further information on 4themembers can be found at:http://www.4themembers.org.uk/

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Hundreds dead in Bangladesh - time to act (Updated)

A Labourstart Campaign

Hundreds of garment workers were killed and injured when an 8 story building housing five textile factories collapsed on 24 April.

Large structural cracks appeared in the Rana Plaza the day before and an evacuation order was given. The building and factory owners ignored the warning and insisted work continue hours before the building collapsed.

This, the worst ever, industrial accident in Bangladesh comes only months after more than one hundred garment workers died in two factory fires.

Working for a minimum wage of US$38 per month, less than one percent of garment workers in Bangladesh are represented by a union.

The Labour Law leaves workers unable to join a union and fight for safe workplaces, improved working conditions and better wages.

IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriALL Bangladesh Council is calling on the government to take urgent action to guarantee freedom of association and improve building and fire safety and the minimum wage for the more than 3 million garment workers in Bangladesh.

Send your message supporting these demands to the Bangladesh Prime Minister and Minister for Labour and Employment today -

Go to: http://www.labourstartcampaigns.net/show_campaign.cgi?c=1813

International Trade Union Confederation

The ITUC has reacted angrily to the continued refusal of global clothing brands to join a union-supported workplace safety plan in Bangladesh.

The proposal was developed by unions and workers’ rights NGOs and presented to companies including Wal-Mart, GAP and H&M in 2011. A renewed push after the Tazreen factory fire killed 122 workers last November still produced no agreement from companies, which complained that it would cost too much and would be legally binding.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said “These huge global companies continue to show callous indifference to the lives of the thousands of workers who toil for their Bangladesh contractors and subcontractors. There have been dozens more factory fires in the months since the Tazreen tragedy, and now hundreds killed in this week’s Rana Plaza building collapse. How many people will have to sacrifice their lives for the corporate bottom line before the big players in the industry finally show that they care?”

Clothing multinationals have long preferred to rely on discredited company-financed factory “audits”, which are often little more than public relations exercises. A “Responsibility Outsourced” report released by the US trade union centre AFL-CIO on 23 April revealed the abject failure of key social audit programmes to protect workers lives and ensure basic standards such as health and safety protection and the right to join unions. In one of the worst examples, the Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan was certified by one of the major corporate social responsibility groups, Social Accountability International, just weeks before a fire there killed some 300 workers in 2012.

“The Bangladesh government must face up to its responsibilities to protect people from exploitation, ensure safe workplaces and support workers who want to join unions. But the commercial pressures from multinationals who continually seek to drive down costs, cut corners and speed up production times are also responsible. Workers did not want to enter the Rana Plaza building this week, but without a union, the company bosses were able to force them to enter a death-trap,” said Burrow.
Amirul Haque Amin, President of the National Garment Workers Federation in Bangladesh, said “This negligence must stop. The deaths of these workers could have been avoided if multinational corporations, governments and factory owners took workers’ protection seriously.”

The latest figures on the Rana Plaza disaster available to the ITUC on 26 April show:

304 confirmed deaths
2044 people rescued, more than 1000 of them injured
1000 people unaccounted for or still trapped inside the concrete wreckage.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Failing strategies of the Socialist Party

Yesterday the National Shop Steward Movement (NSSN) held its' long announced lobby of the TUC General Council. They even managed to obtain the support of Bob Crow (RMT) and Steve Gillam of the Prison Officers union (POA). Also present were various members of the Socialist Party who have seats on their unions executives or other leading bodies. Even that Steve Hedley fellow turned up. So who was very noticeable by their absence?

The PCS union despite being controlled by the Socialist Party and having a high profile General Secretary Mark Serotka who also favours a General Strike were all missing. It was left to Socialist Party hack Linda Taffe to even mention PCS. I know the PCS elections are currently running but I wouldn't have thought they were that concerned about the outcome so much they'd miss this obvious photo opportunity.

perhaps the clue is in the attendance figures. A report on the Socialist Party website proudly proclaims "up to 200 trade unionists, workers and campaigners" turned up. Rather a small number for such a lobby and frankly having viewed the video and the carefully taken photos I'm not actually convinced it was even half that. Hardly a mass show of support for a General Strike, work day or not.

There is of course another problem, PCS has been running a dispute with a quite clear intent of using it as a "springboard" for the General Strike.  Trouble is it has not been anywhere near as successful as they would have liked. In fact despite reports on the PCS website the dispute in the Home Office turned into a farce and then a clear failure as Owen Dodd reported on this blog a couple of days ago.

Worse than that the Metropolitan Police (Civilian Staff) have not moved to action since the initial one day strike, practically no one (just 4 in fact came out) in the Coastguards/Maritime section and numbers clearly declined elsewhere. Undeterred PCS announced 10 weeks of action today, with sections of the union taking a days strike each over these weeks.

Its no wonder Hugh Lanning started querying the unions industrial policy before he took an early bath. The whole strike has been artificially manipulated from the beginning by the Serwotka/Socialist Party leadership for purely political rather than trade union objectives. Support in the ballot was low with quite a high vote against which should have given any rational leadership pause for thought.

But Serwotka's not for turning to coin a phrase.

Such grandstanding marked the beginning of the end for the "Iron Lady" and with disillusion amongst PCS members highly visible at the moment, forcing additional disputes will probably just weaken the union further.

Despite the headlines in PCS circulars, magazines and websites there is little desire for this dispute to continue. It has achieved nothing, except lead many members to question the future of PCS as a trade union.

Neither a General Strike or a viable dispute in the civil service (which is not supported by the other CS unions) are currently on the horizon and manic sloganeering nor constant badgering of the members will change this. Despite everything the will to go down such a road does not exist except in the minds of deluded trotskyists.

It is time to step back and re-think strategy both industrial and political. If we don't the outcome further down the line may be one PCS will not come back from.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Have the Socialist Party scuppered a merger between Unite & PCS?

It seems that the prospect of a merger between Unite, the UK's largest trade union and PCS, the main civil service union is no longer on the cards for the time being. That is not to say it isn't going to happen but not for the immediate future.

The reason behind this appears to be the actions of Mark Serwotka (PCS General Secretary) and the Socialist Party Grandees who saw McCluskeys  early General Secretary campaign as some kind of "betrayal" as his actions were prompted by a desire to assist the Labour Party.

Given the current row erupting in the Labour Party about the growing influence of trade unions in selection Prospective Parliamentary Candidates it's hardly surprising McCluskey would be inclined more towards the Labour Party, of which Unite is a major financial backer, rather than the tiny and frankly irrelevant Trade Union & Socialist Coalition (TUSC) backed by the PCS leaders.

They laughingly appear to be condemning him for putting "party" interests before the merger! Pots & kettles coming from the sectarians of the Socialist Party methinks.

It hasn't helped matters by a small corner of PCS HQ being allegedly used to back McCluskey's trotskyist rival Jerry Hicks. This something I'm told is alleged to have happened during the Unison GS election. One wonders what really goes on in the hallowed corridors of Falcon Road these days. Nothing surprises me anymore.

Hugh Lanning (until recently Deputy General Secretary) got wind of this apparently and according to some sources was "furious" to say the least as it was he who it turns out was the main proponent of the merger having more than a few mates in Unite I'm told. In fact it is probably no exaggeration to say that there would have been no talk of a merger if it wasn't for Lanning.

Hugh Lanning was also critical of the industrial strategy being pursued by the comrades of the Socialist Party and others, becoming quite open in his criticisms by all accounts. The interference in the Unite GS election appears to have been the last straw for Lanning hence his early retirement. So now we know.

The long and short of the story appears to be that PCS would have to go begging to Unite if they want a merger now. If Len McCluskey is not impressed with the PCS leadership it is hardly surprising given all the apparent shenanigans of Serwotka and his chums.

I've always wondered why PCS never manages to keep an ally, this sad little tale shows why. Then there's the National Union of Teachers. Similar goings on there to I'm told.

PCS is clearly misled at every level. Time for change.

See also Sarah AB at: http://hurryupharry.org/2013/04/25/mccluskeys-divisive-comments-on-labour/

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

PCS National Elections: Janice’s report card

Guest Post by Willie Samuel

This morning I received a letter from Janice Godrich, National President of PCS, explaining why I should vote for her. It contains a few key claims reproduced on other key Left Unity national election addresses. It is worth examining the claims she makes for her ‘Democracy Alliance’ team. This is the sum total of what they’ve ‘achieved’ for PCS members. Their proud boast of ten achievements over a decade in power.

What is striking is how little they are able to claim to have done. I thought it would be fun to rate each one in turn. As there are ten, I’ve scored each out of ten to give a final score out of 100.

Let’s look at the claims one by one.

‘Negotiated a major national agreement on job protection that prevented thousands of compulsory redundancies.’

The agreement was (by my reckoning) about five years ago and was with the Labour Government. Within a short space of time there were complaints that actually nothing had been achieved. Moreover we are continually told by PCS that the civil service is being slashed because PCS membership is dropping. If all these jobs have really been saved, why is PCS membership down?

Score out of ten? 2
‘Campaigned hard against attacks on pensions and conditions’

Pension contributions have gone up twice in as many years.

Score out of ten? 0

‘Stopped Planned Privatisations’

Which ones? If you can’t name them it’s a 0 out of ten.

‘Stopped removal of paid sick leave’

This one was eight years ago when Gordon Brown (as Chancellor) floated the idea and withdrew it. What part PCS actually played is debatable. But let’s be charitable and give it 5 out of 10.

‘Won millions of pounds in compensation’

Impossible to measure this one, but lets be generous and give it full marks -10

‘Fully supported departmental disputes that have consistently won concessions’

Completely unmeasurable this one! No evidence at all, plenty evidence to the contrary. 3 out of ten.

‘Built a strong democratic, inclusive union.’

Try telling that to any activist who isn’t in Left Unity. Opposition is not encouraged. A generous 5 out of 10 for the sake of balance.

‘Successfully launched a PCS wide credit union’

The leadership were initially defeated (it doesn’t happen often) on their initial proposals at conference and forced to do this. However it happened so 10 out 10

‘Built unity with other unions including a major national cooperation agreement with UNITE, the biggest UK union’

Don’t make me laugh. PCS have appalling relations with other civil service unions, and have been consistently critical of other unions for not following their agenda. Merger with UNITE is only on the cards because of our desperate financial situation.

Only 2 out of ten (for the UNITE bit only).

‘Promoted an alternative to austerity which is supported throughout the union movement and beyond’

This ‘alternative’ is to borrow more and isn’t supported by the majority of unions. It has no credibility at all in the serious political arena.

0 out of ten for this.

A total score of 37%. If it wasn’t for the credit union and the fact that I’ve taken the claims to have won compensation at their word, it would be a derisory 17%.

Seriously, if this is all this lot have to show for nearly a decade in control, is it really worth it?

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Home Office PCS: How not to run a dispute!

Guest Post by Owen Dodd

Due to Home Office management indicating that some staff would lose pay for the whole day if they took a half day action on Friday 5th April. It was apparently decided at a Group Officers meeting (which some of the non-LU Officers were allegedly not informed about) that in response to this approach from Management, that escalation of the action was the way forward. 

The members who were potentially subject to this would be asked to sacrifice a whole days pay on Monday 8th instead whilst members in the Identity & Passport Service (IPS), the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and the Public Enquiry Office (PEO) parts of the Home Office would still take action on the 5th.
The only problem with this decision was that it was taken on Maundy Thursday which meant that the statutory notice had to be served that day as the next 2 weekdays in England and Wales were Bank Holidays.  Unfortunately, when Management threatened an injunction on Tuesday 2nd April it became apparent that this hadn't been done. 

The comrades in LU firstly blamed this on the courier taking the notice home and not delivering it until the Tuesday.  This seemingly changed to 'that the e-mail to the Permanent Secretary didn't get through' although it's been rumoured the correct reason was the mis-spelling of the name of the Head of Employee Relations.
Whatever the correct reason, another Officers meeting took place in the week after Easter (again, it appears that not all the Officers were informed of the meeting) at which the PCS response was supposed to be decided.  However when it was queried why the meeting was discussing 4 days of action, the response was that it was 'imaginative and innovative' action and, as Mark Serwotka had already announced that PCS members in the Home Office would be taking a week of action in w/c 15th April, then it had to be done.  

At some point it was also decided that IPS/DBS members would still be asked to take action on the 5th but PEO members would not, whilst members in Border Force would not be involved in any of the proposed action at the present time plus an 'Emergency Summit' of Branch Chairs and Secretaries to discuss 'Strategy' was to be arranged for 11th April and would be a tele-kit over 3 sessions.
On the 10th, members discovered via a PCS Briefing that it was proposed that action should now be taken over 4 days from 16th to 19th April with different areas taking action on each day - confusion started amongst reps and members.  

The 'Emergency Summit' appeared to have been overtaken by events but went ahead , well almost.  The first two sessions ran reasonably smoothly but the third one, which used exactly the same dial-in numbers as the first two, was abandoned because the Group President, Secretary, Organiser etc, couldn't connect to all the Chairs/Secretaries who had successfully dialled-in.  These things happen but it seems an odd co-incidence that the third session was the one that happened to have a large number of non-LU branches (who might have suggested changes to the strategy) trying to participate!

Confusion set in on the 10th when the strategy became public, and we understand PCS headquarters were inundated with queries around who was out/in on each day.  A briefing was issued on Friday 12th at 7:30pm, when obviously most reps had gone home. It was Monday (the day before the start of the action) before the lack of clarity became apparent when members and reps began querying which team was out when and why some areas weren't being asked to take action.  

Confusion reigned although Management probably helped at this point by publishing which team was out when on the Departmental Intranet!
Tuesday morning and another briefing from PCS for immediate circulation, the 3rd iteration of who was out when and still not entirely clear and reps who were out on the Tuesday had little chance of getting it circulated to members that they hadn't got home e-mail addresses for.
The above sorry tale of probably explains why the level of support on the Tuesday was about 35-40%, dipping to less than 20% on the Weds with some areas below 5% and then plummeting to about 15% on the Thurs before picking up to just over 20% again on the Friday.  The average over the four days seems to have been 20-25% which is not exactly an overwhelming endorsement of the strategy of the current LU leadership
A number of members have commented that, having caused confusion for both themselves and Management by the lack of clarity over who was supposed to be out on which day, 
PCS could have called the action off on Monday 15th having achieved the aim of disrupting the employers business and not cost our members another days pay.  

However, as one experienced rep explained, 'that wouldn't have achieved the LU measure of success i.e. having the strike!'

Monday, 22 April 2013

PCS Elections: A member in BIS writes

Guest Post by Rod West

If you were looking for a career would you consider the Civil Service? Me neither. Wages frozen, pensions more expensive and worth less and terms and conditions in the process of being decimated. Doesn’t sound good does it but the Government tell us it’s a good thing and makes for a better Civil Service.

You would think this would be the perfect time for PCS to ride to the rescue of the membership, but what has actually happened? The answer is not a lot. Despite the call to man the barricades 80% of members didn’t vote in the strike ballot and you have to ask yourself why in the most difficult situation members have faced apathy rules? I believe the answer is simple. The National Leadership of PCS is out of touch with the membership at large and seems to be hell bent on confrontation with the Government at any cost. This is bad enough but the really worrying thing is that the whole campaign is being influenced and co-ordinated by fringe political parties outside of the union with their own agenda.

The membership is being told that the leadership is doing a wonderful job in their defence, but the reality is they haven’t stopped the attacks on pensions, pay and terms and conditions. If any of us were doing our jobs as badly we would have been dismissed some time ago.

The PCS National Elections are now upon us and if PCS is to survive and be properly connected with the membership it needs to remove the outside influences and return to being a trade union and not the plaything of fringe extreme left parties. It’s time ordinary members took back control and the way to do that is by electing 4themembers candidates, a grouping of non-politically aligned members who will do their utmost to achieve negotiated settlements with the Government in the best interests of the membership.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

PCS Elections: A view from the HMRC

Guest Post by Andy Magee

Like all members around the country members in Revenue & Customs group feel constantly under threat regarding job security. Only recently it was announced that the national Enquiry Centre structure (where anyone can get advice & guidance) is under threat of closure. A decision will be made later in the year and reps. & members are working hard to keep the network open. However what the future holds for the members working in these sites is still not clear. Members have said if they can remove that type of service who or what is vital. Some other current issues of interest to PCS members are;

The new performance management system and being put into the bottom 10 to 25%

The ongoing pay freeze compared to the spiralling cost of living.

The review of Terms & Conditions.

Sick absence procedures that many view as punishing those who are unfortunate to be sick.

PCS within the group has taken action in line with the national campaigns strategy. The turn out by members in support of the action is disputed. Certainly there were some sites where 99% of members ignored the recent half day action and went into work (there were certainly others where those supporting the action was in the high %). In my opinion apathy has already started to grow amongst members. This is not unexpected as the disputes regarding pensions, the compensation scheme and pay have rumbled on for some time. But apathy has consequences;

As a rep. members constantly tell me that they feel a sense of despair after action has been taken as little seems to come from the centre of PCS outlining what the action actually achieved. Frustration perhaps is growing as a break through appears a long way off and members complain that in the vacuum created more and more issues are arising i.e. difficulty in getting leave, constant changing priorities.

As there has been little recruitment into Revenue & Customs union recruitment of members is getting more difficult and retention appears to be one of the main tasks. Members have had to become more frugal with their spending and with pay freezes and the higher cost of living the cost of the PCS subscription is being viewed by some as money they do not have. One member wrote to me recently stating;

After over 28 years as a Union member, it is with regret that I feel the need to resign from the Union.

At present times are tough for everyone and yet I see that PCS still continue to call for Industrial Action in the form of a strike. In my view this is only handing money back to the Government and I do not feel that this will achieve anything. The Government will steam ahead as can be seen already by the 1% pay deal up to 2015 plus we are already paying increased pension contributions.”

As a union we do need a breakthrough and to sell our achievements, but I also think we need a change and a more shared future. The National Executive Committee elections of PCS will shortly take place this gives all members the chance to change things by electing 4 the members candidates.

PCS Elections: Vote 4themembers!

The annual elections for the National Executive Committee of the PCS union have begun and members should be receiving their ballot papers over the next few days. It is important that every member takes the opportunity to have their say in this election, especially since so few actually do so.

Last year barely 11% of members took part and this is clearly not healthy for either the unions internal democracy or for the future of PCS itself.

The current leadership of PCS under Mark Serwotka and the Socialist Party (led by John McInally and Janice Godrich) have managed to leave the union in the weakest and most isolated position of any union in the country. 

Their policies have turned the union away from the political mainstream to the political fringe by aligning PCS with the far-left through policies such as "standing & supporting candidates" in Parliamentary elections, pushing for an (illegal) "General Strike" and proposing ill thought out disputes such as the one in the UKBA just before the Olympic games that handed the Tories an excuse on a plate to fundamentally undermine the unions through the virtual scrapping of trade union facilities in the civil service.

The far-left hide themselves behind a front organisation called the Democracy Alliance, which in reality represents anything but democracy. The group is dominated by the politics of the Socialist Party and its' allies including the Socialist Workers Party. PCS is used and abused for their political agenda.

There is a need for PCS to be returned urgently to the political mainstream not only within the trade union movement itself, but also in the wider labour movement. Members need a union that is both rational and responsive to its' members needs.

There is an alternative, the 4themembers group of candidates, an network of independent minded trade union activists who seek to put members first and rebuild the union so that it is able to engage with both the Government and the main opposition parties for the betterment of members interests.

4themembers priorities are to:

Defend jobs, and terms and conditions of service. 
Fair, equality proofed pay and progression for all within a national pay framework. Opposition to market facing (regional, local) pay.
Defend pensions.
Oppose privatisation and mutualisation.
Fair and adequate staffing, trained and supported to deliver services.
Ensure members are at the centre of the unions democratic design making.
Developing our unions structures to empower members, activists and groups to represent and campaign in our members interests.
A strong union that is financially sound.
Please vote for 4themembers candidates:

President: Di Breen (DWP)

Vice-Presidents: Rachel Barrowclough (DWP), Lynda Frankland Barber (HMRC), David Hunter (Scottish Government), Rod West (BIS)

NEC: Rachel Barrowclough (DWP), Di Breen (DWP, Rob Bryson (DWP),  Joe Cox (CSA),  Owen Dodd (UKBA), Lynda Frankland Barber (HMRC), Christine Galligan (DWP),  Martin Gault (HMRC ),  Hubert Gieschen (MMO), Ravi Kurup (HMRC), Howard Fuller (DWP), Gurmit Kang (DWP), David Hunter (Scottish Government), Andy Magee (HMRC), Winston Murray (FCO), Robert Mottershead (HMRC), James Reynolds (BIS), Willie Samuel (MyCSP), Rod West (BIS),Angie Withers (CSA)

Plus Independent: Jake Wilde (HMRC).

For more information on 4themembers please go to: http://www.4themembers.org.uk/index.html

Over the next few days there will be a number of articles on Howie's Corner from PCS activists across the PCS union.

Friday, 19 April 2013

"Will they won't they": a PCS - Unite merger

Last year there was some speculation and debate in the main civil service union PCS about the possibility of a merger with the Unite union. Since then it all went very quiet until now.

A Motion (A30) has appeared on the PCS Conference agenda from the National Executive Committee, which seems to indicate a merger is still on the cards, possibly.  Although there was a promise last year that the NEC would "report back", this seems to go a little further than that. For those of you who may not have seen the motion I have reproduced it in full below:

Conference welcomes the agreement signed with Unite at 
ADC 2011 and the passage of ADC 2012 of motion A72, 
noting that our unions share a commitment to fighting back
against the government’s unnecessary and damaging cuts, 
and to promoting a sustainable economic alternative based 
on tax justice and investment in jobs and public services.
Conference notes that nationally we have continued to 
build a mutually beneficial working relationship with Unite
on the TUC General Council and other bodies, including 
the civil service National Trade Union Committee – a close 
cooperation that has lead to greater influence on decision
making including the decision to organise a TUC demo in 
October 2012 in the face of the passivity of many other 

Conference notes that in the defence sector, Unite and 
PCS members have campaigned together including holding 
a joint lobby of Parliament over cuts; that in the commercial 
sector joint campaigning and organising has taken place at 
a number of companies, including Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard, 
Atos, Steria and Capita; that in the English Regions and 
Devolved Nations we have worked together on anti-fascism 
initiatives, community projects, joint training, and campaign 
events. In a number of areas we have offered and received 
solidarity during disputes and attended each other’s picket 

Conference notes the joint 2012 PCS/Unite survey of
members finances and case studies of individuals affected
by the government pay and pension policy. Data from the 
survey has been used to show the effect that austerity pay 
policies are having on members. Conference welcomes the 
launch of the ‘68 is too late’ campaign, jointly with Unite 
and NUT, in May 2012 and notes that it is now supported 
by ten other unions – as well as the National Union of 
Students and National Pensioners’ Convention. This unity 
resulted in TUC Congress endorsing the campaign against 
the rising state pension age.

Conference further welcomes the joint working with 
Unite in campaigning over welfare. Working with Unite’s 
community membership, we are highlighting the impacts 
of welfare cuts on claimants as well as PCS members both 
administering and claiming benefits themselves.
Conference also endorses the decision to be a founder 
member of the Class think-tank, alongside Unite and other 
unions, to create and popularise alternative policies to the 
tired Westminster consensus.

Conference believes that the agreement with Unite 
has produced excellent results so far. Joint working has 
undoubtedly strengthened our ability to campaign to 
defend members’ pay, pensions and conditions.

Conference notes that A72 carried at ADC 2012 
instructed the NEC to explore with Unite how the 
relationship between our two unions can be developed 
further to the benefit of PCS members and the wider
trade union movement. In that context, the possibility of 
merger between PCS and Unite may be raised by Unite. 
Such a development would give rise to fundamentally 
important strategic questions for the union, such as political 
representation and lay member democracy, and must be 
considered with great caution.

It is possible that a merged union could create a new, 
powerful force for fighting back trade unionism in the
public sector capable of shifting the current passive 
approach of other unions which led to the squandering of 
the momentum generated by the joint union action over 
pensions on 30 November 2011.

A merged union could create a new type of union 
capable of bridging the public/private divide, increasing the
bargaining power of members in both sectors.
In general, a merged union could potentially greatly 
strengthen the independent, progressive political 
campaigning work successfully carried out by PCS over a 
number of years.

Conference therefore agrees that, if approached by 
Unite, the NEC is authorised to open discussions on merger. 
In order that the potential benefits of merger, as outlined
in this motion, are fully explored, Conference instructs 
the NEC that such a discussion must be conducted in 
a transparent and democratic manner which fully takes 
into account the principles which have underpinned our 
success in building PCS as a campaigning union: lay-led 
democracy and membership participation, strong workplace 
organisation and a clear commitment to equality. We 
further resolve that any decision to proceed with merger is 
made by an annual or special delegate conference followed 
by a full membership ballot.

Conference believes that, ultimately, the test to be 
applied to any merger proposals is the extent to which they 
can assist our members in fighting to defend their jobs,
pensions, pay and public services against the Tory/Lib Dem
government’s brutal and damaging cuts programme.

It occurs to me whether the recent (and very early election) for General Secretary in Unite, may have been influenced by the possibility of a such a merger with Len McCluskey wanting to be in firm control if it took place. Whilst Mark Serwotka will probably retire after his current third stint as PCS General Secretary, the influx of the far-left could pose a threat, especially with the larger than expected vote for Jerry Hicks, the indigenous trotskyist candidate in Unite.

Just speculation I know but......

As for the question of the merger itself, there seems to be no demand for it on the ground in PCS, but although sections of the far-left may favour such a merger it is not going to be quite clear cut. There are those even amongst more moderate PCS reps who may not be averse to a merger, especially those who are more Labour Party orientated.

Howver they may not get quite what they want with the thinking behind the motion which is quite clearly in favour of turning the merged union into a formation that would challenge the "passivity" of other unions. For "passivity" I would read "realism" because the PCS leadership just isn't on planet Earth these days. I'd say the Socialist Party is seeking to grab an opportunity to extend their influence rather than considering the needs of either unions members.

That's what they do.

Some PCS NEC members appear to be "ambivalent" on the issue as Ian Albert of the PCS Democrats recently wrote to me:

In terms of PCSD, our position is, as with any approach from another TUC affiliate be it Unite, Unison or Prospect etc, is to consider whether are overall positive benefits for members in the round which outweigh any disadvantages identified. PCS is a product of unions coming together so situations and organisations evolve. Independence and political neutrality will be key considerations alongside membership democracy to name but three.

Any outcomes would be considered by Conference and subject to overriding decision and ultimate authority of a membership ballot.

Personally I would prefer PCS to remain an independent civil service orientated union, despite there being sections who belong to "privatised" and "outsourced" sections. 

At the moment I would not consider the issue of a merger with Unite to be a priority issue for anybody, but clearly any moves towards one must be open to scrutiny by reps and members.

In the mean time we must all remain vigilant towards the growing threat of the far-left in both unions. Their sectarian posturing has already wrecked PCS and could damage the wider trade union and Labour movement if it goes unchecked.