Sunday 6 April 2014

PCS/Unite Merger: Serwotka has run PCS into the ground

Guest Post by Hubert Gieschen

I am writing this as a concerned member of PCS who has been bewildered for years by the discrepancy between the big rhetoric of PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka and the poor record of PCS in defending jobs and terms and conditions since the Coalition Government took over in 2010. The changes government is imposing across many parts of the civil service to end the check-off of union dues from the salary so that PCS is having to ask members to set up direct debit instructions, shows clearly that PCS is no longer being taken seriously. It will also lose PCS a lot of money.

In 2013 PCS Annual conference voted for a motion by its National Executive Committee (NEC) in support of merger talks with Unite. So, that's great news isn't it? PCS members will be part of Britain’s largest union, Unite and have a stronger voice and better chances of winning industrial disputes. But does PCS really have a choice or is it forced to seek the Unite umbrella and is it the right one?

In the main PCS represents workers in the civil service and ex-civil service like non-departmental public bodies (like my employer the Marine Management Organisation) and organisations outsourced from the civil service. Membership has been declining to a quarter of a million. In contrast, between 2007 and 2010 Unite had lost more members than PCS still has and Unite still has more than a million members.

The Independent reported on 9 March 2014 that PCS has a £65.5 million deficit on two of its pension schemes which is more than double its annual income. Yes, we are talking about the same union that has sent its members out like cannon fodder in a number of one-day strikes over the government's plans to male civil servants pay more into the pension pot for less in old age.

So, while Mark Serwotka's £80k annual salary should give him a decent pension full-time staff at PCS would need to work 45 years before they get half their salary in retirement according to The Independent. PCS is offerings its staff worse pension terms than the Government offers civil servants. Mark Serwotka really has run the ship into the ground. Why am I thinking of the bankers, those who squandered the assets and then needed a bailout?

Is Mark Serwotka desperate or has he simply run out of options. I remember hearing him say from the rostrum of a previous annual PCS conference that while he is General Secretary there will be no affiliation to the Labour Party. Mark Serwotka personally has steered the Make Your Vote Count Campaign towards political campaigning by PCS with the option of now of putting PCS money to fund non-Labour candidates in general elections.

In spite of its dire financial straits the PCS leadership can waste money on candidates nobody wants to vote for. Or perhaps PCS is turning itself into a historical re-enactment society at the time of the October Revolution in 1917s Russia. Going by previous attempts to fund Lenin's heirs electorally the votes received were at the 1% level as in the last European Elections with No to EU – Yes to Democracy.”It received less votes than the RMT union had members even though the late Bob Crow threw his full support behind it.

Mark Serwotka has always fancied himself as a political leader in waiting. But with PCS effectively dominated by the old Labour Militants now called the Socialist Party and to a lesser extent their allies in the SWP he has little impact outside the comfort of PCS.

Equally, Unite's Len McCluskey threat to Ed Miliband to withdrew support for Labour if he does not win the 2015 general election shows McCluskey's powerlessness. If Ed Miliband wins, Unite will be less influential. If Labour loses and he thinks that financing the heirs of Lenin against the Labour Party will bring about a change in his preferred direction, then he should remember the fate of the Socialist Labour Party under Arthur Scargill. It keeps losing its deposits.

What both Mark Serwotka and Len McCluskey seem to ignore is that their members vote as they want in general elections not as they are told the way they do in the North Korean Democratic People's Monarchy.

I had always thought that the merger was impossible while Unite maintains its affiliation to Labour. Perhaps we are seeing the first signs of a wiggling out of the conundrum by claiming to be a left alternative to Labour.

I should say that I am not a Labour supporter. I am democratic socialist. Labour lacks the courage of its conviction and eyes too much support from the rich rather than trying to persuade the population to take on the Tory policies. I believe public transport is on the whole best served by public ownership with democratic control mechanisms. But Mark and Len are too tolerant of political systems like Cuba where workers are expected to do what the Communist Party tells them. Incidentally Cuba has a government that has systematically run down public services like public transport and housing. Therefore Mark and Len have no moral claim to be an alternative.

The interests of PCS members cannot be best served by merging with a predominantly private sector union with very low organisational figures whereas in the public sector membership stands nearer two-thirds. Why would struggling Unite private sector members want to fund public sector workers defending rights that private sector workers still need to acquire. A more logical merger option for PCS would be with the largest public sector organisation Unison. That however, would not give Mark Serwotka the opportunity to pursue his Leninist dreams now that he has run PCS financially into the ground.

I oppose the Unite PCS merger as not serving either PCS or Unite members. I would theoretically consider a merger with Unison but that is far too early and conditions are not there yet. In any case the PCS leadership needs to be taken out of the cockpit so that we what we can salvage our union. In the worst case scenario we may even have to set up a new union.

Hubert Gieschen is standing for the PCS National Executive Committee in the elections that start later this month.


  1. I too do not support a Unite Union merger or Takeover. I have put this in my hustings as a main aim if I am elected to the NEC. As a Labour party Member it may seem strange I do not want PCS join Unite considering it's ties with the Labour Party. However that would be selfish of me to put the party before the union. I think PCS can despite it's pension pot problems be an active and independent union under the banner of the TUC. The only way we can bring the union back into the mainstream is to elect people like Hubert Gieschen and myself and others in 4themembers (4TM) and independents like Mr Owen Dodd and others.

    This could be one of the very few chances PCS has left to stay independent so we need to vote in the NEC elections and the Group Elections which in HMRC I am standing under the 4TM banner some are standing as Independents however I can work with these independents and have listed them in my group Hustings.

    We need to vote or face losing our Union for good.

  2. I must admit that I struggle with the logic of the positions of many people on this. The fact is that PCS is completely ineffective. It has long relied to much on the generousity of management. Firstly to allow literally dozens of civil servants full time facilities. This masked the basic ineffectiveness of full time officers who have the right politics but no ability. Secondly to provide an income stream via check off of union contributions from payroll. The removal of both has placed PCS on marked time.

    The response of the General Secretary has been to reduce support to lay activists and to insist full time officers spend their time 'campaigning'. The fact is thatit is all many of them are fit for. They are incapable of developing relationships with management and building membership confidence.

    It is only by doing these things that you win pay rises, protect pensions and maintain terms and condtions. PCS has therefore failed at all of these.

    Against this background, people argue for the status quo. Unbeliveable. Forget UNISON. They dont want our Trots. All that is on offer is UNITE. Our Trots believe that they have an opportunity to play on a bigger stage. To create a sizable Militant (with a big M!) trade union and increase their influence within the TUC.

    Perhaps they will. But any change or shake up MIGHT (just MIGHT) bring an end to stagnation of PCS over the past 10 years. Frankly it couldn't get any worse.