Tuesday, 20 May 2014

PCS: A conference for activists not members

Annual conference 2014 logo

The main civil service union PCS opened what may well turn out to be its last ever conference this afternoon with what the official website describes as an "overwhelming vote" for joint action with other unions over pay. They report:

The union has an existing industrial action mandate but will consult its quarter of a million members ahead of any co-ordinated action, expected to start in July.

Alongside any co-ordinated strikes, the union will also plan a campaign of sustained targeted industrial action in the civil service and is calling on ministers and senior officials to hold genuine negotiations.

Now whilst most, if not all members would welcome a decent pay rise after all these years of pay constraint there are signs of members "disengaging" with the union. The recent NEC elections saw the lowest ever vote and participation in both of the largest groups within the union (the DWP and HMRC) plummeted further.

In the case of the HMRC the latest of the left factions Your Voice tells us that:

This year, there were 44 candidates for the GEC compared to 35 last year. Yet the turnout in the ballot dropped from 16% to 13%.

Lorna Merry got 267 less votes this year and ended up as President. Margi Rathbone got 1,071 less votes and still retains the Deputy Group Secretary position. Hamish Drummond was the top polling Assistant Group Secretary this year with 3,088 which would not have got an AGS position in 2013 despite there being one more position available. This year’s top polling ordinary GEC candidate got 2,805 votes, whilst last year’s got 4,018 and last year’s bottom polling elected candidate would have topped the list this year.

The comrades try to blame this on postal voting and go on to report the outcome of the HMRC ballot for industrial action in their conference circular Red Revenue:

THE RESULTS ARE IN. The Jobs & Staffing ballot has returned a result of 54.65% for strike action and 76.86% for action short of a strike. Now we have a mandate for action,the key debate is how we use it.

Actually 54% may sound "good" but is hardly overwhelming and what they don't tell you is the actual turnout, even in the official return. There are around 50,000 members in the HMRC. The number of people voting for industrial action was just 7,730 with 5,978 being against. Forget percentages that isn't a particularly good result especially with the vast majority (around 37,000 members) not even bothering to vote.

Of course with confusion reigning over the future of the union itself members may remain uninspired by the Socialist Party leadership. In fact at the moment it certainly is SPEW that is in control. Mark Serwotka is recovering from a serious operation in hospital and will not be back at work for some months so the person nominally in charge is the totally useless Chris Baugh, Assistant General Secretary.

Without a doubt Madame Godrich, the PCS President will be wearing the proverbial trousers in Falcon Road along with "Mr Fix it", John McInally a senior Socialist Party cadre who is also Vice President of the union.

Mark did send a message to conference about the merger and asked delegates to:

 ..look coolly at the facts and to keep our focus on a straightforward question – could joining together with Unite create a new force bringing together workers across the public sector and lead to a greater fight back against austerity?

The controversy surrounding the so called merger (its actually a takeover) will get an airing first thing tomorrow morning. With the PCS Democrats sitting on the fence as usual, it will be up to delegates from the floor of conference to question the motivation behind the merger.

After all PCS is still the sixth largest union affiliated to the TUC and we have been re-assured that our finances (despite the pensions deficit) are sound. There is no reason therefore that independent representation of civil servants should be subsumed into Unite is there?

Or is this just a move by the Socialist Party to move its resources into one project, that of breaking Unite from the Labour Party in favour of its over bloated and minuscule electoral front, the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition?

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