I’ve just experienced 5 days that started 35 years ago! I know it doesn’t make sense, the long explanation is here!
The short explanation is that I joined the old CPSA Broad Left when it became an open organisation back in 1977, and the hard work done by me and others has made it possible to get the PCS Union to where it is today.
The role of PCS in the wider movement
Remember the March 26th march last year? Pressure from PCS had a decisive part in that. Remember 30th June strike of Civil Servants and Teachers? PCS had a big part in that, too, which led to the huge public sector strike on 30th November last year. That was massive, and represented a high point in the history of the British trade union movement. However, by 19th December, many unions had dropped their collective bottle, and signed up to a so-called “heads of agreement” – which actually included nothing that wasn’t already on the table before 30th November. PCS has continued to try to build an alliance of unions determined to fight on, and is succeeding. We were taken by surprise when the NUT pulled out of March 28th action, and we decided not to go ahead on that date, but found allies and took action with them on May 10th. The NUT decision may have a profound effect on that union, as representatives have turned on those NEC members who decided not to go out that day.
Building alliances to win
The first debate at the PCS National Conference really centred around two motions, one of which supported the PCS existing policy of building alliances with other unions, and one which was prepared to go it alone. I think that it’s a measure of the patience of the people in Left Unity, the understanding that it’s a war of attrition, and also the maturity of most delegates who supported that line, that the PCS wasn’t pushed off course. However, on the last session of conference, there was a motion which said that our disputes over pay and pensions are industrial, not political, but this motion failed to win support of a single branch other than the mover of the motion. And rightly so, because the decisions are being made in government, and they are political decisions, and if we’re not prepared to fight them accordingly, then we haven’t a chance.
Although everyone opposed that motion about it being purely industrial, the “go-it-alone” tactic is, in my view, treating the whole thing as purely an industrial dispute. It’s a shame that the people pushing the go-it-alone tactic can’t make the connection. Opposing what this government is doing, is taking on the entire austerity program, so, yes, it’s industrial but it’s political too. There is no way around that. Taking on the entire establishment means we need an alliance. By involving other unions in an alliance, I think it also puts pressure on those union leaderships that are trying to throw in the towel. So it is right to continue to build alliances as part of the action against the attacks on our pensions and the rest of the austerity program.
Supporting election candidates
Another plank of PCS policy concerns running candidates in elections. We’re not a political party, and we won’t be standing as such. But, imagine an election is taking place, a by-election, or at the general election, in the Health Minister’s constituency, and an anti-NHS-cuts campaigner is standing as an independent, or some other community campaigner whose policies, and therefore whose election, are in our interests. Should we stay out of it? PCS believes not. Nor we are not affiliated to Labour, or any other party, but if a local campaign is in our interest, we need to support it. None of the three main parties are taking the side of working people, and I think that it’s a good idea to get involved if there’s a worthwhile campaign going on in a particular area. We won’t be running/supporting/sponsoring candidates everywhere, just a few selected ones, aiming to embarrass ministers, etc. This wouldn’t be necessary except that all three main parties are supporting austerity.
Greece and European Austerity
We heard a speaker from Greece, and discussed the crisis. There, as here, it was not of the making of working people. Despite all the nonsense in the press, in fact the government had been taking advice from a leading finance company (said to be Goldman-Sachs) on how to hide their debts, but in the end the chickens came home to roost. The Greek people, in opposing austerity, are fighting for all of us. The austerity program is being pushed across Europe, and if they get away with what they are doing there, the rest of us will follow. It’s not right that working people are blamed for the failings of the bankers and the super-rich.
Of course the conference discussed many other things. Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen, killed by racist thugs, addressed the conference. We discussed domestic violence, we discussed many issues that were “bread and butter” across all of us, not just individual departments, for us in DWP, they were discussed in a separate “group” conference on Monday and Tuesday. Taking the week as a whole, convinced me that the vast majority of reps support the program, policies, tactics and strategy of the union. I am convinced that no union comes close to ours in terms of its activity, its strategies, and the determination of both leaders and lay reps to pull together and take the union forward. It was inspiring, the best conference I have ever been to in all my time as an activist in PCS and CPSA. A unified, fighting conference. Now let’s take our decisions back to the Branches and get them acted upon!