Delegates to the annual conference of the PCS civil service workers’ union voted today (Wednesday) for more strikes over pensions if other unions strike with them.
But there was also a serious tactical debate over whether the union should name a strike date now, or wait for other unions to agree to join the action.
The conference passed a motion committing the national executive committee (NEC) to push for a strike at the end of June. This would be “with as many unions as possible and to take final decisions once the position of other unions becomes clear”.
Moving the motion, union general secretary Mark Serwotka said, “Our response on pensions has been magnificent, leading the way on 30 June, 30 November and 10 May.
“If we don’t win on pensions, the attacks will intensify. But we are seeing the beginning of the turning of the tide.”
But he went on to argue that the withdrawal of some other unions from taking action had affected the struggle. “The brutal reality is when unions like Unison pull the plug, we have to deal with the consequences,” he said.
Delegates were united over the need for more strikes, and the motion was heavily supported. But there was disagreement over whether PCS should strike even if other unions fail to join it.
Many agreed with the NEC’s argument that striking alone would be detrimental. But a number of delegates felt that making sure a strike happens can build pressure on other unions to get involved.
One delegate, Rebecca Allen, said, “Members across the unions have shown absolutely clearly that they want to fight, and we should give a lead and call a strike.
“Let’s strike in June, but let’s also do what we can now to make sure that when we’re asked ‘will Unison join us?’ we can say ‘yes’.”
But Kat Boyd from Glasgow Benefits branch disagreed. “If we take action alone we’ll be that person standing alone throwing rocks into a vast ocean,” she argued.
The significance of the pensions fight was described by Anna Owens from Euston Tower Revenue and Customs branch. “The dispute refuses to go away,” she said. “We’ve seen the return of the mass strike to Britain.”
But she added that the solidarity built up in 2011 was “undermined” by the decision not to strike on 28 March.
“We proved that by taking action we pulled other unions behind us—we need to use the same tactic again.”
Serwotka spoke again to close the debate, which he described as “excellent”.
He assured delegates that “all of the points—on rolling action, on two-day strikes—are included in the NEC’s plan for what to consider in taking action forward.
“It’s now about rebuilding and continuing the campaign on an escalating basis.”
But he added, “To win in this dispute, we need to fight with other unions alongside us. Let’s have a massive strike in June with other unions.”
Delegate Tim Megone told Socialist Worker that the debate had shown “a good display of unity”.
He added, “The difficulty is that we don’t have a plan B if other unions don’t say they will strike in June.”
Another delegate, Kenny Walton, said, “We need to be building up the strike action. If we announced one, two, three, four, or five days of strikes it would scare the government.
“And when we take action like that we’ll win this dispute.”
Other motions, calling for a two-day strike and a strike even if other unions did not join in, were knocked off the agenda by the NEC motion.