ACTIVISTS IN the PCS civil servants' union are preparing for a key battle in their union. The union is set to ballot all its members in February about introducing annual national executive elections and conferences. If this is voted through it will massively increase democracy in the union. Socialist Mark Serwotka won the election for general secretary of the PCS in December 2000.
The PCS national leadership was, and still is, dominated by a right wing faction misnamed 'the Moderates'. The Moderates are an undemocratic pro-US, pro-NATO faction who have stifled any attempts by union members to fight back. They, led by outgoing general secretary Barry Reamsbottom, attempted a coup against Serwotka. A hugely successful grassroots rebellion stopped their plans.
The right are terrified that annual elections and conferences will lead to them being kicked out of office. So, while the NEC are allowing the ballot to take place, they are recommending that union members reject the proposals. 'This is a very important ballot,' Mark Serwotka told Socialist Worker.
'These are policy commitments I made when I stood for election. The more the regular leadership is held to account the better. For the PCS it's critical. It's a chance to oust the right wing leadership and stop them continuing their moves towards legal action against me. If the ballot is won there'll be immediate elections. A failure to win means they will stay in their posts. We're all geared up to fight for a national pay campaign. That will be far more likely without a right wing national executive. This is a vital chance for members to take control of the union.'
'The PCS conference last year overwhelmingly voted in favour of annual conferences and elections,' says Steve Cawkwell, PCS vice-president. 'The vote will be seen as a test of what people think of what the right wing did last summer-they tried to get rid of the elected general secretary. We're the people who stood up for democracy and Mark Serwotka-and we're doing it now. 'If we win it's a massive blow to the right wing. If we lose it's a setback for the left.'
In an attempt to retain some kind of hold on the union the Moderates have put forward a third question on the ballot.
This will allow the PCS taxation group, traditionally dominated by the right in the union, to have ten seats on the national executive. 'It's a clear political fix,' says Steve. 'The Inland Revenue has 55,000 members, the Department for Work and Pensions 90,000. Why do they not get reserved seats? People should vote no to this question.'
Around the country activists are already preparing to launch a mass campaign around the ballot. 'We can win this campaign easily if we go out to the members,' says Sue Bond, a PCS activist in Manchester. The Moderates are so discredited. It's obvious why they don't want annual conferences and elections. We need a real campaign. That means getting leaflets out arguing why people should vote yes and making sure the issues are discussed in workplaces.'
'My branch proposed the motion calling for the PCS to have annual national executive elections,' says Paul Murphy, a PCS activist in north London. 'I'm glad we're finally getting round to having a ballot on it. 'It's essential. The shenanigans of Barry Reamsbottom and his cronies show why we need more democracy in the union.
'We need a democratic, fighting union that functions effectively in the face of a hostile management. Where I work, in the Department of Work and Pensions, management are sacking reps and want to get rid of 19,000 jobs by 2006. In our campaign, as well as having the arguments in our workplaces, we have to go out to less well organised branches and argue with them why they should vote for more democracy. Everything's at stake.'
THE LONDON Regional Committee of the Department of Work and Pensions has overwhelmingly voted to ballot all local social security offices and job centres in London for strike action. This is a significant step forward to defend victimised PCS branch secretary Chris Ford.
Chris is threatened with the sack for his role in supporting members in the recent dispute over safety in the government's JobCentre Plus.