The PCS union has committed to use the final weeks before the general election to campaign against austerity and racism.
Delegates at its annual conference in Brighton yesterday, Wednesday, overwhelmingly backed a motion calling the election “an opportunity to step up our campaigning, nationally and locally, on public sector pay, job cuts and office closures and to campaign against racism, the scapegoating of immigrants and Islamophobia”.
It also welcomed the election of candidates supporting Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s policies.
Along with discussing industrial strategy (see below), the conference debated how best to kick out the Tories.
General secretary Mark Serwotka said campaigning could help Corbyn to win the election.
He added that the PCS had already stepped up its campaigning, pointing to the rolling strikes in the Equality and Human Rights Commission and planned strikes at a Sheffield job centre.
Serwotka said, “We can all agree that we do not want Theresa May to be the prime minister when we wake up on 9 June. There’s only one person who can be an alternative to Theresa May in this election and that is Jeremy Corbyn.
“We have the clearest choice in any general election in this country for decades. Our intervention should be to ensure that our members understand that choice.”
Some delegates opposed the motion because it didn’t say the PCS should explicitly call for a Labour vote. PCS is not affiliated to the Labour Party.
Many felt that telling PCS members to vote Labour was the most effective thing the union could do.
Another motion that was passed said the PCS should support to Labour candidates and write to members explaining how they would benefit from Labour’s manifesto.
Annette Wright from HMRC Greater Manchester said the PCS should have “a different approach to when we go back to our workplaces.
“We can go back and campaign for our policies, which is what we should be doing anyway. Or we can go back and ask our members to vote Labour, and ask them to ask their families to vote Labour.”
Andy Robinson from West Sussex DWP argued for PCS to send its members out canvassing.
“What we could have is nearly every delegate in this room out on the doorstep knocking on doors for Labour candidates,” he said. “That’s what’s going to make the difference”.
But other delegates said building campaigns against austerity would make the biggest difference.
Steve Collington from DFT East Midland said, “The narrative has to shift if June is to be the end of May. We have a role to play in that.”
And Pete Jackson from DWP West Midlands called on PCS reps to “get our members out onto the streets helping to create an insurgent mood in favour of Corbyn.”
“There’s a feeling that ordinary people are rising up and we’re going to take back what’s ours off the Tories and their fat cat friends.
“One of the great things we have done recently is the day of action we had when we launched the pay campaign when he had protests outside our workplaces.
"This side of the election let’s do that again. Let’s take it out onto the streets.”
Could coordinated strikes be looming?
Decisions at PCS conference this week paved the way for battles over job cuts, office closures and pay.
The conference passed a motion calling on the union to organise and coordinate industrial action against job cuts and office closures “where there is a willingness among members to take such action.”
Another motion committed the union to encourage more members to contribute to the PCS fighting fund to prepare for the battles ahead.
Workers in both HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) face job losses at hundreds of offices earmarked for closure.
Dave Owens from DWP North Merseyside praised the political campaigns against office closures and job cuts. He said the motion pointed towards “the kind of coordinated action we need to beat these attacks.”
Some activists worry that new anti-union laws and previous Tory attacks on the PCS will make action difficult without a campaign to strengthen branches first.
The motion said that “for industrial action campaigns to be successful we must continue to build our organisational capacity.”
It said the union had to “focus on workplace organisation in order to build union dominated workplaces capable of being mobilised”.
But Kate Douglas from the DWP Bucks and Oxon said the best way to build the union was by organising action. “We know from experience that when we fight we grow,” she told the conference.
“We have to put ourselves on a war footing. If the Tories are elected we will need to escalate our fightback as we know they will escalate their attacks.”
Workers at the Eastern Avenue job centre in Sheffield are leading the way in the fight against closures, with a strike planned for Thursday of next week.
The conference passed a motion supporting the strike. Steve West from the DWP Edinburgh, Lothian and Borders said the strikers “deserve every ounce of support we can offer them”.
PCS conference also agreed to fight for the end of the public sector pay cap, and coordinate campaigns across branches “to maximise the impact of any campaigns or industrial action”.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka called on other public sector unions to join the PCS campaign launched earlier this year to end the pay cap.
He said PCS activists had to “agitate and build confidence among our members that we can fight.
“We may have to very quickly encourage our members to deliver an industrial action ballot”.