Socialist Worker

PCS set to announce dates of national strike ballot

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2606

PCS members voted for a national strike ballot at their conference this week

PCS members voted for a national strike ballot at their conference this week (Pic: Socialist Worker)


The PCS union was expected to announce the dates of a national strike ballot over pay on Friday. 

It follows a vote at the PCS union’s conference in Brighton on Tuesday. The conference closed on Thursday.

Delegates at the conference voted overwhelmingly for a national strike ballot to break the 1 percent pay cap. Workers in government departments have suffered a pay freeze or 1 percent increases—well below inflation—for some eight years.

Moving the motion, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said it was time for the PCS to take action without waiting for other public sector unions to join in.

“We have tried for years to persuade other unions to take action with us and we haven’t been successful,” he said.

“Do we stand and wait for them to change their minds or do we seize the moment now?”

Now the fight is on to get a resounding yes vote in the strike ballot—and a turnout that beats the 50 percent threshold.

At a fringe meeting organised by Serwotka following the vote, PCS activists shared ideas about how to get the best result.

Many said it’s crucial to involve as many members as possible in the campaign. Jenny Pollard from DWP Lancashire said, “Everyone in our branch is an organiser”.

And Candy Udwin from the National Gallery branch said, “We’ve got to try and unleash the potential. We’ve got to involve our members and we have to train up a new layer of activists.”

Others shared lessons from a campaign to win a yes vote in an indicative ballot last year.

Support

Andrea from DVLA Swansea suggested leafletting desks to pick up new members and activists.

Pete Jackson told how a town committee of PCS activists in Birmingham had helped them to “locate the offices that need the most support” getting the vote out.

And Sarah Ensor from Manchester told the conference how activists there planned “a city-wide pay rally”.

Serwotka told the conference the ballot was about “action that is not about protesting but action that is not winning

He said that—following pay debates in group conferences—the government’s cabinet office had already written to him asking to discuss the PCS’s pay claim after weeks of ignoring the union.

But he also said he hoped that a strong ballot result could give the union “leverage” in talks.

He told the fringe meeting, “They don’t think we break the 50 percent threshold. If we break it, let’s hope they see sense and do the right thing”.

The conference also overwhelmingly passed a motion saying the union should “be clear to members and employers that action will not be stayed for mere talks.”

But it also said the union should “avoid calling a ballot with little notice.”

Now the fight is on to get a resounding yes vote in the strike ballot—and a turnout that beats the 50 percent threshold.

Tim Megone from Government Legal branch said, “I would caution against us rushing into a mad scramble to ballot on a constricted timetable.

This is not a counsel of despair. This is all about scrambling over that 50 percent threshold the statutory ballot requires.”

Serwotka also told the conference that the union would consult members on striking again if talks fail—and my look to “targeted” action involving only some sections.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Yet other speakers said action should be sooner, if not immediately after the result.

Phil Dickens from Bootle Taxes branch said, “We’ve seen when PCS has one consultations in the past is that this can drag out quite a long time with nothing really happening at the end of it.

“We’ve also seen quite a long gap between where we are now and the consultative ballot that’s just gone. Members were asking when we’re going to go on strike over pay."

And Pete Edwards from Department for Transport Wales said, “Members have had enough of pay restraint and want to see a fight from their trade union. Let’s smash the thresholds.

“But I want to go further. If we win, we need to take action urgently."

Kate Douglas from DWP Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire said, “A lesson we can learn from the UCU is that we should call for action and a series of strikes not just for one day as soon as we get the result."


Conference debates campaign to stop closures

PCS members debated the campaigns against office closures and job cuts in HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

In a sign of anger at office closures across the civil service, delegates at the full PCS conference overwhelmingly passed a motion censuring the union’s national executive committee “for the lack of a national campaign to stop office closures”.

The motion called for a united campaign of HMRC and DWP workers against office closures.

Tim Crumpton from R&C West Mercia branch, who moved the motion, told the conference, “We’ve got too many office closures not just in HMRC but in other parts of our union.”

And he pointed to PCS policy that said the union would launch national strikes in the event of compulsory redundancies.

He said, “I thought that the minute the first compulsory redundancy notices came through the door we were all out.”

DWP workers have struck against office and jobcentre closures at a number of sites over the past 12 months. They include a benefits centre in Plymouth, where two workers face compulsory redundancy.

Delegates at the DWP group conference overwhelmingly passed a motion in defence of the two workers, and supporting local and national industrial action.

Earmarked

Jerry Crowley, from DWP Devon branch pointed out that the Plymouth office is just one of a number of DWP offices earmarked for closure in the future.

“This is the thin end of the wedge really,” he said. “If a precedent is set where the department can get rid of two people of compulsory terms, if we cannot resist this and save these two members, then I don’t know what we’re about. I’m sure we can do it.”

And Saorsa Tweedale from DWP Bradford branch linked the redundancies to the wider attacks faced by DWP workers—including increased working hours and the drive to push through the Universal Credit benefit.

She said the union’s DWP group executive committee “Really need to stitch together everything that is happening here.

“We need to prepare. I’m very pleased that this motion says we need to consider industrial action—yes we should. If we back away from defending these two members, next time it’s your members. We have to fight this.”


Delegates pass motion criticising Tory delay over Gender Recognition Act

Delegates at the PCS union conference near-unanimously passed a motion on Wednesday expressing “dismay” at the government’s delay of the Gender Recognition Act. The act allows trans people to legally change their gender without medical checks.

One branch called for the motion to be remitted. A speaker from MoJ Manchester said the union should consult its members. He suggested the right to self-identify could clash with women’s rights.

He also said, “This is going too far too fast. What is to stop white people choosing to self-define as black?”

But one delegate said, “It’s disgusting that there are groups out there linking the right of trans people to live their lives with violence against women. We want to see that we are on the right side of history.”

And rejecting calls to remit, the motion’s proposer said, “It’s false to try and paint the picture that members are not on board with the gender recognition act’s aims.

“This motion is for all members to be on board with to support trans and non-binary comrades”.


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