SWP members in the PCS union statement on the PCS LU AGS election
The announcement of the PCS Left Unity election campaign between two Socialist Party members Chris Baugh, backed by the Socialist Party, and Janice Godrich, backed by Mark Serwotka, was initially marked more by acrimony than clarity.
What is needed instead is a political debate about how to build our union in the current political period. The SWP have met both candidates and have argued the election should be run on a vision for the kind of union we want rather than allegations and counter-claims which do nothing to build the left in the union.
Building on the Pay Ballot
The recent PCS pay campaign shows the huge potential for a serious fight against this government and for rebuilding the activist base in the union. Despite missing the ballot threshold, activists threw themselves into breaking new ground in our offices, branches and groups.
The union now faces an urgent task to keep up this momentum and to build up our strength, overcoming the unevenness by using our stronger areas to rebuild where we are weaker.
We should go all out to try for action over this year’s pay within groups and bargaining units. The MOJ group are recommending rejection of their 5 year pay deal which includes a significant onslaught on terms and conditions. HMRC and others face similar attacks and there are areas such as DVSA that could develop an industrial dispute over pay. If this happens the whole union should be involved in organising solidarity.
There also continue to be local campaigns over office closures that need to have widespread backing that should be part of a national strategy.
It is right that we signal our intention to ballot over pay next year and start preparing now. Key will be involving lay activists at every stage, building on the process of setting up and reinvigorating town committees and drawing in new people into every part of the union’s structures.
The ballot also underlined the problem areas in the union, particularly how workplace organisation has been weakened in many areas.
Many workplaces no longer hold members meetings and only leaflet members from outside the building. Activists become overwhelmed, don’t have a strategy for their workplace or branch and consequently miss out on involving new people who would be prepared to get involved
This has been brought about by relentless government attacks and the difficulties we have faced in launching serious national action since the pensions dispute in 2007/8.
Much of this has been unavoidable, but the failure to develop a national campaign over office closures and the acceptance of the Employee Deal in DWP when there was so much opposition to it have both been serious mistakes that have weakened organisation further.
We need to tackle the problem of workplace organisation head on. It does not just weaken our ability to fight but also damages democracy in the union leading to a heavier reliance on paid officials rather than rank and file activists.
There is a sharp polarisation in politics, not just in the UK but internationally.
On the one hand there is the frightening threat of the growth of far right politics. Trump has given further confidence to far right and fascist groups that now have seats in a number of European parliaments. In the UK we have seen an increase in racist attacks as well as Tommy Robinson becoming a focus for fascists and the far right. We ignore these developments at our peril.
But on the other hand there is huge opposition to austerity and racism and a wave of radicalisation that can give us hope for the future. The massive demonstrations and protests against Trump’s uk visit was just one expression of this.
Jeremy Corbyn has also provided a focus for a large numbers of young people looking for change.
The challenge for PCS and the trade union movement as a whole is not only to build the kind of campaigning movement that can ensure that Corbyn is elected, but also to connect with these activists and involve them in our union.
That means PCS needs to be even more involved in the wider movements outside the union, linking up with our service users, fighting racism and supporting all the campaigns for a left alternative.
The left in PCS
The pay campaign brought new young members into activity and reinvigorated older members. Many of these young members are Corbyn supporters who bring with them flair, energy and high expectations, but are not necessarily aligned to any faction in the union.
The campaign, and in particular the town committees, brought activists together across offices and groups to help each other. These networks are the beginning of a union, which with an organised left current at the heart of it, can build our strength from the bottom up.
The left in the union needs to renew its forces and both recruit and involve the new activists. This means we need to put ourselves at the centre of every struggle, and not just focus on elections.
Attitude to Corbyn’s Labour Party
We believe that underlying the reasons for the AGS election is the possibility of a Corbyn left-led Labour government which has changed the fault lines across the trade union movement.
Unlike Mark Serwotka we have not joined the Labour Party and we recognise that he might like to move the union towards affiliation. The SWP believe it is necessary even with Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership for socialists to organise independently of the Labour Party.
However we do not support Chris Baugh and the Socialist Party’s position of only supporting Labour candidates with whom we agree. The SWP support a position of calling for a vote for Labour across the board at the next general electoin because we want to see Corbyn elected as prime minister.
We believe that campaigning outside parliament and elections will be key to achieving a Corbyn victory. Independent action by workers will be the only way to ensure that a Corbyn government can stand up to the pressure they will come under from big business and the city. However important Corbyn’s election will be, it will be struggles by workers that will determine whether we have real change.
This is a debate that it is crucial that we have throughout the movement with as many people involved as possible. We would therefore welcome moves that involved more Corbyn supporters and Labour party members in the left in the union.
The AGS election within Left Unity
Representatives of the SWP have met with Janice, Chris and Mark to listen to their arguments and consider our response.
It has not been easy to make a decision. We have campaigned for the election of all of them in the past.
It is also true that until recently Chris and Janice were united in taking political positions with which the SWP sometimes disagreed. For example we took a different position to the Socialist Party over the Unite merger. We opposed the DWP Employee deal and have disagreed over the tactics of national campaigns.
SWP members were attacked at the end of last year by The Socialist, the SP newspaper, for our suggestion that the size of the vote for strike action in the consultative ballot over pay meant that PCS should attempt to take action over pay on our own without other unions if necessary. This was a course of action that was subsequently proposed by Mark Serwotka and then agreed by everyone in 2018.
It is the SWP’s assessment that Mark Serwotka has been a driving force behind all of the national industrial action taken by PCS in recent years.
This does not mean we would never criticise Mark Serwotka’s leadership of the union. It is true that there has been an increasing reliance on officials rather than lay structures over the years when PCS has come under attack but has not managed to launch a national fightback. However this is a criticism that could equally be levelled at all of the senior officers of the union and is reflected in the operation of Left Unity as a whole.
We do not agree with Mark over the Gender Recognition Act over which we have taken a consistent position, with one of our members seconding Motion A18 at PCS conference this year. We believe that Mark was mistaken to sign the recent letter in the Morning Star.
However we think that of all the national officers of the union, Mark Serwotka’s policies are the ones that are most likely to lead the union to successfully fightback against the attacks we face.
We believe that Janice Godrich is the candidate who is best able to work with Mark Serwotka to implement these policies. We also welcome her commitment to work to revitalise Left Unity. It is on this basis we have decided to back Janice as the Left Unity candidate for AGS.
We will argue within her campaign that it is necessary to renew the left in the union based on relating to the political movements outside of the union, combating racism and all forms of discrimination, and at the same time re-building workplace based organisation and the most militant possible action to defend our members both locally and nationally.