Socialist Worker

Mark Serwotka—How we can beat the Tories and defend workers’ rights

Issue No. 2655

Mark Serwotka

Mark Serwotka (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Socialist Worker: The pay ballot returned a big Yes vote for strikes but didn’t reach the 50 percent turnout threshold. What are the next steps?

Mark Serwotka: It was absolutely right to hold a national ballot. We were disappointed by the result. It was agonisingly close, but we are not going to give up.

We are proud of the fantastic effort by our activists and we will be working to step up our organising work and hold another ballot.

We will also be campaigning for Labour to commit to introducing online balloting if it forms a government as part of repealing the Act.

Do the anti-union laws make it impossible for trade unions to win national strike ballots? And is there scope to defy this law?

The Tories would like to think that their law means national strike ballots can no longer be successful.

PCS debates how to fight and win on pay
PCS debates how to fight and win on pay
  Read More

But we’ve seen with the CWU postal workers’ union that it is possible to achieve above a 50 percent turnout. PCS is very close to that.

We need to redouble our efforts to win the next strike ballot, get a 50 percent turnout and elect a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn to scrap all anti-union laws.

Defiance of unjust laws certainly has its place in our movement’s history.

But to call such action would need a huge level of active participation by our members, which probably would have beaten the threshold in the first place.

What has the pay campaign revealed about the PCS?

PCS has thousands of committed activists at all levels of the union.

And they did some incredible work getting the vote out during the ballot.

But, like a lot of unions, years of job cuts, privatisation, and cuts in facility time have meant we are not as well organised in some areas.

The key to winning strike ballots is reps on the ground talking face to face with members, supported by the new digital technology we are developing.

Town committees and other local networks could play an important part in that.

We are ensuring that we bring young people through our structures as union advocates—volunteers who distribute literature and carry out whatever level of union work they want to do without being fully fledged reps.

What other battles is the PCS involved in?

The campaigns around tax office closures and problems in Universal Credit have been magnificent and they are key fights against terrible government policies.

More strikes can be expected in both these areas unless the government takes heed of our demands.

When it comes to outsourcing, PCS has always believed that such work should be brought back in house.

The brilliant campaigns in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Foreign and Commonwealth Office have shown the union at its best—organising the most vulnerable workers to fight against outsourcing giants.

When you see foodbanks set up in BEIS to support outsourced ISS cleaners, something is seriously wrong.

PCS activists have taken great inspiration from these fights and it should encourage them to build increased union density in their areas.

How can unions take up issues raised by Extinction Rebellion and other questions such as the fight against racism?

Extinction Rebellion has been a brilliant initiative and has shown that there is a growing movement against the failures of the system and the inability of established politicians to deal with them.

PCS and other trade unions will play a full part in Stand Up To Racism and other anti-fascist initiatives that take the fight to Tommy Robinson and Ukip.

We are well placed to take on their ideas in the workplace and help to build mass opposition in our communities.

You’ve been one of the most consistent defenders of Jeremy Corbyn since he was elected leader of the Labour Party. But he’s gradually made concessions to the right of the party. Why is that and what can trade unions do to back Corbyn and get Labour elected?

I disagree with the premise of your question. It’s not a matter of making concessions.

On Brexit there are a range of opinions on the way forward within the labour movement.

Jeremy has been underestimated by a lot of people, including some on the left.

A Corbyn-led Labour government would be a huge step forward for people in this country—getting rid of the anti-union laws, radically reforming social security and completely overturning the consensus around neoliberal economic policy.

In PCS we believe that it’s in the interests of our members to get a Jeremy Corbyn government elected.

At our annual conference we are launching a consultation among all our branches and activists on the best way to make that happen.

Mark Serwotka is one of the speakers at the Marxism 2019 festival. For full details of the event go to bit.ly/Marxism19

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