Socialist Worker

This is a battle to defend democracy

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 1803

THE RIGHT wing coup in the PCS civil servants' union has been greeted with a storm of protest from the union's members. Two weeks ago the right wing majority on the union's national executive launched the coup when they tried to remove socialist Mark Serwotka as PCS general secretary.

Mark had been elected in a ballot of the union's members. The right tried to replace him with outgoing general secretary Barry Reamsbottom. Some 40,740 of the union's members elected Mark in December 2000. Reamsbottom was not even a candidate in that election. He did not think he could get the 50 union branch nominations needed to stand. Before the close of nominations Reamsbottom made a legal agreement to leave office on 31 May this year.

But when his supporters won a small majority in recent national executive elections Reamsbottom then used this to overturn democracy. He called a national executive meeting at short notice at which he manoeuvred to push Mark aside and sideline left wing union president Janice Godrich. The coup makers decided to keep Reamsbottom on as the union's general secretary until 2004.

Reamsbottom claimed that Mark Serwotka's election was unlawful. He also stopped an inquiry into alleged irregularities in the conduct of the national executive elections. But on Friday of last week a judge found that the national executive meeting was unconstitutional and declared it void.

Another court case in mid-July will now decide on whether Reamsbottom should go, in line with the recent decision of the union's national conference. 'Everybody is pleased. On Monday Reamsbottom declared me sacked, but by the end of the week a court's decided I'm still the general secretary,' Mark Serwotka told Socialist Worker.

'It's disappointing, though, that it's going to take another six weeks to sort it out. Reamsbottom knows he's got no case-he was banking on me not campaigning and on riding out the members' uproar. Now he thinks he may lose, and he's trying to organise another national executive meeting for 19 June. He's packing the agenda with loads of things he wants, like stopping the national executive elections inquiry and making sure he's the PCS delegate to the TUC general council meeting of trade union leaders. We're trying to stop this happening. I think the campaigning is more important than ever. I hope members keep piling in the letters of support to me and condemnation to him. I hope they keep calling for a special conference of the union. We have to make this an issue for the trade union and labour movement.'


There has been a deluge of anger against the coup

HUNDREDS OF messages of support from union branches and groups of members have been faxed or e-mailed to Mark at the union's headquarters. 'Around 90 people in my workplace of 110 people have signed a letter offering full support to Mark Serwotka,' says Tim Nicholls from east London. 'That's almost 100 percent of the union members.'

'We had a regional meeting of Department of Work and Pensions branches last week,' Dave Owens from Liverpool told Socialist Worker. 'There were 35 people there representing most branches, and the vote was unanimous in condemning Barry Reamsbottom.'

'I've done four meetings in the south east of England in the last week,' says Phil Pardoe. 'The response of members has been unanimous. There's been no arguments-just what we are going to do about it.'

'I've e-mailed all the branches in my union group-the General Areas Forum,' says Sue Bond. 'I've had a deluge of responses back. All bar one have been 100 percent supportive. I'm getting phone calls from branches saying they're raring to go. People are really angry.'

The storm of protest shows the mood is there not just to defend Mark Serwotka but to defeat the right wing 'Moderate' group as well. They have been controlling the PCS and its predecessor union, the CPSA, for too long.

They have acted as a block on civil servants challenging government attacks. Now they want the PCS to cosy up to New Labour while union members suffer from privatisation, worse conditions and low pay. Union members are sick of this. That is why they voted for Mark Serwotka in their thousands.

'We have to go onto the offensive,' says Phil Pardoe. 'These people are not fit to stay on the national executive. A special conference can recall the national executive and call new elections.'

'We have to keep campaigning and fundraising in the run-up to the next court case to make sure it goes our way,' says Martin John. 'That's why it's important that Mark Serwotka is doing meetings over the next few weeks.'
For more information, model motions and petitions go to www.voteleftunity.org.uk

Fax messages of condemnation to PCS headquarters on 020 7924 1847. Return petitions to PCS president Janice Godrich, 160 Falcon Road, London SW11 2LN.


'It's about politics'

BARRY REAMSBOTTOM wrote a letter to the Guardian last week attacking Mark Serwotka for being on the 'far left'. That followed an article in the paper by campaigning journalist Paul Foot denouncing the coup against Mark.

'Paul Foot belongs to that band of Trotskyism that is the Socialist Alliance, the same organisation that Mark Serwotka forgot to mention he supported when he stood for general secretary,' wrote Reamsbottom. 'It's a complete outrage,' says Kevin Evans, a PCS member in London, speaking about Reamsbottom's letter. 'Reamsbottom has not been elected by anyone in the PCS. It's absurd. If this decision stands, it means they could put up a frog for general secretary of the union if they wanted.'

'The letter is disgusting,' says Sue Bond from Manchester. 'He's saying Mark's election shouldn't stand because Reamsbottom doesn't agree with his politics.' 'How could Mark have said he supported the Socialist Alliance when it was only being launched at the time of the general secretary elections?' asks Martin John from Sheffield. 'He didn't join the Socialist Alliance until after the election campaign. His election material couldn't have been more left wing-he described himself as a socialist and said he wanted to fight back against New Labour's attacks.'

'Reamsbottom is absolutely off the wall. He's flailing around incoherently,' says Mark Serwotka.

'He never talks about members' low pay or privatisation-just me. I am on the left. That's why I was elected-because I want to fight these things. Reamsbottom has also withdrawn, behind everyone's back, my first column as general secretary in the PCS members' magazine. He's replaced it with his own, which is about how he's saved the union in the nick of time from me-a 'loony lefty Trotskyite'. This is the first thing about the issue many members will see. It's not about my election being 'unlawful' any more. It's a much more political thing.'


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Article information

News
Sat 8 Jun 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1803
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