By SWP members in the PCS
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SWP members in the PCS union statement on the pay campaign and AGS election

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Issue 2643
The PCS must be a fighting union
The PCS must be a fighting union

Winning the pay ballot is key

Why we are supporting Lynn Henderson for AGS

Two ballots for PCS union members starting in March, one for strike action over pay and the other to elect the Assistant General Secretary (AGS), will shape the future of PCS for some time to come.


Winning over pay is key

Centrally important is the pay ballot and the union’s battle to break the government pay cap and to return to national pay bargaining.

The cap has not only led to cuts in real terms to Civil Service pay. Delegated departmental pay bargaining restricted by the cap has also opened the door to government departments pushing cuts to terms and conditions in exchange for modest pay increases.

These deals, most notably the Employee Deal in the DWP, divide workers and leave them with worse terms and conditions long after the pay increases have gone. They were accepted, despite opposition, in the absence of a national fightback over pay.

So it was crucially important that in 2017 PCS responded to a change in the political climate and pressure building on the government to launch a national campaign over pay and an argument for serious effective strike action to back it up, rather than token political one day strikes.

PCS took the plunge last year and moved to a statutory ballot even though we were not joined by other unions. The overwhelming vote for strike action took the union a significant step forward, but did not reach the government’s newly imposed 50% threshold.

The ballot had a brilliant response from many activists and helped the process of rebuilding workplace organisation that had suffered over the years due to big cuts and not enough confidence to fight back. Activists were obviously disappointed by the result.

It was a bold step for Mark Serwotka and the PCS National Executive Committee to relaunch the ballot over this year’s pay.

There has been a serious attempt to learn the lessons and to engage as many activists as possible in the preparation. This has not been helped by the arguments surrounding the selection of candidates for the AGS election, but is now gaining speed again and needs to move into full throttle as the ballot begins.

PCS has a unique combination of a weak government and maximum industrial and political leverage as a union representing workers who will be required to deliver whatever happens over Brexit. Members are angry and this is the moment for us all to be on the front foot.

AGS election is important to pay fight success

This election has become about more than just which individual takes up a single post in the union, but has become a debate about the future strategy for PCS.

When Janice Godrich announced, with Mark Serwotka’s support, that she was seeking nomination as the PCS Left Unity candidate against current AGS Chris Baugh, the SWP backed her. We felt Janice was much more prepared to back the strategy of developing the national fightback that Mark Serwotka has been key to arguing for. Chris Baugh had always emphasised negotiations rather than organising, and had shown more caution about workers taking action.

Some have tried to portray the arguments behind the scenes over many years between Chris Baugh and Mark Serwotka, Janice and others as just personal not political.

But since Chris has been challenged in the election, the arguments have now become more public and in fact have become key to whether we have a successful fight over pay or not.

Chris Baugh’s proposals undermine national campaign

At a time when the government is at its weakest, Chris Baugh, backed by the Socialist Party, argued for departmental-wide or disaggregated ballots over pay rather than a national one.

Departmental talks are limited to trading pay for cuts elsewhere but it was argued members aren’t confident to fight over pay, we can only fight defensively over terms and conditions and otherwise we won’t get over 50% in a national ballot.

So instead of building confidence, the underlying argument was we can’t convince members we can win the ballot or take on the government.

This so called “tactical difference” was not even serious. When Chris Baugh supporters who had argued for a disaggregated ballot actually had the chance of a departmental campaign they chose to be in the national ballot!

If departmental balloting had gained any real support it would have destroyed the national campaign.

Just as damaging has been the distraction these arguments have been from looking at the real issues. Instead of encouraging every activist to look at how to rebuild workplace traditions of organising, Chris posed an argument about how we balloted as a solution.

All this is unforgivable when the union is engaged in such a serious and difficult fight with the government.

And Chris did this whilst AGS against both Left Unity and National Executive Committee policy.

It is for these reasons that we cannot support Chris Baugh as AGS candidate because we cannot trust him to develop the future strategy for PCS. The union and the left will continue to be split by these damaging arguments if he were to be elected.

Chris Baugh, backed by the Socialist Party, was beaten by Janice Godrich in the Left Unity elections last year. Sadly however, Janice was then unable to continue as a candidate and Chris squeezed through in re-run elections.

It is regrettable that Chris Baugh’s behaviour now leaves many in Left Unity and the wider Democracy Alliance unable to support the Left Unity AGS candidate.

This is an unusual situation, though not without precedent. When Mark Serwotka was first elected he was supported by many LU members even though he was not their candidate.

Support Lynn Henderson

We therefore believe that all those who want to see PCS win the pay ballot and continue to rebuild as a fighting union should back Lynn Henderson.

She is the only candidate who has fully supported the NEC policy over pay. She is an active campaigner over equality issues and wants to help develop new layers of activists in the union.

We will be supporting her alongside all other Left Unity/Democracy Alliance candidates.

Dividing lines

The political dividing lines in this election have not just become clear over pay and whether the union is going to try and take on the government but over wider political questions.

We do not support the policy of Chris Baugh and the Socialist Party to limit support to only certain Labour candidates during a general election, nor do we think it is helpful to sit on the side lines predicting a sell out by Mark Serwotka or Jeremy Corbyn.

We in the SWP believe workers need to organise independently of the Labour Party, but we support PCS doing everything it can to help get a Corbyn-led government elected.  We think we should welcome new Labour Party activists to get involved in the union, and debate the future and any criticisms we have of LP strategy, whilst we work alongside each other.

Rebuilding the left

Left Unity has been the leading organisation in the union for many years, but the last few months have highlighted concerns that it has become limited to winning PCS elections, not organising in the wider struggles. This is also true of all the left organisations in PCS.

We believe that a debate is now urgent about how we build and renew the left in PCS as a network of activists engaged in fighting over pay and other issues, rather than just different blocs campaigning during elections for their favoured candidates.

Involving new activists over the pay campaign is not only key to winning the pay ballot but also renewing the left to build a fighting union in the future.



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