Rob Sewell interviews Janice Godrich, the long-standing president of the civil servants’ union PCS, who discusses how to transform the unions into weapons against austerity.
Janice Godrich has been the president of the Public and Commercial Union (PCS) for more than 18 years, after winning 17 elections in a row. Last month she was elected to the TUC General Council.
Janice is now standing to be the Left Unity nomination for the Assistant General Secretary (AGS) of PCS. Socialist Appeal is proud to put its support behind Janice in this election, as we explained previously.
The union has recently been in a battle over wages in an attempt to break the pay cap. Despite a massive vote for industrial action, the government imposed threshold was not reached, another impact of the Tory draconian anti-union laws. This prevented a legal strike. But despite the setback, the union is determined to fight on and regain the initiative.
SA: How important is it to have a united leadership in PCS in the coming period?
JG: We are entering an unprecedented period for the left in UK politics. The socialist agenda of Corbyn and McDonnell offers real hope for thousands of workers, communities, the unemployed, sick and disabled. In my view it is vital that they are supported; not unconditionally or uncritically, but not unnecessarily or opportunistically either.
As President of PCS for over 18 years I have seen first-hand the deliberate undermining and destruction of public services and the demonisation of public sector workers by governments of all hues: from New Labour, Tory/Lib Dem, through to the current government.
I believe the leadership of PCS, particularly in Mark Serwotka, can play a hugely important role in making change happen that will benefit our members, their families and their communities. But part of maximising that is having the two senior lay officers working together, and unfortunately I don’t believe the current AGS does that effectively.
As President I have always been a unifying force in the union, striving to be inclusive and find agreement on policy, strategy and method, and will take this into the role of AGS.
SA: You have said you will take only a workers’ wage as AGS. How important is this?
JG: Very. What I bring to this post is my experience of over 30 years as a lay rep at all levels to the leadership. I have combined being PCS President at times with having my facility time cut, as well as with official work. I did not shy away from this. In fact, I embraced it.
I have been threatened with disciplinary action at least four times and cut my teeth as President of the Employment Service group in CPSA, a vicious right-wing management that colluded with the right-wing leadership of CPSA to discipline and sack activists like Amanda Lane.
My commitment to standing on a worker’s wage is to enable me to ensure that the tradition of how I have worked as President stays with me in the role of AGS. It is a long-standing policy of socialists in the trade union movement, and I intend to honour it. It is also to ensure that PCS reflects the reality of life for members and activists in the workplace.
SA: How do you see the importance of electing a Corbyn government and the need for socialist policies?
JG: I started my political involvement during the Poll Tax struggle, which was an inspiring and motivating experience. As a young union rep at the time, one of the most valuable things I learnt from this is that unions don’t operate in isolation. Struggles outside the workplace are linked to those inside it and the need to change how society operates at all levels.
As a union rep you always need to ensure you support your members. But part of that is us all developing our understanding of political change and how it affects us all.
One of the things I am most pleased with in PCS is that we have developed the union to a point where there is a greater understanding that the union has to become involved in political as well as industrial activity. The development of our “Alternative to Austerity” is a key part of that.
From the start we said that austerity was a political choice, not a necessity. At the time even some on our own movement poured scorn on this. But the reality was it gave hope and confidence to many to argue that change was possible.
The fact that there is an alternative to austerity is now widely recognised in the movement. During that initial time it was MPs like John [McDonnell] and Jeremy [Corbyn] who fully supported us.
JG: After witnessing first-hand the injustices and poverty the past two decades have brought to working class people, and the role and greed of unbridled capitalism through the financial crashes and beyond, more and more people are having their eyes opened through their experiences.
In doing so, the past myths about socialism drift into the mists of time and the answers and hope socialism provides grow again. Our job is to make them a reality.