This year’s national conference in Brighton of the PCS public sector union, taking place this week, will once again be a critical meeting for the union and its members. Public sector workers have been in the front line for decades now fighting against attacks on public services. All public sector unions must unite and mobilise against Tory cuts.
This year’s national conference in Brighton of the PCS public sector union, taking place this week, will once again be a critical meeting for the union and its members.
Come along to Socialist Appeal’s PCS conference fringe meeting on the fight for a Corbyn Labour victory, taking place tonight at 6.30pm in the Globe pub in Brighton.
Public sector workers have been in the front line for decades now fighting against attacks on public services and in defence of staff conditions, pay and jobs as successive governments have slashed spending and privatised at will.
The brutal regime of austerity implemented after the financial crisis has hit those sectors organised by the PCS in particular. For employees, the union has been the only means to fight back, hence the Tory attacks on the subs “check-off” system and the slashing back of union facility time – both intended to break the union. It is to the credit of the union and its lay representatives that these measures have been reduced in impact to quite a degree.
Nevertheless the austerity attacks are continuing and will certainly dominate this year’s conference. The 1% pay cap has become a burning issue as it has meant that (with inflation) PCS members’ pay has fallen in real terms, year on year.
Things are also heating up in the HMRC sector, with opposition growing to the mad plan to shut 170 regional offices and replace them with 11 regional “hubs,” as management like to call them. Over 38,000 staff will be affected, with 5,000 facing redundancy. Ironically, the costs of the project are spiralling with a 22% rise in estimated expenditure being reported.
The fight against the HMRC hub scheme reflects a wider fight within the civil service against plans to reorganise and create 22 regional and 200 “mini” hubs now on the table.
Faced with this, the issue of industrial action by the union must surely be back on the table. A national day of strike action by all the public sector unions together would be a welcome first step in this fight.
Of course, the June general election will be uppermost in delegates’ minds. Strong support for a Labour victory and for Jeremy Corbyn has been made clear and rightly so. PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, firmly backed Corbyn in last year’s Labour leadership election, as did many PCS members. This was against the background of a decision at the 2016 conference to review PCS’s political arrangements and come back with proposals to this year’s event.
This was seen by many as the first step towards Labour affiliation by the union. Unfortunately neither of the two composites to be debated at Brighton proposes this. Composite A57 affirms support for Corbyn and his programme, but seeks to maintain the status quo – a flawed position, but at least better than the alternative option being presented. Composite A58, although again giving support to Corbyn, clearly opposes affiliation. This composite contradicts itself by backing the left in its fight against the Blairites, but then refuses to take the obvious step of seeking affiliation,to Labour, leaving it with talk about street demonstrations as the way forward. Rule change Composite A59 seeks to further neuter the union by hindering the use of the political fund. Both A58 and A59 should be rejected.
It is presumed, as we go to press, that a left majority on the union NEC will be maintained, not least because the right wing don’t seem to be present on the ballot papers. However, members will want to see more action from the union in coming months if the austerity attacks are to be pushed back. With this, PCS could play an important role in helping to arm the labour and trade union movement with clear socialist policies.