This week saw the annual conference of PCS – the civil servants’ union, which has been at the forefront of the struggles over austerity and safety over the past year. The message from delegates was clear: PCS members are ready to fight.
The national conference of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) – the main union for civil servants and similar workers in privatised companies – took place on 13-14 June. It was the union’s first conference to take place in two years; and the first to take place online, rather than in the usual Brighton venue, due to the pandemic.
The conference itself was a success, with a record turnout of delegates, and a radical mood of militancy and determination to fight for a better society.
Reps aligned with PCS Marxists – supporters of Socialist Appeal in England and Wales, and supporters of Revolution in Scotland – attended the conference and contributed to the discussion.
Optimism and confidence
The atmosphere at the conference was one of optimism and confidence in the role that the PCS can play in future struggles – struggles that are going to intensify, as the working class is presented with the bill for the COVID crisis.
Reps spoke about the issues faced in their workplaces, branches, and groups. And policy was discussed both on issues facing union members, as well as on the direction that the union should be taking.
Significantly, the first motion at the conference was raised by the PCS DVLA branch.
This branch has been completely transformed in the last few months, following a dispute over workplace safety during the pandemic. PCS DVLA has gained hundreds of members, becoming the biggest branch in the union. Furthermore, at the time of writing, PCS members at the Swansea DVLA officers are undertaking their fifth week of strike action.
A radical motion was raised, demanding no confidence in DVLA CEO Julie Lennard, and demanding the resignation of Tory transport minister Grant Shapps. This motion was passed unanimously.
It is clear that union reps in many other PCS branches have been inspired by the DVLA strike, and are ready to replicate this success in their own workplaces. After the debate on this motion, the conference continued with discussions on pay, pensions, equalities and more.
Pay rise, not freeze
The question of pay is a crucial one. Indeed, civil servants and workers in outsourced companies have felt the impact of austerity.
In real terms, pay has been cut year on year since 2008. This has cost individual workers thousands of pounds. And now the Tory government wants civil servants to accept a zero percent pay increase, even when inflation is accelerating.
Conference rightly responded: We have kept crucial public services running throughout the pandemic. Now is the time for a pay rise, not a pay freeze!
40 years ago, civil servants undertook a 21-week-long strike against the #Tory government, over the issue of pay. @JohnMcInally13, former #PCS vice-president, looks at a struggle that defined civil service trade unionism for decades to come. #TradeUnionshttps://t.co/Z3dAhxNQBj
— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) May 13, 2021
Preparing for battle
Contributions from delegates described the type of society we live in – a rotten society, governed by rotten Tories, where workers are squeezed for the bosses’ profits.
The Tories and bosses continue to jeopardise our safety during the pandemic; they freeze our pay; they treat us with nothing but contempt. This is the nature of life under capitalism – not just for civil servants and others organised by PCS, but for workers across the board.
The struggles facing DVLA workers today will be the struggles facing all civil servants tomorrow.
This year’s PCS conference proclaimed one thing clearly, above all: Our union is getting ready to fight these looming battles – and to win them.