The civil servants’ campaign over pay has hit up against the barrier of Tory anti-union laws. PCS members shouldn’t mourn, but organise.
The result of the ballot for industrial action in PCS, the civil servants union, was announced on 23 July. It will be a disappointment for many activists.
Despite the highest turnout for a strike ballot in the union’s history (41.6%) and the highest percentage vote in favour of industrial action ever (85.6%), the turnout is short of the Tories’ undemocratic anti-union threshold for legal action of 50%.
Civil servants still deserve a pay rise. And PCS’s demand for a 5% pay rise is modest given the real pay cuts seen over the past decade or so.
The National Executive of the union has chosen not to pursue the possibility of illegal strike action, despite the large majority for striking. Instead, they will continue the pay campaign with the aim of holding another ballot in 2019.
Many activists will be disappointed by the ballot result after working hard to deliver a positive result for strike action. However, the work undertaken provides a solid basis on which to move forward.
Some in the PCS opposed the strike ballot because of the weakness of the union’s organisation in some areas. But Socialist Appeal believes that the decision to ballot and use the balloting period to organise and strengthen the union was the correct one.
Not to ballot would have been a recipe for passivity and inaction. The union has gained more activists because of the work carried out during the balloting period. But clearly more work now needs to be done.
One factor behind the ballot result may be the lack of confidence of members have in the effectiveness that industrial action could have in overturning Tory policy.
The union made no attempt to explain what sort of industrial action would be taken. Members remember the one-day strikes of previous years. These were well supported, but were merely a way of protesting against the government’s policy. They were not meant to have any real effect, and resulted in no gains.
PCS has agreed that future industrial action will be designed to hit the government hard. It will not just be a protest action.
The leadership of the union needs to convince its members that strike action simply as a form of protest is a thing of the past. We need to know that our union is serious about striking to win.