Britain: Re-election of fighting, socialist PCS union leadership

PCS calls for co-ordinated unions’ action to stop attacks on public sector workers and austerity

The Left recently won important elections in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS). The PCS is one of the largest trade unions in Britain, with around 270,000 members. It organises throughout the civil service and government agencies, and is the largest civil service trade union in the country. PCS also organises widely in the private sector, usually in areas that have been privatised.

Below, John McInally, PCS national vice-president reports (in a personal capacity) on the elections and the struggles ahead.

Socialist Janice Godrich has been elected president of PCS for the 13th time and the Democracy Alliance candidates have been elected to the union’s national executive for a 12th. Socialist Party member Chris Baugh is also starting his third term as assistant general secretary.

We are in a period of relentless government assault on the public service and the civil service in particular. Many union leaders have acquiesced with or resigned themselves to austerity. For long periods since 2003, when the last Labour government announced 100,000 civil service job cuts, PCS has often fought in isolation or with small groups of allies.

In this context the re-election of a fighting, socialist union leadership is a remarkable achievement. Union activists and members recognise that in this difficult period support for a campaigning leadership, which has anchored delivery of conference policy on the widest possible consultation and inclusion, is the only serious way of defending conditions.

PCS has consistently argued that joint coordinated industrial action is the best and most effective way of defeating attacks on public sector workers conditions and austerity itself. Pressure is now building to end the pay freeze which has been the longest and deepest in many generations and which has seen a systematic reduction in the value of workers’ wages by as much as 20% under the coalition government.

Huge potential to develop coordinated action

At the TUC’s Public Sector Liaison Group two weeks ago it became clear that there is huge potential to develop precisely the type of coordinated action across the public sector that PCS has been calling for. Our union strategy is based on building targeted, national and group action in pursuit of our industrial demands and in order to gain concessions on those issues, like pay, that affect all public sector workers – joint coordinated action.

Unison local government workers are to be balloted and Unite, NUT (teachers’ union), FBU (fire fighters) and possibly others are looking at a coordinated day of action on 10 July. PCS argued for any such action and further action in early autumn, potentially including greater numbers of workers, to be coordinated by the TUC – a principle agreed by the unions involved.

Many workers will have the surrender over pensions branded in their consciousness but a more potent memory will be the tremendous demonstration of the power of our movement when upwards of two million workers took action together on 30 November 2011. Let us make sure the lessons are learnt and that we continue to fight to build for the most effective response to the attacks on our members – joint coordinated industrial action across the public sector.

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May 2014