Statement from PCS executive members
Statement from PCS executive members Paul Williams and Marianne Owens, both in a personal capacity
The PCS is under attack. Activists are right to compare it to the sustained assault on the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984-5.
The NUM was subjected to the full force of the state as the Tories sought to pay the miners back for the defeats they had suffered at the union’s hands.
Today PCS faces very similar attacks; we are being subjected to a constant and vicious assault from the Tories aimed at breaking our union and silencing us once and for all.
This is pay back from the Tories because PCS has been at the centre of resistance to austerity and putting forward alternatives such as tax justice. Significantly PCS took a leading role in the 2011 pensions fight which saw the biggest public sector strike for decades.
Our members face further increases in pension contributions, working longer and harder, further pay restraint, privatisation and attacks on our terms and conditions.
But the Tories are now attacking the very foundations of our union. They are cutting our facility time in order to prevent us from supporting our members. The ending of the check off for union subscriptions is aimed at cutting off PCS finances, threatening the viability of the union.
If that were not bad enough they have encouraged and instructed senior civil servants to help set up and recognise scab unions, most notably in the HMRC. Every PCS activist should be 100 percent behind Mark Serwotka and our union leadership in resisting these attacks.
There is a financial crisis in PCS and we have to deal with it. That means the campaign to get members onto direct debit has to be taken seriously by every activist.
But we do not agree that the suspension of NEC elections as part of emergency measures to deal with the financial crisis is either justified or helpful.
In such a crisis it is imperative that we get our tactics and strategies right. The suspending of NEC/GEC elections is a mistake. We don’t argue this because we are fixated with elections. In our view we cannot allow membership involvement and democracy to become a casualty of the Tory attacks. Membership involvement must be at the heart of any defence of our union.
We cannot ignore the recent debate held at the 2014 ADC regarding the Unite merger. We argued that talks should proceed but that any agreements reached must preserve our democratic structures, including annual conferences, annual elections, and our right to decide our political representation.
That view was overwhelmingly accepted by Conference. Rightly our membership and our Conference were consulted and were given the right to decide union policy.
The same criteria must apply in the crisis we now face. Members and reps need to be involved in the debate and in finding solutions. We need membership backing for what we do and what we decide.
That is crucial at a time where our right wing opponents and those seeking to set up scab unions will seize upon any opportunity to accuse us of being undemocratic.
It’s also crucial that the Tories are not allowed to use our decisions to bolster false accusations and to tell lies about democracy within our union.
With all this in mind there is clearly not a contradiction between a serious campaign to sign to Direct Debit and our members having their say in elections.
There are alternatives to the decision originally taken by the NEC.
This should not be about the NEC solely dealing with the financial crisis. It should be about each and every rep and member having a full understanding of it.
Elections in our view play a vital role in that, they give us an ability to put our views across to our membership, they can play a very useful part in getting members to re-sign to our union and we believe that we can find ways of holding elections that will still deliver significant savings to the union.
Where do we go from here?
We were both signatories to a recent statement on the financial crisis and union democracy. In just a few weeks 13 branches and 90 activists signed the statement. That statement asked the NEC to reverse its decision on elections.
However for the second time the NEC have decided to continue with the suspension of elections. We believe it would be futile to continue to take up further NEC time with the same debate. The decision on elections, given the timetable we now have, will mean that ADC 2015 will have to decide this issue. We will support those who ask that our Conference restore the NEC/GEC elections and in doing so for us, the fundamental democracy of our Union.
We further asked that the NEC embark on a national consultation over the financial crisis. We are therefore pleased with further decisions that the NEC have taken.
They include setting up a working group and most notably agreeing to consult Branches and groups. This is a step forward.
We urge our senior leadership to take that consultation process forward urgently. Doing so will allow members and reps to understand fully the nature of the attacks we face,.
If we are to survive and grow as a union the PCS must continue to lead the resistance on pay terms and conditions. We must have a campaigning and fighting union if we are to convince members to re-sign to PCS. We can’t afford to let the Tories attack on our finances lead to industrial paralysis. We need to urgently reinvigorate the national action over pay. The recent national strike was well supported but we can't afford to lose momentum. In the run up to the General Election pay strikes would put real pressure on the government, and show PCS members the importance of a strong, fighting union.
We also believe that TUC affiliated unions need to step up to the mark and defend our union. This hasn’t happened so far. Unison has used Maude and the Tories to gain recognition in the civil service. With the PCS under fire their leadership should hang their heads in shame in colluding with Maude the orchestrator of attacks on our union.
We like many others in PCS are proud of the union’s record in being at the forefront of the fight back and defending not only our members but the most vulnerable in society.
Thirty years ago rank and file NUM members were central to defending their union against the Tory assault. That is something we want to repeat in the PCS. We face a real crisis. But democracy and by that we mean the ability of every rep and every member of our union to fight for and to decide our future cannot be allowed to become another casualty of Tory and right wing attacks.
Paul Williams – PCS NEC member (pc)
Marianne Owens – PCS NEC Member (pc)