What can we learn from the PCS?

This article has been sent to us by an activist in the PCS.

picketIt was not a surprise that the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) was one of the four unions involved in 30th June. It has a far left leadership and a reputation as a militant trade union.

We should note unlike other unions, PCS balloted its members for action on 30th June over pension reforms, job cuts and pay cuts.

For PCS 30th June was a successful strike.

It has said it was its best supported strike ever – senior management privately admitted that it was the best supported strike since 1984/1985. The action was seen to be effective, reflected back in workplaces by applications to join, non strikers admitting they were wrong to come out etc.

However we’ve got to say that the strike has not changed government’s course. Their onslaught against Civil Service continues. Cameron has announced he wants wide ranging reforms to Civil Service i.e. more privatisation and redundancies.

In the last year the Coalition has already slashed potential redundancy payments for civil servants, frozen our pay and made massive job cuts e.g over 10,000 in DWP. However we ain’t see nothing yet from the Coalition.

The pension reform is the only the tip of the iceberg for the Coalition. In the year to May they actually spent £2 billion more  than in the previous year. They haven’t started the real cuts yet and attacks on us are likely to increase.

The coalition, like the Greek Government, will cut and cut again at our living standards if we don’t stop them.

So what are PCS’ strengths now and what dangers lie ahead for it in the current dispute? What can we learn from PCS?

1) PCS recognises it is fighting the government on many fronts and the union movement needs to widen its struggle against the Coalition to more than pensions. The Coalition and media sought to portray strikers on 30th June as only defending their pensions through narrow self interest. However PCS has been campaigning about job losses in Civil Service and its effect on services and arguing we are fighting over a generalised attack on public sector.

2) PCS has changed in recent years to better fight disputes. It has increased its number of reps in the workplace, established hardship funds, mobilised young members through a Young members network, etc.

3) It promotes campaigning with community organisations e.g UK Uncut. Together with UK Uncut it has publicised there is an alternative to public spending cuts through tackling the 120 billion pounds lost every year to the state through tax evasion, avoidance and non collection.

4) It has not left it to Labour to articulate and alternative to the Coalitions plans. PCS has sought to change the terms of the public debate on cuts by producing pamphlets on ‘There is an alternative’, A Million Green Jobs’ and ‘Welfare and Alternative Vision’.

5) It recognises there is a crisis of political representation for the working class. It has set up a political fund and is talking of putting forward trade union candidates.

6) Also its working with other left wing Unions through TUCG to coordinate industrial action and to transform the TUC into a militant body.

The danger in the current dispute is that PCS doesn’t make as big a splash as the teaching unions or UNISON. The Coalition may offer concessions to UNISON and the teachers to divide and rule the Unions. PCS is in danger of being abandoned and left to fight alone so in the movement we need to warn against such a situation.

Also there is a danger that PCS waiting until October for further action will demoralise the membership.

What do we need to do now?

1) Support the fair Pension Petition by the NUT promoting good state, private and public pensions. However Unions need to broaden the struggle to include more than pension cuts.

2) Recruit members  in the private sector.

3) Build the TUC demonstration at Tory Party Conference on 2nd October.

4) Strengthen links between unions and anti cuts/community organisations like the Coalition of Resistance to develop a mass movement against cuts.

5) Unions should promote alternative plans to the Tories’ cuts agenda such as the campaign for a million climate jobs.

6) Unions must start to get serious about working class political representation.

7) Encourage other Unions to participate in action including UNISON and NASUWT whenever it is needed.

8) We need to consider targeted selective action as a weapon in this dispute e.g call out tax inspectors who make a big impact on Government. Also we need to convince our membership that extended strike action may be needed. We cant just rely on big one day national strikes to win this war.

9) Build rank and file movements in the unions

10) Demand that negotiations are transparent and unions fight for an agreement for all – no union should be left to fight alone.

11) Mobilise union members through equality campaigning

12) Challenge Tory anti union laws

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