Thursday, 30 May 2013
Should PCS merge with Unite?
It has become clear that these two unions are looking t merge or as I put it for unite to take over PCS. Personally in my own opinion I cannot see the sense in this politically. Clearly PCS has been under huge attacks from the gov and not only this one but the previous Labour government too which has meant they have take n a huge financial hit as a result. The Public and Commercial Services Union are in big trouble. Many of the early austerity measures forced through by the Con-Dem government have been aimed at public sector workers. The aim was to reduce the number of civil servants by 20% - and they are not far off achieving it. Fourteen percent of civil service jobs - 72,400 posts - have been cut since the coalition was elected, pay has been frozen, pension contributions increased, the retirement age raised and terms and conditions attacked. Accordingly, PCS membership has shrunk by almost 12,000 in the 12 months to September 2012 and now stands at just below 263,000. In addition, the government has been attacking the facility time for trade union representatives. More people are being sacked on more spurious grounds - and union reps have less time to fight back. This also affected this year’s conference with less being able to attend. This is set to get worse in the next few years too. The union’s fight back against these attacks has been hampered by the hesitancy of other unions. Last year’s conference committed the PCS to fight - but only if, for example, Unite and the National Union of Teachers were willing to participate in joint action. However, those soon proved resistant to pressure and so the PCS decided to go it alone after all: there has been short-term “rolling strike action” by various departments, which is aimed at “disrupting the employer’s activities”. In some workplaces, PCS members walked out for an hour or two. This tactic will continue in the foreseeable future, “Because it doesn’t look as if the TUC will call a general strike any time soon”, as PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka put it. There will be localised action throughout the year. Plus, starting on Monday June 3, the DWP and HM Revenue and Customs will call out members in two regions (about half the union’s membership) for a day each. At the end of June, it looks like there will be localised, joint action with the NUT which must be made as big as possible to show there are unions still willing to fight even if other seemingly have waved the white flag to fighting the cuts unfortunately. But a long-term all-out strike by PCS that could actually put pressure on the government seems pretty unrealistic for a number of reasons, mainly financial. For example, the union does not have a strike fund, so members are not compensated for loss of wages. Last year, conference overwhelmingly rejected a motion to set up even a voluntary strike levy. However, this year Mark Serwotka simply announced that the national executive committee would look into setting up a strike fund. “Not everybody in the union likes it, but I have come to the conclusion that it is necessary in order to organise effectively.” Clearly, some very painful lessons have been learnt in the last 12 months. The PCS is in dire financial trouble - chiefly because of the fall in membership the union incurred “net liabilities of £3.2 million” in the 12 months to December 2012, compared to “net assets at December 2011 of £687,000” It does not help that a whopping 57% of the union’s total outgoings of £29.9 million was spent on employment - that means £17 million paid to the 271 PCS employees, or just over £70,500 per staff member (which includes pensions, national insurance contributions, etc). By comparison, the even smaller Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union RMT spend ‘just’ 40% of its income on its employees. A couple of PCS employees are on pay band 7, the maximum of which is £89,847. Still, a rather tame motion that sought to make sure that “full-time officer pay rates in PCS are much closer to the pay received by the majority of PCS members” was heavily defeated sadly at last weeks conference. The socialist party’s policy is for all elected officials to only take the average wage of a skilled worker. Given we have 15 paid officials by the PCS I do hope we would be upholding that principal of only taking the average wage of a skilled worker of the members. As PCS is struggling financially it would be sad if any member of our party or not would be taking a huge pay packet and pension home when your average PCS member is facing huge attacks. The union leadership has taken some measures to counter the effect of the loss of membership, but things could easily get worse. No wonder then that rumours of a merger with the mighty Unite union have been doing the rounds for a few years. Opposition to a merger is huge, despite the obvious advantages of building a bigger union. “With almost two million members in Unite, this would in reality be a takeover, not a merger,” said one delegate. The PCS is, on the whole, more democratic and membership-driven. Unite has, for example, just closed dozens of area branches without consulting the members, as a furious conference delegate pointed out. And there is, of course, the elephant in the room: the Labour Party. Unite is affiliated to it; PCS is not What would happen if PCS and unite came together and a labour government was elected and started an attacking civil servants? I do also wonder if the socialist party’s support for Len Mckluskey was partly linked to making the merger between unite and PCs a bit easier for all concerned. I am sure that’ll PCS officials some being SP members of course will hope to maintain their positions if a merger goes through but what are thegaruntees ? We all know how bureaucratic unite is and the right in unite has been pushed back a little but this merger wont go down well with the right in unite I think. I have already hear of opposition from the right of unite saying we don’t want a union to merge with us who are lead by a load of old trots. Whether that is true or not it shows this could be a bumpy merger with hostility and tension coming about from both sides. For a union that is so proud of its fighting and political edge, it is curious that, when it comes to UK politics, it has been somewhat lost in the wilderness (though it has to be said that Labour MP John McDonnell has done sterling work in the PCS parliamentary group). In 2005, PCS voted to establish a “political fund” that would allow it to intervene in “and between” elections. In 2007 it first established a ‘check list’ of “our key industrial issues” and put them to parliamentary candidates, publishing their answers online. In a ballot in June 2012, members endorsed the proposal that the union “has the authority to stand or support candidates in elections, in exceptional circumstances, where it would help our campaigns. To save jobs, stop office closures and defend public services.” With this I would hope there is a move towards the PCS backing anti cuts candidates such as TUSC very soon I have heard no progress on this though and seems an open ended question of what the political fund will be for. More links and initiatives between the PCS and TUSC needs to start happening in my view as the political attacks are huge a political alternative for PCS is necessary too.