Pay will be the major issue before this year’s PCS national conference. Given the general pay squeeze across the public sector and high inflation rate everybody expects that civil servants will get below inflation offers; with many of these increases being non-consolidated. All rational activists agree on the importance of public sector unions working together. If this were to happen, or even if a few unions were to band together, it would be politically and industrially significant
There will be major differences at conference as to the tactics needed to win. Outwardly the differences are to do with flexibility in strike and other tactics.
The standard operating model over the past few years has been one day national strikes followed by months of inactivity and then another one day national strike. Not surprisingly many members doubt the wisdom and effectiveness of such action.
Consultations have shown that members are fed up with the standard model. So the Executive is now proposing more flexible tactics like targeted actions, targeted over time bans and rolling strikes. In a move similar to that adopted by the CWU the Union is looking at taking out groups of workers in one part of the “production line”; putting them back in and taking workers out in another part of the “line” so increasing the dislocation caused by the actions. These moves are to be welcomed.
Unfortunately this emphasis on flexibility is likely to collide with the inflexibility of the Socialist Party (SP) in PCS. For in the sectarian world they inhabit, emphasis on flexibility smacks too much of the tactics of the Independent Left (IL). This grouping, made up of independents and supporters of Solidarity, is a breakaway from Left Unity. From its foundation IL has criticised the industrial tactics of the leadership of the Union. We have advocated flexibility including the use of the selected action. Therefore in the minds of the SP flexibility = IL. Of course such an attitude is nuts, but in the narrow political world of the PCS this association matters. Therefore even if the conference agrees on flexibility the NEC will have to be forced to deliver it.
We go even further in our motion on the need for flexible tactics including selective action. Depending on the whims of the standing orders committee it would be good if delegates were given a clear choice on the way ahead and our motion was tagged with that of the NEC.
Also before the conference is a motion to affiliate to the Labour Representation Committee. The SP, in the shape of the NEC, is vehemently opposed to such an affiliation. In moving opposition to affiliation the SP will play the LRC = Labour Party card and emphasise that “we are not a politically aligned union” — a hopelessly right-wing argument. Of course in fringe meetings the same comrades will argue for a new workers’ party!
The election results for NEC show a virtually clean sweep of NEC positions by Left Unity. The IL vote increased solidly. The worrying thing for all though is the low turnout. A swing of about 1% of the membership could radically change the composition of the NEC. So we need to start a discussion in the Union about increasing turn out. The present situation cannot be allowed to continue.
As with all PCS conference there will be much heat but little light. The IL and supporters of this paper will continue to emphasis the need to win disputes and to have the tactics to do so; we will try and persuade activists to join us but we all know that once the conference is over the real work will begin..