The leaders of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) have voted not to call national strike action on 28 March.
PCS leaders claim that, since the government’s policy has been applied across the whole public sector, only nationally-coordinated action by as many unions as possible can win any concessions.
Of course, we are not let into the secret of exactly how many unions are need to win concessions. Only the National Union of Teachers and the University and College Union were even “in the market” to take action alongside PCS on 28 March; after the NUT’s retreat and refusal to call action, we must conclude that the PCS’s magic number was three.
A PCS statement looks to the 6-10 April NUT conference for “decisions on further action”, but even if the NUT and PCS take joint action in April, will this be enough? The government can ride out one-day strikes, separated by months of inaction, very easily.
The PCS Executive’s statement says: “a strategy to win a fair settlement to the dispute must involve a programme of action involving joint national strike action with other unions; joint national, regional and local protests; lobbying of ministers, MPs and other politicians; and co-ordinated targeted industrial action in some sectors.”
We are not told what “a programme of action involving joint national strike action with other unions” means; is it a strike once a month; once every four months?
We agree that there should be “joint national, regional and local protests; lobbying of ministers, MPs and other politicians”, but that is not going to win by itself.
In PCS we have a number of departmental and local disputes ongoing: are they part of “co-ordinated targeted industrial action”?
So what do we say in reply to this waffle?
Our starting point is that part of the PCS statement which says: “PCS members voted by 90.5% to reject the government’s ‘final offer’ on pensions, and by 72.1% to support a programme of further action with other unions, the highest vote for action we have ever had”.
We think that the “highest vote for action we have ever had” means something.
If members have democratically voted to continue the fight then that fight must go on.
Members voted in the knowledge that 28 March was to be the next day (this was explicit in voting material) and we should honour members’ wishes.
The decision of the NUT not to join in with that action is unfortunate, but each union must mount the maximum possible fight for its members’ interests, even when other unions will not. That sometimes means fighting alone.
Members’ confidence and morale maybe undermined by waiting even longer after the 30 November strike to take action.
By late April, the increase in pension contributions will be in place; at that point, the battle will appear very decisively lost.
It is not too late to rescue matters.
We do hope that NUT activists force a u-turn from their leadership and that we fight together in April.
In the PCS, the Independent Left group is standing the upcoming NEC elections to challenge the leaders who have orchestrated this surrender.