The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) meets in Brighton from 21 to 23 May for its annual conference.
Individual departments, or Groups, will be meeting over the Monday and Tuesday, with a national conference following. Conference is shorter this year due to combination of facility time cuts (delegates from DWP are having to take annual leave to attend) and financial constraints facing the union.
This comes hot on the heels of the National Executive Committee election results being declared. There were three candidates for President: the incumbent Left Unity candidate, Janice Godrich; the right-wing candidate Diane Breen and the Independent Left’s Christine Hulme. These were the same candidates as in 2012, so it is instructive to compare the results. In 2012 Godrich polled 15,471 (57.3%) compared to Breen’s 7,839 (29%) and Hulme’s 3,690 (13.6%) . This year Godrich polled 11,590 (51%), Breen 6,956 (30.6%) and Hulme 4,112 (18%). Turn out in 2012 was 10.7% compared to merely 9.5% this year. This year, just under 4,000 fewer ballot papers were sent out due to loss of members through job cuts.
Four right wingers were elected to the Executive. But of greatest concern is that fact that over 90% of members did not vote, during a period that has seen extensive strike action. For sure the anti-trade union laws on postal balloting play a role, but this cannot be the only reason why so many members feel disengaged.
Conference will start with a debate on the ongoing national dispute. Independent Left supporters have submitted an emergency motion that says that we should change the focus of the dispute. The campaign’s slogan (“They won’t talk so we must walk”) is wrong – rather than simply demanding more negotiations, we should formulate specific demands on pay and other issues. Otherwise, the government could agree to talks simply as a tactic to get our industrial action called off.
Some controversy has been caused by the Standing Orders Committee’s decision not to print motions that call on PCS to include non co-operation with benefit sanctions by members in Jobcentres as part of any industrial action. Under PCS rules, motions are not published if they could lead to legal action being taken against the union if carried and implemented.
PCS’s solicitors have said that such action could lead to the union being injuncted, as this would be a “political” act, and not in furtherance of a trade dispute.
While that may be the case if the motion were enacted, that is no reason to prevent it being printed and this important debate taking place. While Jobcentre workers currently lack both the consciousness and the confidence to take such action, beginning a discussion around it is essential in order to build links between claimants and workers, and get to a point where non-cooperation could be made a reality.
Independent Left members have submitted a motion instructing the NEC to ensure that pay rates of senior full-time officers (currently, maximum £89,847) are closer to the rates received by the vast majority of PCS members.
An NEC motion seeks authorisation to enter in to merger discussions with Unite, if approached.
Whatever the NEC’s reasons, any merger should be judged on the basis of industrial logic and the democratic ability of rank-and-file members to exert control over any merged union.
Air traffic workers face cuts
Staff in National Air Traffic Services (NATS) face job losses of between 275 and 475 staff at control centres and headquarters sites.
At its upper limit, this cut represents more than 13% of the targeted workforce, and over a tenth of NATS employees overall.
The news comes just weeks after members of Prospect and PCS, the unions organising in NATS, voted (on the recommendation of their union leaderships) for a pay deal tied in with further detrimental changes to the Defined Benefit pension scheme. As a result of the deal, Prospect and PCS Executive reps will be joining with management in recommending to the pension trustees that the indexation be changed from RPI to CPI. Support for such a change contradicts the national policies of both of these unions, but the justification given is that this action is required to mitigate a £1bn deficit. Also cunningly written into the deal is the commitment that the unions will not lobby the Trustees otherwise without first consulting NATS. Effectively, this would mean any union policy seeking to reverse the recommendation to the Trustees would have to be run past management before being enacted. The emphasis in union communications has been on avoiding compulsory redundancies, with no discussion of the possibility of fighting the cuts.
Across Europe there is a different picture. On 12 June, air traffic staff will be holding a day of action, led by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), to protest against cost reduction targets and introduction of competition into new areas of air traffic service provision.
The time could not be more apt for unions to mount a defence against air traffic cuts, by refusing cuts in NATS and standing in solidarity with European colleagues.