Against the PCS "coup": Democratise the union!

Submitted by martin on 18 June, 2002 - 11:12

A Solidarity/ Workers' Liberty leaflet

Against the PCS "coup": break the power of the "Moderates"! Democratise the union!

o Uphold the elected General Secretary and President
o Demand a recall conference
o Press for re-run National Executive elections
o Don't rely on the courts - mobilise the membership. If the courts back Reamsbottom, demand a fresh General Secretary election.

CLEAR BATTLE lines have been drawn in the PCS civil servants' union. Unelected General Secretary Barry Reamsbottom and his allies have staged a "coup" by declaring that the election for a new General Secretary won by Mark Serwotka in October 2000 should never have happened. They are also attempting to stop the union's elected President, Janice Godrich, acting normally as President.

On the one side are those who believe that the person who gets most votes in a free and fair election wins the post. If you believe that you must support Mark Serwotka as General Secretary and Janice Godrich as President of PCS.

If you do not support Mark Serwotka and Janice Godrich, you will be on the side of the anti-democratic forces in PCS.

The key battle for the democratic forces will be to win over activists and members to a programme of democratic change in the Union.

There must be a broad based campaign to defend the democracy of the union and protect union funds. Having made their coup, Reamsbottom's "Moderate" faction are now using PCS members' money to bankroll legal cases, fund redundancies of full time officers they do not like and create new posts for those they do. Whatever their formal politics, whatever grouping (or none) they belong to, all PCS members who believe that voting counts for something should join such a broad campaign.

A campaign called "Defend PCS Democracy" has been formed. We welcome this initiative. We hope it will become the broad campaign that we seek. However, it is at the moment very top-down. It has no regional structure. It has not been widely publicised. Over the coming weeks this must be rectified. Regional structures should be set up. Much more campaign material should be produced.

"Defend PCS Democracy" is concentrating on the immediate tasks of defeating the Moderates' attack on Mark Serwotka and Janice Godrich. Those are vital. We believe that the campaign should go much further.

We should fight for a democratisation of the union. The Moderates' attacks have shown us how fragile democracy is in the union. A small number of people on the National Executive can overthrow conference policies and membership votes. That should be changed.Take the question of a recall conference, for example. If branches representing 25% or more of the membership demand a recall conference, then the constitution says it should be held. But it does not specify when such a conference should be held. When (and thus, effectively, whether) to hold the conference is in the hands of the National Executive.

Also branches have to specify, months in advance, the narrow purpose of the conference. That further handicaps branches, especially when faced with a fast-moving situation. It makes it easy for the National Executive to say that demands for a recall conference are badly specified, or out of date.

The rules should be changed so that a recall conference must be held within a definite time limit after a sufficient number of branches have made the call. In the Prospect union, the old IPMS, for example, that time limit is two months.

The rules should allow the conference to consider a wide range of matters, not be locked into just discussing one narrow issue.

Many other rules should be changed. For example, candidates who mail circulars using stolen membership information should be disqualified. National Executive elections should be held every year, not every two years.

We need more than rule changes though. We need to break the power of the "Moderate" faction. The best way to do that is to let the members decide in free and fair elections who runs the union.

PCS members can no longer have any confidence in a National Executive which acts as this one has done. An independent investigation is already under way into the 2002 National Executive elections. A recall conference should demand that if the investigation shows irregularities, then the elections are re-run. (Certainly for the admin and executive categories, the categories where the stolen membership records were used in campaigning.)

The recall conference and the democratisation of the union (including fresh National Executive elections) should continue regardless of whether Mark Serwotka and Janice Godrich win or lose their legal case.

We can have little confidence in the Courts. In technical terms Mark Serwotka's and Janice Godrich's case is strong. But we must keep in mind that the courts are not ours. Their interest are alien to ours. The right wing argument put forward by the "Moderates" - that they are supposedly rescuing the Union from the left - may find favour with the court.

In the court that matters to us, the membership vote, Mark Serwotka and Janice Godrich have already won. In the event that they lose the court case we should call immediately for fresh General Secretary elections. If Mr Reamsbottom is so confident that he has membership backing, then let him prove it.

Even if Mark Serwotka and Janice Godrich win in court on 15 July, the "Moderates" may appeal. They have PCS members' money at their disposal to bankroll legal challenges and keep the union tied up in the courts for months or years. Mark Serwotka and Janice Godrich would also still face obstruction from the "Moderate" majority on the National Executive - hence the need for new elections if we can get them.

Regardless of the Court case we have to take the fight into the branches of the "Moderate" National Executive branches. Members in those branches have to be made aware of what their representatives are doing. We have to isolate the "Moderates" in the Union, to pressure them in their own back yard.

We should extend the campaign to the wider labour movement, including the TUC. Motions should be passed in other unions highlighting what has happened and asking that their union recognise only Mark Serwotka as General Secretary and Janice Godrich as President of PCS.

Horrible though the present outrages are, if we can win over the activists and members they can lead to the power of the "Moderates" being broken and a more democratic union. The stakes are high. But we can win.

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