We’re now hearing rumours that the public sector pay freeze may be for several years, across the whole sector. If that’s true, that reinforces the need for unions to work together and build coordinated action as soon as possible, aimed at breaking the freeze before it becomes a “fact-on-the-ground” over a long period.
The wider the coordination, the more impactful the action will be. Having said this, aiming for coordination can’t be allowed to hold back those unions, or groups of workers within unions, from taking action when they’re ready. If PCS needs to act alone, or in coordination with a smaller number of unions which are prepared to fight, we’ll do that, whilst still aiming for the maximum coordination across the sector. Our National Executive Committee meets on 10 December and will decide our initial strategy.
Over 100,000 people have now signed our petition opposing the civil service pay freeze, which means it will now be discussed in Parliament. We have no expectation that the debate will be particularly productive, but it does mean the profile of the issue will be raised.
In the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), an industrial action ballot involving our outsourced members closes on 8 December. They’ve been forced to come into the office, despite the fact that the vast majority of the directly-employed civil servants who work there are working from home. It’s disgraceful that this overwhelmingly BAME workforce has been directly exposed to a greater level of risk than directly-employed, and majority-white, workmates. We’ll also shortly commence a ballot for some of our driving instructor members, for action to resist being pushed back into conducting tests once the lockdown in England ends.
Internally, the union is planning a strategic review of our structures and how we organise. This needs to be a serious discussion about further democratising the union and empowering the rank and file. Everyone says they’re for a “member-led union”, but what does that mean in practice? That’s the basis on which the review should take place. It needs to look at some administrative questions and tightening up some processes, but fundamentally it needs to be a discussion about making the union more democratic and more responsive to the struggles members face in the workplace.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity