PCS and UVW: a model for union joint working (John Moloney's column)

Submitted by martin on 31 August, 2021 - 4:36 Author: John Moloney
Royal Parks strikers

In Royal Parks, outsourced cleaners and attendants demonstrated on 30 August, part of a two-week strike against job cuts and for improved conditions [workers at the rally above]. The contractor, Just Ask, has already back off from its original plan to cut 33% of all jobs. On 9 September, they’re due to write to us with a new proposal. Some of our next steps will depend on that.

There’s also a positive aspect to the dispute, including the demand for full sick pay. Royal Parks has admitted that the previous contractor had agreed to implement 18 weeks’ full sick pay entitlement to all staff, prior to losing the contract. Given that admission, that’s the least we now expect to see implemented. All of this needs to be codified and guaranteed as formal contractual rights. Many workers are currently being denied written copies of their contracts by managers.

The campaign in Royal Parks has been conducted in conjunction with the United Voices of the World (UVW). I believe the partnership we’ve developed with them can be a model for how more established, TUC-affiliated unions can work with smaller, non-TUC unions like UVW and the Independent Workers’ union of Great Britain (IWGB).

During my election, I made it clear that, if elected, I’d want PCS to approach both UVW and IWGB to discuss joint working. After being elected, I proposed a paper on that to our NEC, which was endorsed, giving me a green light to talk to both unions. There’s an obvious industrial logic to our collaboration with UVW, as they already had some membership amongst outsourced workers in Royal Parks and Ministry of Justice, which are both government employers where PCS organises the directly-employed staff.

Where UVW has struck in Ministry of Justice, we’ve built solidarity with their action and helped with fundraising for the strike fund. In Royal Parks, we’ve undertaken a closer and more direct collaboration. UVW members there had struck in the past; as they prepared to renew their dispute, we discussed and agreed a dual-carding arrangement whereby UVW members would also become members of PCS, allowing us to use our resources – which are obviously considerably greater than UVW’s – to support them in taking action. PCS reps and activists have worked closely with UVW organisers, who’ve continued to lead the campaign on the ground. As the group of workers involved is relatively small, it’s been quite straightforward for them to take democratic decisions about what they want to do amongst themselves, which are then ratified by the relevant committees within both PCS and UVW.

PCS has also given financial support to a legal challenge UVW is pursuing, which argues that outsourcing amounts to indirect discrimination, as it leads to workforces which are majority-BAME having worse conditions than directly-employed workforces which are majority-white.

This is a far, far more constructive approach than the one taken, for example, by Unison in various places, which has been to see IWGB and UVW as a threat. If Unison had taken the approach we’ve taken, then not only would Unison have more members and stronger workplace organisation, but IWGB and UVW may have been able to win even greater victories than they have on their own.

I am an industrial unionist; I believe all workers in a given workplace or industry should be in one, democratic union. I’m not suggesting UVW should be absorbed wholesale into PCS – there’d be no industrial basis for that, as UVW organises in sectors where PCS doesn’t — but I see our partnership with UVW as a way of enacting some of those industrial unionist principles in Royal Parks.

In general, a union that is more interested in territorially defending its “turf” will be less successful than one which does whatever is necessary to empower workers to win. If that means working in partnership with a radical non-TUC union, then so be it.

Workers at the DLVA complex in Swansea conclude a month-long strike on 31 August. With Covid infection rates in south Wales rapidly increasing, and with Covid cases in the workplace going up, the original need for the dispute – to minimising the number of workers who had to be in the physical workplace, getting it down to just essential, emergency staff – is becoming acute again.

Our plan is to re-ballot our members. Although it will be hard work to get that ballot over the thresholds, we are confident that workers are still resolved to continue the action.

On Friday 27 August, we announced a ballot of our driving examiner members. Ordinarily they carry out a maximum of seven tests per day, but the employer wants to increase that to eight to clear a backlog. That’s an unacceptable increase in hours and workload, so our members will ballot for action to resist that.

• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity

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