England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

PCS Conference: Success for LGBTQIA+ members, but stagnation on the pay campaign

By Liat Norris, branch delegate (personal capacity) 

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union’s Annual Delegate Conference recently met from 23-25 May in Brighton. Going into the conference, the questions on members’ minds were how to succeed and win at our union’s pay campaign, how LGBTQIA+ members can organise and campaign, and the forthcoming resignation of the General Secretary Mark Serwotka.

Reviewing strike action 

The union’s outgoing National Executive Committee’s strategy of targeted and sustained action has brought some large and important areas out on strike. During the six-month mandate won in the Autumn ballot, a further three days of all-out action has also been taken.

What has become clear however, is that the NEC has no real strategy for escalating this action. It took them three months to call any all-out action. Meanwhile, they have unfortunately refused in the recent reballot to include action short of strike as an option. Generally, there has been a conservative approach when questioned by members on why the union has not been taking longer periods of all-out action. 

There needs to be a union-wide discussion on what forms of industrial action can actually win real gains for civil service workers. Members have been promised through the Autumn ballot that this would not be a replication of previously ineffective one-day strikes. Unfortunately, for the majority of members, this still remains a reality. 

Despite a close-run debate, conference this year voted to continue this insufficient strategy, up against alternative proposals which demanded at least three days all-out action a month. Crucially, many branch delegates (including Socialist Alternative supporters in PCS) stressed the need for coordination with junior doctors who have promise the same, along with passing motions calling for ballots to include action short of strike. Of course, conference has made a democratic decision on this. Socialist Alternative will build for whatever action is called. However the union can and should be doing more. 

We have faith and confidence that, should members be given a lead from the NEC, they will jump into action and take the kind of serious all-out action needed to put a dent in the government. This should be backed up by targeted sustained action in key areas supported by the strike fund, alongside action short of a strike ensuring that departments cannot utilise overtime to recover work lost on strike. Simply continuing with the current action runs the risk of demoralising and disengaging members, as has unfortunately been seen in the result of the DWP re-ballot which failed to meet the 50% turnout and saw overall membership in the DWP drop. However, there is an alternative to this if there is a bold, fighting lead!

LGBTQIA+ liberation 

A central component of debates at this year’s conference was over the need for the trade union movement to take up the fight for LGBTQIA+ liberation. Socialist Alternative supporters have been stressing the need for the unions to have a clear stance in favour of gender recognition reform and the right to Scottish self-determination. When a motion to this effect appeared on the conference agenda, this was unfortunately lost due to time running out. This is of course a recurring theme in a busy agenda. However, when discussing organising, it was clear the PCS President was attempting to draw out the debate unnecessarily despite no opposition. This meant that an important motion on LGBTQIA+ organising, A50, was lost. 

The supposed motivation behind this has been questioned. However screenshots from an alleged Left Unity (the currently-dominant faction in the union) WhatsApp group were leaked on the Wednesday evening. These screenshots allegedly showed the PCS President, whilst sitting as chair of conference, was privately messaging her allies asking them to get in on the organising section to avoid the motion being heard. If this is the case, it would amount to a blatant abuse of her position, and will not be forgotten by members during her campaign for General Secretary. 

An emergency motion written by members of the Proud LGBT+ members National Committee passed despite opposition from the Chair and the NEC. This censured the NEC for their refusal to properly consult with Proud on LGBTQIA+ issues, despite motions at previous conferences instructing them to do so. It correctly demanded the NEC allow Proud to continue to self-organise and to call an Emergency General Meeting to discuss the future of the campaign. We will be encouraging as wide a turn out to this as possible by LGBTQIA+ members of PCS to ensure that these issues are at the forefront of campaigns run by PCS.

Next steps

The current leadership is lacking ideas and the strategy to win, and is increasingly using the same underhanded undemocratic tactics used by the former right-wing of the union to retain control.

It is important that the left, the Broad Left Network, the Independent Left, and other independent socialist activists, work together to provide a credible alternative. A meeting needs to take place as soon as possible, involving as many members and activists as possible to decide on a joint slate that can work together campaigning for over the next six months based on a clear programme to take the union and our movement forward.


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