UPDATE – 07 Feb
Since the last post the following articles have been posted:
- Howie Fuller (the now ex-PCS member) writes about the leak of the NEC memo.
- Rob Williams writes on the Socialist Party’s website that PCS had “no option but to implement emergency measures to ensure the ongoing viability of the union.”
- Worker’s Power argue that the PCS ‘left’ ditches democracy ending with the observation that “Democracy is not a luxury for a working class organisation, it is its lifeblood.”
- Former PCS rep and current Croydon South Class War candidate for the 2015 General Election discusses the decision in reference to his MA research into PCS democracy.
- Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary has taken to Youtube to explain and defend the NEC’s decision.
- The Weekly Worker attempts to place the decision in the historic context of UK industrial relations in Building the Union is no lottery.
- LibCom analyse the PCS response to criticism in Government Union Busting and PCS response.
If I’ve missed any posts please let me know in the comments.
So it is about three weeks since the NEC’s decision to cancel PCS elections in 2015. It seems an opportune moment to post some links on the reaction to the decision to update this earlier round up.
The decision was announced in the run up to Christmas, in a posting on the main union website in the not especially transparent title “Government steps up political attack on PCS”.
To date the only solidly supportive source is Left Unity’s Left Unity on attacks on PCS and the National Elections. The article itself add little to the official PCS article, citing the need to save resources (the c. £590,000 annual group and national elections are said to cost the union) and focus resources on countering the direct debit challenge.
The central thrust of the of article is that in the context of the harsh political climate the union means the decision was a ‘difficult but necessary’ one but, somewhat ingeniously suggesting that opposition to the NEC decision is ‘right wing’:
Left Unity is absolutely clear that the decision was the only one that could have been taken in the circumstances. The highest possible standards that have been set by the Democracy Alliance national executive has its roots in many decades of struggle to secure the greatest possible democracy for our union. On merger PCS had two-yearly elections and conferences. It was Left Unity, including all the members of the current PCS leadership active at the time, that fought against the right wing to secure annual elections and conferences. Securing national elections was not just won by votes at conference alone. Mark Serwotka and Janice Godrich went to exceptional personal risk in fighting for the right in the High Court, including risking the loss of their own homes.
PCS members will understand and support this decision when it is honestly explained – so too will PCS activists. Right wing opponents of the national executive will attack the decision. Their history in resisting the democratisation of our union and its predecessors will expose their criticism for what it is – shameless hypocrisy.
I have to say how a decision to resist a decision to move away from an ostensibly ‘left’ position is now is a ‘right wing’ attack is a mystery and seems to be a particularly unrefined form of doublespeak. If David Cameron were to come out and oppose all NHS privatisation whilst his opponents were seeking to outsource it I would rejoice, that he’d supported a socialist policy not label it as a ‘right wing’ reaction. As it is, however, although there are complaints from right-wingers with the aforementioned Howie Fuller being a case in point it looks like the majority of the complaints against the decision are from the left (although characterised as ‘non-factional’).
The Alliance for Workers Liberty’s (AWL) article of 30 December PCS leadership suspend elections criticizes PCS for a lack of transparency, considering it is unlikely that the financial report of ADC 2014 had already highlighted the risk to the Union and said it was factored into the considerations:
Thus members and Conference were assured that the continuing decline in membership had been taken account of.
However, just in case a branch or conference delegate might nevertheless have worried about the future post 2014 the report – signed off by Chris Baugh (National Treasurer), Kevin McHugh (Deputy President) and Stella Dennis (Director of Finance) – stated,
“There is no doubt that the union faces serious challenges going forward. The scale of the government attacks is having a significant impact on our income which [is] largely derived from members subscriptions.” So delegates were under no illusion as to the pressures on the union but the Annual report continued, “We believe the further measures set out in this report will ensure we continue to consolidate our financial base whilst protecting the organising, bargaining and campaigning activities that PCS members expect.”
There was no hint that just seven/eight months later, far from continuing to consolidate the financial base, PCS would be confronted with an apparent existential threat.
A similar view is set out in Howie’s Corner (knowing how much Howie loves the far-left type I am sure that will delight him).
The Way I See Things ties the news in with the apparent hope of certain segments of the PCS leadership to keep alight the hope of a takeover of PCS by Unite and, a simultaneous takeover of the Unite Left by Left Unity.
It’s Spirit Cries in the Wilderness offers an anarcho-syndicalist view of the decision.
Paul Williams and Marianne Owens, two of three NEC members at the meeting who voted against the proposal write for the Socialist Worker in Undermining democracy won’t help union beat the Tories’ attacks. Williams and Owens write:
We have to cut costs, but this is a three-year budget. That should mean asking members and reps for their views how money could be saved.
But above all else we believe that in a democratic union it must be the right of members to decide when the national executive gets elected.
It cannot be for the executive to decide. We believe that this decision should have been taken by conference. At that point we will also know the financial situation we face.
So we voted for the union’s headquarters to be sold and for the financial decisions to be put to conference.
We did not vote for a budget that included proposals to suspend elections or for the suspension of elections themselves.
PFLCPSA devotes its most recent edition to the NEC decision.
The Revenue and Customs Bootle branch, together with the DWP East London Branch established a campaign which thus far has been joined by the DfT London and South East branch uniting around the following statement:
The decision by the emergency NEC in late December 2014 to suspend NEC and group elections was wrong.
- We will work together in a campaign to seek to get that decision overturned and for NEC and group elections to be held at the usual time. If that does not happen then they must be held as soon as possible.
- We will agree motions or a motion for the ADC that will achieve elections as soon as possible after the conference.
- We will seek to get as many branches as possible to agree this statement.
- We will use social media (be it a blog, Facebook page etc.) to gather support for our campaign in the union and in the wider labour movement
- We accept and respect that each branch will have differing views on who to support in elections. The sole purpose of this campaign is for NEC and GEC elections to be held at the usual time or if that does not happen then they must be held as soon as possible.
The IL faction have been especially vociferous in opposing the decision in the following postings:
- Ends justify the means
- Open the books
- Incompetence or Cynicism?
- Check Off: Many warnings were given but little action was taken
- We warned of financial ruin
- Does the NEC have the right to suspend elections
- PCS leadership attack out union’s democracy
- The solution of Bertolt Brecht
- The “bold” financial decisions
- A Joint IL/LU slate proposed to IL before the election was suspended
- Suspension of elections and transfer to Unite
- How do you learn that the NEC has saved you the trouble of voting for it?
Many of the Independent Left’s criticisms are valid but it must be said the suggestion that the reason for the decision is fear of an IL election victory against the LU is not credible at all. You need only look at recent IL election results, together with their inability to field a left GS candidate to challenge Mark Serwotka to see through that suggestion.
The Democracy Deferred website remains the most important of the responses and includes a copy of the NEC briefing which was given NEC members, or rather, those NEC members able to attend shortly before the meeting.
Your Voice describes the decision as defeatist saying “Facing off the attacks on our union from this government mean not only standing our ground but advancing forward. If we take a single step backwards, in terms of democracy or organisation, then that is a concession too many to our foes”
Jon Rogers, a Unison NEC member characterises PCS’ decision as “An Early Xmas present for the Tories” and comments that “The General Secretary himself is not above the Rule Book.” This is a post upon which (in the comments) the author is described as passive aggressive by PCS President Janice Godrich.
Socialist Resistance comments that cancelling “elections will mean that the opponents of the current leadership will be prevented from standing and putting forward their arguments in elections and leave the existing leadership in place.”
Last, and most certainly least, the R&C staff association and darlings of HMRC management the Revenue and Customs Trade Union have used the NEC decision for a bit of politicking; strangely despite being ‘bored’ by PCS they need to talk about them at length. I have no problem criticizing the decision or actively campaigning against the decision and the leadership – that is entirely legitimate. It was perfectly possible, it this were a point of principle, for the RCTUers to campaign and stand for election and defeat the policies it opposed through electoral means in the R&C group and PCS. And if PCS dissatisfaction is as widespread in HMRC as it suggests then it would take only a little organising to win those elections since they, allegedly, stand for the silent majority. That they have chosen to ‘take their ball and go home’ speaks volumes on the political principles and respect for democracy of RCTU ‘leaders’. If you want to change the union because it has gone off track then get involved, get elected, and change things. If you choose not to do that then all opinions expressed should, rightfully, be viewed with suspicion.