"Public sector alliance" (document 1.1)

Submitted by martin on 20 May, 2007 - 7:30

1. In 2005, long before the public sector unions formal retreat on retirement age, we identified the need, within our very limited resources, to propagandise and agitate for a cross public sector rank and file movement in counter-position to the likely Alliance of Bureaucrats for a Deal with New Labour.

Last year we noted that "the inadequacy of the Left opposition (such as it was) to the [pensions] reserved rights deal, with much of the Left actually supporting it, demonstrated yet again the need to for us to organise wider layers of the Left around our distinctive industrial policies, to link them as best we can across the unions, whilst simultaneously advocating at every opportunity the need for a rank and file movement based on the official structures, with real roots amongst the membership, a serious programme to actually take the class forward, and seeking to base itself around real disputes." In cold assessment, even allowing for our highly limited resources, we have not agitated or propagandised for that basic analysis with the necessary consistency, timeliness or energy, either through our press or through the detailed working of trade union comrades anticipating and responding to developments within their specific sectors and across the public sector.

2. However, even to the exceptionally limited extent that any real initiative was undertaken it "coincided", to say the least, with the recruitment of a trade union activist to AWL (the comrade agreed to join on the day and immediately following a fruitless London meeting on cross union links). There is every reason to think we should have done a lot better and that we still could - our analysis over the last two years is, if anything, even more valid today:

* Brown will maintain or step up the privatisation and contracting out of the public sector, handing it over to PFI "partners", "third way" charities (increasingly "charity businesses"), rich men contributing little but gaining control of our schools, and so on and so forth. Whatever the precise form, Brown's attack is and will be on all public sector workers and on all public services. Of course if Brown does not win the general election - but on current indications that will mean a Tory Government - or does so with an insufficient majority and is reliant on other party votes, he may not be able to carry his programme through in the manner and extent he desires. However, in the absence of a working class political alternative all immediately possible governmental variations point to further attacks on public sector workers.
* In his June 2006 Mansion House speech Gordon Brown promised his rich audience that he would peg increases in the public sector pay bill to 2% over the next two years. It was effectively a year on year promise to cut real pay for thousands of public sector workers and to cut the real value of public sector pay scales by blocking inflation proof revalorisation. With inflation currently running at nearly 5% a lot of trade union members will be hit very hard indeed and of course 2006 was a grim enough "pay year" for many public sector workers.
* The current national PCS jobs, pay and services dispute includes a demand for a guarantee of inflation proof increases i.e. it runs directly counter to Brown's pay cutting policy. It is in that sense a vital step forward and one which we should demand that other unions get behind and develop - our programme is not to stand still but to improve living standards, especially for the mass of poorly paid public sector workers. The basis for such unity is there in the recent Conference decisions of the NUT and RCN and the developments in other unions. A united, confident, fight-back of the public sector unions could force Brown to retreat, especially if it were coupled with some genuinely positive political campaigning against his public sector agenda and regressive taxation policy.
* We should say this and propogandise for public sector trade union unity in the most positive and constructive manner whilst not hiding our criticism of the PCS leadership. (The current dispute was ill prepared - the national leadership repeatedly rejected arguments to prepare for a national dispute on the grounds that members were not ready and then launched the dispute in December for a national one day strike in January. They have no strategy beyond the next one day strike on 1st May and Brown is not about to make serious, costly, concessions, on that basis. They have been hostile to selective action, and have therefore always resisted levy collecting, but rightly do not believe that a ballot for all out action can be won. Their demands, apart from the demand for an RPI award and a no compulsory redundancy guarantee, are vague - "a fair pay system" - sometimes expressed as fair pay systems; "an end to privatisation without agreement", sometimes expressed as "...without agreement to protect workers." There is a danger that the SP leadership of PCS will settle for warm words whilst privately blaming the leaderships of other unions - they talk in terms of PCS being a "beacon" and hint that a national dispute cannot be won without the other unions, a view now explicitly and privately endorsed by at least some SWP activists whose own NEC members do not move the official SWP position at the PCS NEC. The PCS leadership launched the current dispute alone and must take responsibility for it).
* Similarly, whilst advocating a public sector fight-back we should not fail to warn workers of the likely role of the leaderships of the other unions. It seems that the UNISON bureaucracy has already told Serwotka that it is not interested in a common pay fight and if so this should be a line of attack for our comrades on the leadership. The NUT has voted for the possibility of strike action but our comrades must agitate for that to be turned into reality, alongside PCS.
* The precise demands, and the extent to which they are coupled with other demands, needs to be practically and urgently worked out by comrades in each union. However there must be a common line of march - for public sector unity; local joint action committees, building to regional committees wherever possible; certain common pay demands, most obviously a minimum guaranteed increase over the coming years; a linking of demands on pay to demands for a halt to job loss and an end to privatisation; no leadership proclamations of success and calling off of action, as there was in the pensions dispute, without prior consultation with the relevant NEC and wider members; a joint mechanism so that Brown cannot easily divide and rule union bureaucrats.

3. Over the coming period we will develop a consistent propaganda for public sector unity and for a cross union rank and file movement. The fight for Marxist influence in the unions must proceed from the nature of the unions, the sense of workers that together and through their unions they can defend their jobs, working conditions, and their living standards. To the extent that we can make our voice heard as to the means necessary to defeat Brown and the bosses, and do so as AWL members, we will attract and develop the best elements, not necessarily the most "active" or "prominent" activists. To the extent that we are clear that we act as AWL members and seek to persuade people of the need for Marxist, working class, politics if industrial victories are to be consolidated and rendered permanent, and if we are to move beyond the daily fight to preserve what we have, then we will recruit to the AWL.