On 26 February members of the civil service union PCS in HMRC (Revenue and Customs) voted overwhelmingly on an 82% turnout to accept a deal which sold terms and conditions for an average 13% pay-rise over three years.
This result is not surprising. It is however unfortunate, and illustrates the level of desperation and pessimism on behalf of the membership who don’t have the confidence to win on pay unless they sell their conditions to do so. Following years of top-down leadership, secret negotiations, constant refusal to fight over issues such as office closures and a consequent declining membership density, our ability to fight and win has been severely limited.
The issue has also caused a split in the leadership of the HRMC group in the union.
In 2018 the leadership group in the union, Left Unity, split. But at that time supporters of the splinter group, Broad Left Network, in the second largest group in the union, HMRC, had remained within Left Unity and within the group union leadership.
The Socialist Party had left Left Unity in other parts of the union, to form the Broad Left Network, following the decision of some in Left Unity to stand their own candidate against the incumbent Socialist Party Assistant General Secretary. The election was subsequently won by John Moloney of the Independent Left.
After 15 years of being a central part of the union leadership, and being jointly responsible for where the union finds itself, the Socialist Party and their supporters broke away with the claim that bureaucratisation had spread too deep in the union leadership. While true, that claim did nothing to convincingly distance themselves from their own leading role in the very same leadership.
Continuing unity in HMRC was allowed on the basis of the federal nature of the Left Unity faction. In the cancelled 2020 elections, there was a separate BLN slate for the National elections. But there was a joint LU/BLN slate in HMRC Group elections. It won and became a sort of “coalition leadership” of the group.
The coalition ended a couple of weeks ago when the HMRC Group Exec Split on whether to endorse the pay-for-conditions deal. Left Unity voted in favour (despite many of their candidates promising not to vote for such a deal in previous election addresses and members’ meetings) and the Broad Left Network sympathisers voted against, together with the Independent Left and the PCS Rank-and-File Network.
BLN comrades should be congratulated for taking this decision and splitting from the leadership.
However, throughout the farcical carry-on of the secret negotiations, which lasted 15 months, never once did they join Independent Left and PCS Rank and File comrades in opposing the secretive nature of the pay talks and demanding they be opened up.
Their position has not been consistent. In 2016 similar negotiations in DWP created the “Employee Deal”, in many ways a trailblazer for the HMRC one. The union agreed to employer demands for a universal levelling down in conditions, and selling time to the employer, for relative crumbs from the table in pay.
That deal was loudly cheer-led by comrades now leading the BLN, and opened the flood gates for similar pushes by employers like HMRC. Those of us who opposed that deal have been proved absolutely right as inequality, low-pay, and a hugely divided workforce are now structural in the department.
Following the split, various BLN comrades in HRMC have announced they will be standing against the leadership in HMRC and have consequently resigned or been expelled from Left Unity.
Members in HMRC will now get to choose from three groups of candidates: the Left Unity leadership, BLN and the Rank-and-File Network. Only the latter has a consistent record in advocating for the rank-and-file and opposing divisive pay deals.