Link outsourced workers' disputes

Submitted by AWL on 29 June, 2021 - 3:54 Author: John Moloney
Outsourced PCS workers' protest

The union has now made a formal complaint to the Cabinet Office about the treatment of our reps in the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) Swansea. It’s increasingly clear that the strikebreaking campaign is, if not originating with management, certainly endorsed by them. The anti-strike, back-to-work petition was even tweeted by the DVLA’s official Twitter account.

I’m pushing for the union to coordinate three outsourced workers’ disputes which are developing concurrently. On 29 June, we’ll get the result from a ballot of outsourced workers in the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. On 1 July, a ballot of outsourced cleaners in Royal Parks begins, and on 3 July, outsourced security guards in the Ministry of Justice will begin a ballot. Each dispute has its own logic and tempo, and must be fought on its own terms, but the common issues across all of them means coordination makes obvious sense. The fundamental commonality is that all three disputes are about outsourced workers being treated as second-class citizens relative to directly-employed staff.

Coordination would mean common campaign material and activity, including a common fundraising drive for the disputes’ strike funds. It would also mean workers from each dispute speaking at each others’ rallies and picket lines. And it would mean coordinating industrial action itself, as long as that meant the action was more impactful and effective.

Those disputes could soon be joined by another one, as outsourced security guards employed by Mitie have made it clear they’re prepared to strike to stop a fire and rehire threat. Mitie has paused the implementation of contractual changes, but has neither scrapped the changes entirely nor committed not to impose them via fire and rehire. There’ll be a meeting next week to discuss next steps, and if Mitie has not withdrawn its threat I’ll be arguing for us to move to a ballot.

PCS is also working with other unions, including through the London and South East TUC, to develop wider labour movement campaigning against fire and rehire, including around the demand that public bodies remove any outsourced contractor that does not commit to not using fire and a rehire from their list of approved providers. That policy has to sit within a wider push for the in-housing of all outsourced services.

Our union’s annual conference took place recently, and I’m in the process of following up with branches whose motions were passed to discuss the implementation of those motions. There can be a phenomenon in the labour movement where motions are passed at conferences but there’s never any active follow-up or dialogue with the branch or committee that proposed the motion, with the effect that they can be forgotten about or implemented in an inadequate way.

Trade union democracy isn’t just about formal procedures, it’s an ongoing process of discussion and deliberation, and feedback between the union’s national leadership, charged with carrying out the policies proposed by branches and passed at our conferences, and the rank-and-file bodies where the policies originated is essential. I was elected on a platform of deepening and expanding rank-and-file democracy in the union and I see this work very much as part of fulfilling that commitment.

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

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