Bust up in PCS Left Unity shows it's time for a new start

Submitted by martin on 11 December, 2018 - 10:01 Author: A PCS activist
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In November, the PCS Independent Left (PCS IL) selected John Moloney, a genuine rank and file PCS activist with an outstanding campaigning and negotiating record, to contest the 2019 PCS election for Assistant General Secretary (AGS). Nominations open on 17 January, and voting will run from 16 April to 9 May.

PCS’s dominant Left Unity (LU) faction has been divided since May into two warring camps, each backing a different member of the current PCS leadership to be the LU AGS candidate. The Socialist Party (SP) had chosen Chris Baugh, SP member, incumbent AGS since 2004 and currently on about £80,000 pa, to be its candidate in the internal LU AGS selection process, which usually the SP can dominate. However, Janice Godrich, also SP and PCS President for the last 17 years, broke ranks and announced her candidature for the LU nomination on 16 May.

She did so with the support and, according to the SP, at the instigation, of PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka. Godrich gathered a large number of prominent PCS representatives behind her, including three other SP members on the PCS NEC, established a new grouping within LU — Socialist View (SV) — and secured the support of the SWP, with its three NEC members. Baugh, the three SP loyalists on the PCS NEC, and the SP pulled together a smaller number of prominent PCS independents around “Re-elect Chris Baugh”.

With Godrich standing for AGS there was a vacancy for the LU presidential candidate. SV nominated SP member and Deputy Vice President Fran Heathcote and the SP nominated SP loyalist and PCS NEC member Marion Lloyd. SV also nominated candidates for Chair and Editor of LU against the SP loyalist incumbents, Marion Lloyd and Dave Semple.

After a heated process — nominations, voting, dispute over rejected votes, argument at LU conference on 1 December — the final voting figures were announced that day and confirmed by the LU National Secretary the next day. Godrich secured the nomination for AGS; Fran Heathcote became the LU candidate for PCS President; the sole SP candidate for one of the PCS Vice President posts was well beaten, and the SP also lost their two loyalists on the LU National Committee (NC). The SV also heavily defeated the SP loyalists in LU conference over the call for a special pay conference, over disaggregated ballots as opposed to a single national ballot next year, and over widening the pay ballot to include non-pay issues.

Then, the day after, Janice Godrich told LU that she was not well and would not now be accepting the nomination for AGS. The LU NC now has to decide whether to declare Baugh the candidate because he was the runner-up (the SP argument), or select another candidate because Baugh is allegedly a destabilising element in the PCS leadership (the SV argument).

The relationship between Baugh and Serwotka has been central to the punch up within LU and it will be central in the immediate period ahead. Mark Serwotka explicitly campaigned on the basis that Chris Baugh has worked to undermine him and the policies of the union. Fran Heathcote has set out at a (weak) case against Baugh as a source of mischief in HQ and Janice Godrich made the alleged differences between Serwotka and Baugh a critical reason for LU members to vote for her. Twenty two HMRC LU activists were organised to sign a letter referring to Baugh as a “…a candidate whose relationship with the General Secretary has completely, and visibly, broken down…”

A larger number of DWP LU activists went further and signed a letter declaring themselves “convinced” that Baugh had “consistently” undermined “our General Secretary” and “the union’s leadership on the major policies of our union. ” This accusation that Baugh “has consistently undermined our General Secretary” has been the emotional driver in the dispute.

The PCS bureaucracy has obviously handled some disagreements in a subterranean manner, out of sight and sound of activists. The issues of friction between Serwotka and Baugh were discussed within and with the SP, but they were not referred to the democratic structures of PCS at all. Mark Serwotka corresponded with the SP about Baugh, but not with the PCS NEC. Janice Godrich is a lay official, on secondment from and paid by her employer, rather than paid by the union. But as President for seventeen years, she has spent a huge amount of time in PCS HQ. Godrich and Baugh toed the same line, as members of the SP, and you could not get a sheet of paper between them and Serwotka on industrial issues. Why, then, this falling out?

The response on both sides has been a “programmatic vagueness” that might sound good to the politically untrained ear, plus an effort to develop artificial difference, or to artificially inflate differences. Baugh and his allies declared “On equality, we stand for the removal of all barriers which divide workers”, a highly ambitious aim in class society but one which frees him from saying precisely which inequalities and barriers he intends to remove and what he has been doing about them while already AGS. Fran Heathcote and Kevin McHugh condemned Baugh’s and the SP’s hypocrisy for taking the full AGS salary of about £80,000 when the SP policy is for workers’ representatives to take a skilled workers wage. They stopped talking about that when Hannah Sell of the SP pointed out their own hypocrisy: they are silent on Mark Serwotka’s even bigger salary of £90,000. (But it slipped Sell’s mind to tell us how much Chris Baugh has given back to PCS from his fat salary over the last fourteen years).

Tactical differences over pay were deliberately over-emphasised by both factions. The SP demagogically proclaimed that Janice Godrich and her supporters were opposed to an open, democratic and thorough discussion of issues thrown up by the failed 2018 national pay ballot, because they opposed a special pay conference. The SP had not previously called for a special conference in years, even to ensure the proper preparation of the 2018 ballot. SV demagogically condemned the SP as “lacking confidence” in members for considering disaggregated ballots (the tactic used by the UCU in its big dispute) as a way of getting round the anti-union laws.

The union’s policy towards the Labour Party could become the most serious and genuine difference between the factions. Serwotka and the SV have seemingly moved towards a generalised call to vote Labour, while the SP remains stuck in a sectarian position. The SP has argued that Serwotka is presiding over and promoting “a dangerous trend towards a… strengthening of the power of unelected officials” which Chris Baugh and SP members have valiantly but unsuccessfully tried to counter. Unfortunately they never mentioned that until after Godrich’s challenge was announced.

On 15 May 2018, Marion Lloyd described LU’s success in the NEC elections as “… a vote of confidence in Left Unity based on its record and on what it offers taking the union forward. ” The SP have proclaimed themselves the champions of election of officials because PCS National Conference 2017 agreed to extend elections to more than the two posts currently elected. But in the previous 13 years the SP had repeatedly opposed PCS IL’s demands for the election of officials!

The SP trained lay leaders of SV have responded with the ridiculous assertion, in effect, that there is no HQ bureaucracy in our wonderful union. This unprincipled bust up, the use by both sides of any argument that suits them irrespective of its merit and what it says about them, illustrates what is wrong with PCS. The IL activists will work with rank and file members to spread the key message for our 2019 NEC and AGS candidates: Vote for Change!

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