Under a Lib Dem-Tory coalition, we know that members of the Public and Commercial Services Union will be attacked even more viciously than we were under New Labour; indeed the whole of the public sector will be. It is against this background that the PCS will hold its national conference between 17 and 19 May.
In our view the union must put itself on a war footing to meet the threats ahead. This means constant agitation amongst members, explaining what will happen and the need for industrial action; it means vigorous recruiting of non-members; it means working out how best to hurt the employer (through the use of national, selective and other actions); it means addressing the organisational weakness in parts of the union; and it means collecting a levy to fund action.
All these actions are those that the union can take itself; what is needed in addition is the building of an alliance of public sector unions so that a united front can be presented to the new government. Ironically a Con-Lib government may “liberate” Labour-supporting leaderships of Unison and Unite and allow them to join in with such an alliance.
Clearly these external threats will dominate the national conference, but one other issue that will hopefully spark real debate in this supposedly most left-wing of unions, and that is full time officer pay.
The Socialist Party (SP) dominates the union through its control of Left Unity (which is the main activist grouping in the union). Many SP members now work for the Union. This number is growing — indeed it is becoming a recognised career path within PCS that to get on, you join the SP and become a full time officer. The SP’s formal position is that union officials should be on a worker’s wage; in reality the SP in PCS do not hold to this commitment.
Although formally the union is committed to bringing full time official wages more closely in line with that of the members, it has not carried out this policy. A motion that such action must be taken will be heard at conference. It will be interesting to hear how the SP square their formal political position with their real desire to keep the dosh.
Space is too limited here to rehearse the reasons why full time officers should be on a worker’s wages, but the arguments are well known to SP comrades; it is a pity that they cannot practise what they preach.
As the class enemy gears up for massive attacks on us, that is a good rule for PCS in general: empty rhetoric needs to be replaced by a real commitment and willingness to struggle.