The national executive of the civil service union PCS will put an emergency motion to its conference on 18-20 May, seeking permission to ballot members over pensions, jobs and pay.
Delegates to the PCS conference are used to the Executive using the device of an emergency motion (on non-emergency matters) to dominate conference proceedings and to bypass and ignore normal branch motions put up in the normal manner.
That said, it is correct that members should be balloted on pensions, jobs and pay, particularly when we can co-ordinate such action with other unions.
However, taking industrial action over multiple issues when the executive is really only interested in one of them is another familiar device. This certainly is the case with the latest ballot.
The Executive is really only interested in pensions as this allows the possibility (in their minds) to link up with other unions; jobs and pay are makeweight issues, included just to “reassure” activists.
On jobs, the Executive is seeking to strength the jobs protocols — a series of arrangements agreed between departments on how to handle staff surpluses. No serious moves on pay are contemplated.
The emergency motion calls for “discontinuous strike action and for discontinuous action short of a strike”. If past practice is repeated, this will mean a one- or two-day strike taken with other unions, coupled with an overtime ban. This will not be enough to win.
Instead of the jobs protocols, we need a binding government/union agreement concerning jobs.
We should demand that 90-day notices given in advance of possible compulsory redundancies be rescinded, where they have been issued, and not issued where threatened.
On pay we need, minimally, cost of living increases.
On pensions the action is too limited in its aims. The Executive does oppose (some) increases in contributions and the change of the pension age from 60 to 65 for those with reserved rights.
But even if PCS were to win these demands that would still leave a two-tier workforce, with newer civil servants having a pension age of 65; and those with reserved rights have a pension age of 60. In the past, the union agreed a cap on employer pension contributions, therefore members’ contributions will increase in any case.
We should demand an end to the two-tier workforce, with a common pension age of 60 and a re-negotiation of the employers’ cap to take account of the effect of inflation on wages.
Lastly, there has to be a serious industrial action plan. We need as much national action as the members can bear coupled with paid selective action.
We need to raise levies and/or the diversion of members’ subs from funding routine union functions to funding such selective action.
A fight over pensions, jobs, services and pay can be won; but it requires a better campaign than that envisaged by the Executive.