Over the past months there have been persistent rumours of a merger between the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and Unite, Britain’s largest union.
Nothing has been said to members about this possibility, yet the rumours persist. Possibly one reason for the persistence is the realisation that PCS will be broke in the next few years if nothing fundamentally changes. PCS currently has a “cost structure” (i.e. the number of full-time officers [FTOs] and officials and their salary levels) for a union of 320,000 members when it has closer to 250,000 members. The recent national strikes on pensions have boosted membership but the union’s core sector, the civil service, is shrinking.
The union has had some successes in recruiting in areas of outsourced work, but those gains are outweighed by losses.
Instead of reducing the full-time officer salary bill, having much more aggressive recruitment in core and outsourced work areas, and changing the way the union is organised, the bureaucracy wants a “rescuer” that will allow it to maintain FTO salaries and perks.
PCS and Unite have signed a concordat at general secretary level, and rumours also abound that Unite leader Len McCluskey (marginally more leftish than, for example, Unison’s Dave Prentis or the GMB’s Paul Kenny) wants the PCS’s Mark Serwotka (who also has a background in the socialist left) to succeed him as the leader of the most powerful bloc in the British labour movement.
Socialists are not partisans for any particular union, and where union mergers make industrial sense (i.e. reducing the number of “competing” unions in a given workplace, sector or industry) we favour them. But this merger is driven by business logic, rather than industrial logic.
It has more to do with the self-preservation instincts of the bloated PCS bureaucracy than with uniting workers.