Our union, PCS, announced on 30 April that our pay ballot had failed to get the 50% turnout required by law. Since then the union leadership has announced its next step as "to hold a further statutory ballot for industrial action over pay at the earliest appropriate time".
That proposal will go as an emergency motion to our conference on 21-23 May. To go for another push as soon as possible to edge us over the 50% mark would be wrong. We need to step back and think why we couldn't get even 50% of our membership to open an envelope, tick a box, and send back the form. The problems are not just organisation. The way the pay demand was constructed was part of it. Just plucking a 10% figure out of the air hasn't gripped the membership.
Obviously the claim should include a general increase for all members. But it should also include equalisation of pay across departments - which members can easily understand - and a national system of pay. It should include a demand about progression pay. In most government departments you can't get to the maximum, or only with great difficulty.
If we're going to win over members, we also need to explain more what the tactics will be. The union did say that there would be a different approach, not just one-day strikes, but it didn't hammer this message home. Fundamentally, the union over the last few years has given people no indication of how we're going to win. The union has become an affair of top-down campaign messages, and that's it, with no effective support for local initiative.
Before the next ballot we must have a clear plan with a mixture of mass actions, selective strikes, rolling strikes, and effective action short of strike action. We need a proper discussion about disaggregated ballots. If HM Revenue and Customs, say, got over the 50% and took effective action on pay, that could pull other departments along. But we need a serious debate about why we lost. Not a sterile debate in which we say we were magnificent and if only we'd make a few more phone calls then we'd get over the 50%.
We don’t want just to get to 50% plus one, but to 60%, 70% etc. To do this we need to take a bottom-to-top look at ourselves, and build a union where activists and members have the decisive say in what to do.