By Rebecca Anderson
The Annual Delegate Conference (ADC) of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) took two important votes on the Labour Party this week. In one, it decided to review its political strategy and consider the possibility of affiliation to the Labour Party with further decisions to be taken next year. In the other. it decided by a large majority against affiliation to Momentum, which does not bode well for affiliation to Labour.
Overwhelming support from new Labour leadership
Both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell addressed the conference and won standing ovations from delegates. Both were founding members of the PCS Parliamentary Group and have given the union unwavering support for twelve years.
Corbyn was the first ever Labour Party leader to address the conference. He congratulated the National Gallery staff on their victory last year and expressed his support for National Museum of Wales and Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) workers who are taking industrial action and cuts and closures. He went on to vow that his government would repeal the Trade Union Act and introduce new legislation extending trade union and employment rights. With reference to proposed cuts to redundancy pay in the civil service, he said that there is one way to save money on redundancies, and that’s to stop making people redundant. He also said that the pay cap would be lifted and national pay bargaining would finally be introduced.
Corbyn went on to inform the conference that “PCS is welcome to join in with all we do in our party. Our door is open to you.”
The vote on affiliation
There were three motions on affiliation to Labour. One was from the National Executive Committee (NEC), which is dominated by the Socialist Party, and called for a review of the union’s political strategy. The motion instructed the NEC to “conduct a full review of the union’s political campaigning, bringing any new proposals to ADC 2017, to include 1. Our Make Your Vote Count operation 2. The policy of supporting or standing candidates in exceptional circumstances 3. Our relations with anti austerity parties in the devolved administrations 4. Our relations with the Labour Party including the issue of affiliation”.
All three motions were debated at the same time but the NEC’s motion was the first to be voted on and passed by a narrow margin. This meant that the Socialist Workers Party’s motion which instructed the NEC “to re-affirm our independence from any political party” fell. As did the motion from Labour Party members which called for affiliation and “[instructed] the NEC to take all necessary actions to ensure this happens including any constitutional requirements to ballot members”.
The PCS NEC is almost completely carved up between the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party, who together fielded almost 300 Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidates against Labour in the recent local elections. Whilst it’s an important development that the majority of the NEC did not believe they could completely rule out affiliation to Labour, it’s highly unlikely that the NEC will recommend affiliation next year.
Waiting until next year to make a decision on affiliation is shooting ourselves in the foot. As one speaker in favour of affiliation put it “The is no time to wait and see what happens next. We can’t stand on the sidelines, cheering or not, while fellow socialists and trade unionists fight for the things we believe in”. A number of delegates speaking in favour of the NEC’s motion said that we need to wait a few years and see how far Corbyn and McDonnell get before we consider affiliation.
It was clear from the debate at the conference that many and possibly most delegates were opposed to Labour affiliation at this point. The intervention of the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party is very important to this. For years, Labour has been presented as essentially the same as the Tories. The end goal of the Make Your Vote Count campaign and the policy of supporting or standing candidates in exceptional circumstances was for PCS to support TUSC candidates and eventually affiliate to it.
The election of Corbyn has thrown a spanner in the works, and many PCS members across the country will be Corbyn supporters and have never heard of TUSC. For a “yes” vote for affiliation to Labour there would need to be a serious campaign to persuade members that political “neutrality” ties one hand behind our backs. If the conference voted to ballot on affiliation then this is the campaign that would need to happen.
The vote on Momentum
On Tuesday night, Mark Serwotka and Fire Brigades Union (FBU) General Secretary Matt Wrack spoke at a Momentum fringe meeting. Serwotka explained the need to join Momentum to support Corbyn and McDonnell, and that as a trade union we never “absent ourselves from struggle”.
However, the NEC opposed the resolution and on Thursday morning it only won a quarter of the votes. Kevin McHugh from the NEC and a member of the Socialist Party claimed that Momentum actually undermines Corbyn and McDonnell. His statement that PCS would give the two leaders of the Labour Party our fullest support led a lot of delegates to ask “how?”.
One delegate, who neglected to mention in her speech that she had stood against Labour in the May local elections, complained that she had not been allowed to join Momentum.
A second Momentum fringe meeting was held on Wednesday night where supporters decided to launch PCS Momentum, whatever the outcome of the affiliation vote. We agreed that for the next year, Labour Party supporters in PCS will need to campaign in the branches to persuade activists and members of the need to affiliate and respond to the NEC consultation in the strongest possible terms.