Articles  •  Britain  •  PCS union

Why has the left covered up another PCS sellout?

14 August 2012

Rebecca Anderson asks why the left has covered up the latest sellout by so-called ‘left’ trade union PCS

On 26 June, members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) were due to strike over the cuts and privatisation. They face the threat of 8,500 job cuts, 5,300 of them to UK Border Agency (UKBA) staff by 2015 and the rest to Passport Agency staff. SERCO are currently taking part in a privatisation pilot of UKBA, which would mean a private company taking over a powerful wing of the state with huge potential for corruption. On top of this, Home Office staff have had two years of pay freezes and face a one per cent pay cap this year, as well as huge cuts to their pensions.

The 26 July was due to be the first day in a campaign of action around all these issues and more, and it was scheduled to coincide with the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games to demonstrate how serious these workers are about resisting austerity. For this, they faced demonization by the press and politicians – people who get to determine their own pay and pensions, fiddle their expenses and haven’t faced a day of hardship in their lives.

There is controversy around the reason the PCS leadership gave for calling off this strike, but the real issues are being ignored. PCS say that the government gave a concession of 1,100 new jobs, the government claim that the jobs are just to fill existing vacancies and have nothing to do with the strike. Whatever the situation, 1,100 jobs is nothing compared to the 8,500 jobs that PCS members voted to take action to defend. Nor the threatened privatisation of UKBA or the compulsory redundancies in Newport Passport Office. If the 1,100 jobs were the result of the threatened strike then so much more could be won with sustained strike action. Instead the strike was called off and no new date has been set.

But it’s not just the government and the official PCS communications that are ignoring this issue, it’s also the left-wing organisations within PCS. Both the Socialist Party (SP) and Socialist Workers Party (SWP) have members on the National Executive of PCS but neither organisation has said a critical word about the sell-out.

The Socialist Party simply said:

A planned strike tomorrow (26 July) by PCS members in the Home Office has been suspended after officials told the union last night there will be significant investment in the border force and passport service and confirmed this would mean more than 1,000 new jobs.

And nothing else. The SWP reported that the strike had been called off and said that: “A number of issues in the dispute remain unresolved.”

The Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), which claims to be the militant organisation within PCS wrote:

Although the concession from the government is positive, many activists will question whether the offer – to create 800 jobs in the Border Agency and 300 jobs in passport offices — was sufficient to call off action when eight times that number of jobs are on the line.

The answer to that question is that 1,100 jobs are not sufficient, but none of those three organisations are willing to say it, never mind willing to fight to change it within PCS. Their view is that PCS is one of the more militant unions and its leader, Mark Serwotka, is one of the more militant trade union leaders and therefore it is important to keep close to him. The Socialist Party regularly refers to PCS as a “socialist union” but any socialist worth their salt would not have agreed to call off that strike, and would publically criticise anyone who did.

Rather than compromising the struggle against austerity for the sake of a close relationship with the trade union bureaucracy, socialists need to organise the rank and file members of the union into an organisation to transform the democracy of the union. This would mean that the members directly affected by the cuts and privatisation would be the ones debating and deciding on industrial action. Leaders who sellout strikes should be accountable to these members – if they betray the rank and file then they should be recallable.

We are facing unprecedented austerity and the reaction of the existing union leadership has been disgraceful. They have sold us out on pensions, sat back and watched the NHS being privatised and show no intention of launching a fight over pay. Yes, there are right-wing union leaders like Kenney and left-wing ones like Serwotka, but it’s all relative.

When the left-wing isn’t willing to fight for what the working class needs then they need to be replaced. Not by another bureaucrat with a six-figure salary but by leaders accountable to rank and file organisations. Fighting to make our leaders accountable to those they represent is the first step to overcoming the crisis of leadership which has paralysed working class resistance to cuts, crisis and austerity.

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