National elections in the PCS civil servants’ union start on 16 April and finish 9 May. They are for the national executive committee (NEC), which is elected annually, and the assistant general secretary (AGS) position – elected for a five-year term.
Socialist Party member Chris Baugh is standing for re-election as AGS. He is the candidate supported by PCS Left Unity – the union’s broad left. Socialist Party members Marion Lloyd and Dave Semple are standing for re-election to the NEC on the Democracy Alliance slate – supported by PCS Left Unity and the PCS Democrats.
PCS is balloting members for action in support of its 2019 pay claim. Why should members vote yes? What sort of action will be required?
CB: The Tories scrapped national civil service pay bargaining in the early 1990s in a classic divide-and-rule tactic. This has led to deep cuts in living standards, different rates for equal work, discriminatory outcomes and entrenched poverty wages for increasing numbers of members.
The May government continues to treat us as the poor relations of the public sector despite the important contribution civil servants make to society.
After announcing a further 1% pay cap in 2019, it is crystal clear we need to win a decisive mandate in the pay ballot for a campaign of industrial action to force the employer to negotiate on our pay claim and to restore our collective bargaining rights.
Members are tired of isolated one-day stoppages. PCS needs to set out a detailed plan of sustained, national, group and targeted action and build up the fighting fund to support those members taking action on behalf of all of us.
With PCS holding the chair of the British, Scottish and Welsh Trade Union Congresses (TUCs), we need to apply more pressure to prepare the joint campaigns and coordinated action of civil servants and public sector workers to break the pay cap and force an end to austerity.
The Tories are in crisis, hanging by a thread, a serious programme of strike action can force them to pay up.
ML: Chris is right. This is the only way that we are going to get the pay rise we deserve. On top of pay caps and freezes, our pension contributions have gone up, along with the ever-increasing costs of food, rent and fuel.
DS: There is simply no other way to secure a pay rise. We need determined national action across all departments. Rolling action – taking out different regions and different departments – can also maximise disruption while minimising wages lost from striking.
A general election could take place any time. What position do you think PCS should take?
CB: PCS policy, decided at conference and in a decisive membership ballot, is to support those politicians in Labour and other parties who support us. This doesn’t mean giving carte blanche to all Labour MPs and councillors or affiliating the union to the Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have a good record of supporting PCS members in struggle, and we should support their anti-austerity policies. But we must fight Tory policy and challenge those politicians in devolved and local government who are failing working-class communities by continuing to make the Tories’ cuts for them.
Based on the alternatives to austerity developed by the union, PCS has a chance to use its influence to secure clear commitments from the Labour leadership.
These include pledges to increase pay, halt cuts and closure programmes, restore trade union rights, close the tax gap exploited by the super-rich and corporations, scrap and replace Universal Credit, and bring privatised areas into democratic forms of public ownership and control.
But I believe we must independently defend members’ interests whoever is in government.
DS: We should back anti-austerity candidates. Candidates who won’t just make nice speeches in parliament but who will get out among workers and build the mass movement we need to defeat austerity and the capitalism that drives it.
This means no blank cheque to Labour, Greens or SNP, but seriously considering what those seeking our support have done for our members. We absolutely should not be backing Blairites like Tom Watson or Stephen Kinnock.
ML: I support the election of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government standing on an anti-austerity programme. Like Chris and Dave, I support and argued that we should support politicians who support us.
What do you think is the way forward for workers on Brexit?
CB: I have always stood for a unity of European workers. I voted to leave based on the longstanding objections to the capitalist EU expressed by the late Tony Benn and Bob Crow. But an enfeebled Tory government, propped up by the reactionary DUP leadership, has shown itself incapable of delivering a Brexit deal in workers’ interests.
PCS should lend its active support to the call for a general election to break the parliamentary deadlock and for a Corbyn government. Brexit has shown the need for civil servants. The task for PCS is to halt the failed cuts, closure and reorganisation plans and assert the case for a properly staffed and funded civil service.
ML: The EU is not there to support workers. The EU is used to undermine trade union agreements on pay and conditions. Trade unions must organise and unite workers regardless of international boundaries in fighting back against this.
DS: The EU is a club for the bosses, designed to force through cuts to public services and a ‘race to the bottom’. The unions must oppose all EU agreements which act against the interests of workers – including those which could act as obstacles to carrying out key socialist policies such as nationalisation.
What other issues are important for PCS members?
CB: The attacks on pay and conditions have accelerated under austerity. After the financial crash, the gigantic bank bailout of public money going to those who caused the crisis became the pretext for an all-out assault upon the major social gains won by the labour and trade union movement since World War Two.
PCS was a catalyst in mobilising opposition to austerity. But the capitulation of the TUC in the pensions battle simply unleashed even greater attacks upon the civil and public services.
This coincided with the Tories’ attack upon union rights in the civil service by massive cuts in reps time, plotting the “organisational degradation of PCS’s capacity to represent its members” and unlawfully removing the method of collecting union subscriptions.
It is testament to the union and its members that we were able to ensure the union’s survival and continue to fight on.
Pay remains the major source of grievance, but PCS also needs to continue to mobilise at national and group level to restore the value of pensions, defend redundancy pay, halt the failed cuts and reorganisation plans, challenge the discrimination embedded in HR and employer policies and, as Brexit demonstrates, fight for a properly funded and staffed civil service.
ML: Jobs and job security, pensions, redundancy rights, office closures, staffing, workloads. The Tories are intent on breaking up the welfare state and reducing publicly funded services including mass deregulation. Our job is to organise to stop it.
DS: All the issues mentioned by Chris and Marion are interconnected because they are being driven by the same attack on public services. The government wants to build a low-wage economy over the bones of our public services. Privatisation is the long-term goal for them. Defeating it must be ours.
What are the challenges that face PCS as a union?
CB: PCS needs to re-assert what made us strong. A vibrant and expanding network of activists, making sure decisions are made by PCS members and power is not concentrated in the hands of full-time officers. Organising and recruiting around the issues that matter to members at work.
A strategy for mobilising members not just on pay but on a range of issues that can help build confidence and restore our right to bargain with government.
PCS also needs to pay more attention and devote more resources to members in the commercial sector and employed by private contractors that are often hostile to unions and offering poverty pay and precarious work.
With the positions we hold in TUCs we need to look outwards to other unions, conducting joint campaigns in communities, devolved areas and against the continued austerity agenda of a discredited Tory government.
DS: We have a job of work to do to really crack union organising in our private sector areas. And now we have an attempt at ‘counter-revolution’ inside PCS in the form of the attempt by Mark Serwotka and Lynn Henderson to split the left in the union, in order to increase their own power at the expense of the elected lay reps. At a time when we really should be united against austerity, that’s unforgivable. The first step to dealing with it is to win the pay ballot and the second is to get Chris Baugh re-elected.
ML: Like the whole of the trade union movement the challenges are many and varied and both Chris and Dave highlight some. I believe we must work to organise and unite members around a bargaining and campaigning agenda. Through this work we will build the network of activists and members that Chris refers to. The first priority is to win the pay ballot.
Meet the candidates:
I have been active in the union since I joined the civil service as a naive but enthusiastic 16-year-old. Holding a variety of elected branch and group posts, I played a leading role in the first national Land Registry strike in the early 1980s which defeated plans to downgrade work and helped win some of the best pay and conditions in the civil service.
I led the opposition to the former right-wing leadership of the union and to the Tories’ break up of national pay bargaining. I have unmatched experience as an activist and, as the first elected AGS, in fighting for members’ interests and making sure decisions are made by PCS members – so power is not concentrated in the hands of full-time officers. I have led PCS work on climate change and continue to play an important role in building support for a trade union approach to climate jobs and a just energy transition on a socialist basis.
- Read more at chrisbaughpcs.wordpress.com
Since joining the civil service at 16, I have been an active trade unionist. I have been elected to positions at all levels of the union. I was first elected to the NEC in 2000 and I am currently group president for the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.
As a young woman activist, I was victimised by both the employer and the right-wing led national union for being a socialist and supporter of Militant. But I fought to overcome the barriers put in my way. As the first socialist to be elected to the group executive committee (GEC) I was very quickly compulsorily transferred out of the Ministry Of Defence!
I played a leading role in stopping the privatisation of the Manpower Services Commission, led the Forest Hill dispute to stop the removal of protective screens and, more recently, led the dispute over the closure of our Sheffield office. Together we saved 350 jobs.
I have fought to overcome the barriers to the participation of women – including combatting negative and sexist attitudes and fighting for the introduction of nursery care, flexible working and special leave – helping to win breakthrough arrangements in the Department for Employment.
My first time on strike was as a PCS member during the mass public sector pension strikes of 2011. After joining DWP in July 2012, I was acting branch sec by October that year. In 2014, I was elected to the DWP GEC for the first time.
I’ve been a visible presence in all the union’s campaigns since then. Most recently, the Universal Credit staffing campaign launched in 2018 was proposed and written up by me. I’ve done the leg work to support reps and build the confidence of members to strike. I’ve put forward a strategy to force DWP to make concessions, and I’ve backed it up by travelling round the UK, holding members’ meetings to build support and expand the action.
Republished from socialistparty.org.uk