Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) members have made history by being the first trade union not previously affiliated to the Labour Party to vote to stand candidates in elections. Members voted by an overwhelming majority to support the proposal that the union should establish a political fund and have the authority to stand or support candidates in elections when it would help to defend members’ jobs, pay, pensions and public services.
This is an historic vote and it will give confidence to activists in other unions to push for similar ballots to ensure that the political consensus for cuts and austerity is challenged by a working-class alternative. This consensus includes New Labour, who have refused to commit to reverse a single ConDem cut and are, in fact, obediently carrying them out at a local council level.
There is a burning need to build new mass parties which genuinely represent the interests of workers, young people, the unemployed, pensioners and other downtrodden sections of society. In Britain, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has been established as a first step towards such a party. It is supported by the RMT – led by Bob Crowe – and won over 6% in the seats it contested in the recent local elections. The vote by PCS members will add momentum to this project.
While they bicker on sectarian issues, the five main parties here are united around a right-wing agenda of cuts, privatisation and tax breaks for the bosses. While PCS is relatively small in Northern Ireland, it is an important union and if PCS stood candidates against the five pro-cuts parties in the Assembly Executive, it could gain a significant response from workers and young people and popularise the idea of political representation for the working-class. It would also be a challenge to union leaders who try to stamp out debate on this crucial issue.