David Osland writes:
There’s no real difference between Labour and the Tories. Apart from 25 hours free child care, £8 minimum wage, abolishing the bedroom tax and the NHS Act, a freeze on energy bills, a million new homes, a job guarantee for NEETs, £3000 reduction in tuition fees, the introduction of a national care service, reduced GP appointment and cancer test waiting times, thousands of extra nurses and doctors, mansion tax, a ban on MPs taking second jobs, an end to the Free School programme, bankers’ bonus tax and 50p top rate for the rich. But other than that, there’s no real difference between Labour and the Tories.
JD adds: Socialist Party members and (the few) others involved in the rather pathetic ‘T.U.S.C”, should take note.
And as someone in the pub after last Saturday’s Unite The Union United Left meeting (at which the SP/T.U.S.C received a well-deserved hammering), noted, listening to the SP on the subject of the Labour Party, you can’t help thinking of this:
Open Letter to Socialist Party members in Unite: you have crossed a line by standing candidates in marginals
From the United Left’s email list:
This Coalition government has been responsible for attacks on our class that go far beyond anything Thatcher would have dreamed of. Their austerity policies have been targeted on the poor and vulnerable in our society. They have lined the pockets of their Hedge Fund backers and speculators in the City with billions of public money. They have been responsible for attacks on the organised labour movement and have been open in their support for even more draconian legislation if re-elected. New proposed laws which
would make effective trade union action virtually illegal-The Tories are not campaigning in this election as the Hug- A-Hoodie, party that can be trusted with the NHS, they are back as The Nasty Party fighting on a class war programme.
While Unite policy is to support Labour, in fact to do all we can to elect a Labour Government, your organisation has decided to stand candidates in the forthcoming general election. Of course that is your right; we are a trade union not a political party, we do not have any disciplinary means to force you to support union policy and rightly so.
Within the UL there is then a clear political difference; on the one hand the majority, working for a Labour victory who are also intent on developing the left within the Party and your goal, of standing candidates in the election as part of becoming the political alternative to Labour. In our view a big claim for some 1,000 -2,000 people, whose track record in elections is derisory.
While we know we can’t dissuade you from standing candidates we consider you have crossed a line by standing candidates in marginals. We would ask you to withdraw your candidates from the 100 Labour must win marginals. In our view standing in these seats is a breach in a working class front against the Tories.
You are not a rival to Labour. While Labour are standing to win every seat and form a Government, you know very well you will not win one seat let alone form a government. Rather your goal is to recruit to, and make propaganda for your organisation.
By standing in marginals you are not just ‘building the party’ you are also taking votes from Labour – those who vote for you, and those you influence not to vote Labour. While the numbers you convince will be small, in such a tight election where every vote counts you must realise it may mean Labour losing seats, in effect allowing seats to be won by the Tories or their partners in crime the Lib Dems.
The logic of your position goes further; it is to argue, where there is no SP candidate, workers should abstain. If of course we have misunderstood your position then why are you fielding candidates in marginals Labour can win?
The only rationale for this cavalier attitude is because you believe there is no difference between Labour and the other capitalist parties. This is blind sectarianism, yet Labour is supported by nearly every union, and unions are the mass organisations of workers, do the unions not count for anything?
We urge you then as fellow UL members to reconsider standing in marginals and so not breaking the front against the Tories.
Tony Woodhouse UL, Chair Unite Executive Council
Mark Lyons UL, Vice Chair Unite Executive Council
Martin Mayer Chair Unite UL
Terry Abbott UL, Chair North-West Regional Committee
Dick Banks UL, Chair North-East Regional Committee
Liam Gallagher UL, Chair Unite Ireland
Mike Jenkins UL, Chair Unite Wales
Jim Kelly UL, Chair London & Eastern Regional Committee
Gordon Lean UL, Chair South-East Regional Committee
Kev Terry UL, Chair South-West Regional Committee
Above: Mark Serwotka
By James Marine (at the Workers Liberty website)
The Socialist Party (SP) has defended the PCS civil service union’s decision to “suspend” national and Group elections for up to a year. (Groups are the major sub-parts of the union.)
The SP headlined its article: “PCS: Safeguarding its future in the face of vicious Tory attacks”.
“Faced with a temporary but very sharp drop in income as a result of check-off ending, the PCS National Executive Committee (NEC) has had to make difficult decisions to cut expenditure, including suspending for one year the union’s annual elections”.
This is nonsense. Yes, the PCS is facing a financial tough time but not so bad that it cannot afford elections. (Even Greece can afford to vote).
The elections would cost about £650,000 to run yet the union’s magazine costs £700,000 a year to produce. Instead of putting that publication online for a year, the NEC choose to keep it whilst dumping elections.
Then there are full time officer wages. PCS is being colonised by SP members. If they lived up the SP’s policy of full time officers (FTOs) being paid a workers’ wage, then we could “afford” democracy.
The union is selling its headquarters for £25 million. A big chunk of that will plug the hole in one of the union’s pension schemes. Yet there will be more than enough left over to run several elections, let alone just one this year.
Our affiliation to the TUC costs nearly £650,000. In a choice between members having a vote on who represents them or paying hundreds of thousands to the TUC and subsidising Francis O’Grady’s lifestyle, having a vote wins hands down.
In other words there are plenty of ways to afford democracy but the SP doesn’t want them.
By suspending the elections the SP using a real crisis to avoid being judged by the members. There is a good chance this year that the SP would lose seats on the Executive. That could mean putting a proposed merger with Unite in danger.
The Socialist Party and PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, must be condemned across the labour movement. Their actions are disgraceful. If the right wing did this then there would be howls of indignation from the left; because it is Mark Serwotka [known as a leftist and presently in very poor health – JD], the criticism is muted at best. The SP, and Mark Serwotka, have crossed a fundamental line and must be held to account.
But course the best method of accounting, national elections, has been denied members for the time being. When the time comes, then the SP and Mark Serwotka must be driven out of office.
Addendum: in a further article in The Socialist, John McInally (PCS vice president and Socialist Party member) launches into what can only be described as a near-hysterical rant against Unison and critics on the left. At one point (towards the end of the piece) McInally even compares PCS’s refusal to hold elections with the NUM’s decision not to ballot its members in 1984 – a ludicrous comparison with a union that (rightly or wrongly) took a tactical decision in the heat of a major industrial dispute. It’s bizarre, desperate stuff that may well be a sign that the SP feels under pressure – maybe from some within its own ranks – JD
The following (20 December) article comes from the website of the PCS activist network Independent Left. See the IL website for numerous other articles and updates on the crisis in PCS, and also the new PCS – Democracy Deferred blog. More on the campaign against this attack on trade union democracy soon.
PCS LEADERSHIP ATTACK OUR UNION’S DEMOCRACY!
In an unprecedented attack on the democracy of our union the rudderless leadership of PCS has announced the suspension of National and Group elections for possibly up to 12 months.
The NEC decision – by the controlling group which risibly calls itself the Democracy Alliance – was on the basis of:
• a mere 15-3 vote (there are 35 members and officers of the NEC);
• without the pretence of consultation with members;
• secrecy – there was not even a prior warning to Branches that an emergency NEC had been called to take this decision.
This profoundly anti-democratic move has been spun by a failed, self deluding, leadership as a necessary defence against the Tories rather than explained for what it is – an attempt to avoid an election while they try and cope with the financial and organisational crumbling of the Union in the face of Government attacks.
Only the self-deluding would-be spinmeisters of the PCS leadership could begin the report of their decision to suspend NEC and GEC elections, i.e. to “re-elect” themselves without the bother of a membership vote, with the statement: “Bold financial decisions are being taken by the NEC to ensure the union’s stability”!
The dedicated PCS member has to read approximately another 90 more words before finally learning that one of these “bold financial decisions” is a fundamental breach of the Union’s democracy; a move which is designed to keep the ruling group in unchallenged power. The explanations are weak, short of detail, and fly in the face of what we have previously been told.
If a ‘right-wing’ leadership of PCS had “suspended” the NEC elections, the present office holders would howl with outrage and would have seen through the excuses. The fact that they actually control PCS and in the main consider themselves “Marxists” does not make their actions more but in fact less acceptable: they have higher standards to meet than the old charlatans. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dale Street
Cross-posted from Workers Liberty
The working class voted “yes”. The Labour Party is finished. And we need a new mass socialist party.
To one degree or another, and in one form or another, these have been the three main responses of the pro-independence left to the result of the 18 September referendum.
The first element has some degree of truth to it. Three of the four regions which had a “yes” majority (even if not a very large one) are traditional Labour strongholds. The fourth (Dundee) used to be a Labour stronghold, until New Labour decided the sitting Labour MP John McAllion was a liability.
But it is also true that large sections of the working class voted “no”. In any case nationalist separatism stands at odds with the basic labour movement principle of uniting people of different nationalities and national identities.
Any socialist welcoming “the working-class ‘yes’ vote” is welcoming the divisive poison of nationalism penetrating into working-class politics. To try to build on that basis — as the pro-independence left is now attempting — amounts to adding another dose of the same poison.
The demise of Labour? According to the Socialist Party (Scotland):
“13% of USDAW members in Scotland have resigned from the union in protest. Unite is receiving many requests from members looking to cancel their membership because it is affiliated to the Labour Party. Unison is also reporting a series of resignations as workers’ anger over Labour’s role escalates.”
Unlike the SPS, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) has pointed out that resigning from a trade union is not a good idea. The SSP Industrial Organiser proposes a different way to “punish” Labour:
“We should organise mass withdrawal from payment of members’ fees to Labour in those unions affiliated to Labour. Demand instead that the unions make the break from Labour and help build a mass, working-class socialist party.”
So members of the CWU — which polled its members in Scotland and then adopted policy in favour of a “no” vote at its national conference — should demand that their union disaffiliate from the Labour Party because Labour took the same position on the referendum as their union?
And so too should members of USDAW and GMB who took democratic decisions in favour of “no”?
Labour advocated a “no” vote. The majority of the electorate took the same position and voted against independence. The usual name for something being decided and implemented on the basis of a majority vote is “democracy”.
The call for unions to disaffiliate from Labour because of Labour’s support for a ‘no’ vote amounts to a divisive nationalist attack on the workers’ movement.
No “no” supporter would support disaffiliation on that basis. And it elevates the nationalist demand for an independent Scotland over and above the right of trade unions to base their policy on internal decision-making processes.
The SWP boasts that “we have sold thousands of copies of Socialist Worker and recruited dozens of people.” The SPS makes similar claims. The SSP boasts that “2,200 (at the time of writing, over a mere five days) have applied to join the SSP”!
That’s nothing compared to the 18,000 new members claimed by the SNP. Not to worry about that. An article on the SPS website explains: They join the SNP. They discover that it does not have a Marxist programme. They quit in disgust. They join the mass socialist party which the SPS is building.
In terms of building something broader than their own organisations, the SPS advocates building its Trade Union and Socialist Coalition:
“TUSC represents the best opportunity to ensure that anti-cuts, pro-trade-union and socialist candidates stand in the elections in Scotland next May.”
The SWP calls for a new, broader party to bring together “yes” supporters: “It can agree on a basic set of anti-capitalist policies, be democratic, grass-roots-based and centred on activity. It would stand in elections but not be obsessed about them.”
Generously, the SWP would allow “no” supporters into such a party. That people voted ‘no’ “doesn’t mean they are scabs.”
But the last attempt to build a united left party in Scotland collapsed when the SWP and SPS split the SSP by backing Sheridan after he walked out of the SSP. And the political fallout from that split continues today.
The SWP gets round this issue by simply declaring: “This party (i.e. the new party) cannot be defined by the splits in the Scottish Socialist Party a decade ago or about splits in the left at some point.”
The SSP has not put forward any proposals for a broad party of the left. This is because they think that they already are that party, presumably because they are hoping for many more recruits.
The “yes” campaign provided a natural home, playing a leading role in the new mass workers party. Both the SWP and the SPS look forward to Tommy Sheridan for Sheridan’s bandstanding demagogy.
According to the SPS: “If a political figure with a mass base of support among the working class like Tommy Sheridan made such a call, backed by leading trade unionists, socialists, etc., a new working-class party would become a force of thousands within a couple of weeks.”
The problem for the SWP and SPS scenario is that Sheridan has come out in favour of a vote for the SNP in next year’s general election:
“I suggest that we in the Yes movement promote continued unity by backing the most likely independence-supporting candidate at next May’s election. In concrete terms, that means advocating an SNP vote to try and unseat as many pro-No supporters as possible.”
Despite the entrenched hostility between the SSP and Sheridan, the SSP Industrial Organiser, who carries some weight within the SSP, has come out with a similar position:
“In the 2015 Westminster elections, I personally would support the idea of a Yes Alliance, a pro-independence slate of candidates (whatever the exact name) embracing the three parties that were in Yes Scotland – SNP, SSP and Greens – and others who were part of that coalition.”
That’s one of the things about abandoning class-based politics and selling out to nationalism: it develops a dynamic of its own.
The SSP Industrial Organiser is equally enthusiastic about the prospects for the 2016 Holyrood elections:
“All those tens of thousands who fought for a Yes vote could fix their sights on winning an absolute majority of pro-independence MSPs in 2016.
“Referenda are but one means of winning independence. The democratic election of a majority of MSPs who favour independence in 2016 would surely be equally a mandate for Scottish independence?”
Despite its aversion to an electoral alliance with the SNP, the SPS shares the SSP’s perspectives for 2016:
“If the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections resulted in an overwhelming majority for parties that back independence, it could also be a trigger for a mandate for independence… Or it could lead to an immediate referendum in 2016 or 2017.”
Despite the 55%/45% vote against independence in the referendum a fortnight ago, the pro-independence left wants to keep the issue of independence centre-stage, seeks to win trade union disaffiliation from the Labour Party on that basis, and proposes an electoral alliance with the SNP.
And while denouncing the Labour Party for supposedly “denying the Scottish people democracy”, it also looks forward to, and advocates, independence for Scotland in the absence of any further referendum.
Is the pro-independence left now politically dead and beyond resuscitation?
Ukip came top of the Europolls in Britain on 22 May. The Front National, which has a clear-cut fascist lineage, won in France. Populist and racist anti-European parties did well in other countries.
In Germany, the new, right-wing, and anti-euro AfD is at 7% scarcely a year after being launched, while in Denmark the far-right Danish Peoples’ Party gained three seats.
Greece, the country which has suffered most with cuts plans from the European Union and European Central Bank, is a partial exception to the rise of the anti-EU far-right.
There, the left-wing party Syriza for the first time ran clearly ahead of the main right-wing party, New Democracy. Syriza rejects the EU leaders’ cuts plans and proposes Europe-wide solidarity to break them rather than advocating “get Greece out” as an answer.
Alarmingly, the neo-Nazi (and anti-EU) Golden Dawn party came third with 9.4 of the vote, winning three seats. The other group gaining ground is a new party, To Potami, which is vague but leftish and not anti-Europe.
Greece shows that the left can provide answers to the social discontent, but only with an effort.
If the left goes halfway with the nationalists by endorsing “get out of the EU” as an attempt to jump on a populist badwagon, that will only help the right. Fanciful footnotes from idiots like the Morning Star and other supporters of the pathetic No2EU, which speculate that the re-raising of economic barriers between countries will somehow push towards socialism, are simply reactionary nonsense – and reactionary nonsense that achieved a derisory vote.
Voters persuaded that re-raising national barriers is the first step will inevitably drift to the serious, powerful barrier-raisers: the nationalist right.
“No to the EU” agitation, whether from right or idiot-“left”, threatens the position of millions of workers who have crossed EU borders to seek jobs.
We should instead seek to unite workers across the borders for a common cross-European fight against the cross-European plans of capital and of the EU leaders. Anti-EU populism, whatever “leftist” slogans may be tacked on, can make no useful contribution to that fight.
Comrade Osler writes on Facebook:
So TUSC stands 561 candidates and gets 40,000 votes … that’s a little over 70 each. The only successful candidate was a former Labour councillor who ran under an entirely different label.
This is a humiliating defeat that must be demoralising for all concerned, and on any objective yardstick, is actually a *setback* for any attempt to build a rational socialist current in Britain.
So is there an a master plan at work here, or am I missing something?
Comrade Coatesy agrees, adding an interesting French comparison:
There is a strange group in France, commonly known as the Lambertists, the Parti ouvrier indépendant, POI, who have been standing in elections for a very, very, long time.
They get derisory votes.
But they do have a few councillors (basically the equivalent of Parish members).
In fact they got over 40 in the last municipal elections (always bearing in mind that these ‘councillors’ represent in many cases communes with three inhabitants and a cat).
TUSC (who are part of rival Trotsykist tradition) sees to have joined this doomed path.
Great TUSC victory in Southampton
Keith Morrell has re-won his council seat Coxford, standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). Keith was previously kicked out of the Labour Party for fighting against cuts.
He has been decisively re-elected with 1,654 votes, 43%. This is a great result and vindication for his stand, alongside fellow rebel councillor Don Thomas, in opposing all cuts.
Ukip came second with 796 votes, Labour third with 724 votes, the Tories fourth with 500 votes, and Lib Dems last with 168.
The result has lit up the idea that fighting councillors can help build support for a real alternative to austerity. It is in sharp contrast to the close shave for Labour council leader Simon Letts who nearly lost his seat to Ukip after two years of implementing Tory cuts.
The devil is in the detail as they admit from the figures for 100 candidates they got a round total of ….
Do the maths baby.
The complexities of calculating percentage shares in multi-seat contests, especially with the variation in information provided by different councils (over a bank holiday weekend!), is one of the reasons for the delay in collating the results. But as soon as we can we will post up a comprehensive seat-by-seat and council-by-council report on how all the TUSC candidates fared.
What is clear from the results so far, however, is that ‘the party that doesn’t exist’ for the national media (TUSC still doesn’t appear in the BBC’s website’s guide to the English council results – see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26434025 ) has made its mark and prepared the ground for broader and deeper electoral challenges in the future.
By Dale Street
No merger with the PCS this side of a General Election. And maybe never.
Although they do not put it as bluntly as this, that’s the substance of two of the motions submitted to the Unite Policy Conference being held in Liverpool late June and early July.
Merger with a union not affiliated to the Labour Party would be “a huge distraction” from winning the election for Labour. Mergers are a good thing only if the unions involved have “similar industrial interests”. Mergers are bad for Unite if its financial situation would be damaged by the pensions liabilities of the other union.
Consequently, there should not even be any discussions about any merger this side of the General Election. And any proposed merger should have the approval of either Unite’s biennial Policy Conference or at least 75% of its Executive Committee.
Given the enthusiasm of the Unite and PSC General Secretaries for a merger – albeit one not shared by broad swathes of activists in both unions – these two innocent-sounding motions are likely to provoke no small degree of controversy at the Unite conference.
And they are not the only motions likely to do so.
Conference will again see a clash over Europe, with one motion calling for opposition to quitting the EU, opposition to a referendum on EU membership, and support for a pro-EU vote in the event of a referendum.
Other motions variously call for the union to demand a referendum and British withdrawal, and to campaign alongside of other unions and organizations such as the RMT and “No to EU/Yes to Democracy”.
According to the latter motions, the EU “blocks any political advancement” (apparently simply by virtue of its existence), the EU is becoming “a NATO-style military force” (given its “involvement” in countries from Afghanistan to Mali), and Unite needs to offer an alternative to UKIP (apparently by saying the same thing as UKIP on the EU).
Given their involvement in the “No to EU/Yes to Democracy” electoral initiative, one wonders whether the Socialist Party will be backing such motions (which no doubt originated with supporters of the Communist Party of Britain / Morning Star).
Conference will also see a re-run of what is becoming the ritual biennial jousting about the union’s affiliation to the Labour Party.
Some motions argue that the Labour Party is the only show in town and denounce “the growing talk about establishing a new party as naïve and dangerous adventurism and question the real motive of those developing this agenda.”
Motions on the agenda which seek to “develop this agenda” include demands for what might be called a sliding scale of disaffiliation (a 10% cut in affiliation fees each time Labour and/or its leadership commit various political misdemeanours).
Other motions of the same ilk call for Unite to convene an open conference “on the crisis of political representation for the working class” in order to “discuss the way forward for working class representation.”
In fact, the real controversy about matters pertaining to the Labour Party will not be triggered by the pro-disaffiliation-but-too-gutless-to-say-so-openly motions but by two other motions.
One of them – a pro-affiliation motion – “applauds the 13 members of the Unite Executive Council who had the foresight to vote against the Collins proposals.”
(It should be remembered that the Unite leadership slavishly backed the Collins Review, and that the bulk of the United Left members on the Executive Council either backed or abstained on the vote on the Collins Review – contrary to United Left policy.)
The other motion commits Unite to encourage councillors to vote against cuts, to support councillors who do so, to defend them against disciplinary action, and to “establish a dialogue” with Councillors Against the Cuts, with a view to possible joint campaigning activity.
(At the moment the Unite “line” effectively amounts to standing on the sidelines, on the grounds that Labour councillors are accountable to the Labour Party, not Unite.)
The vast bulk of the motions on the conference agenda focus on what might be termed “bread and butter issues”, in the positive sense of the expression.
They are motions which focus on the basic issues which face workers, in workplaces, in Britain, under a Con-Dem government, in 2014:
Attacks on terms and conditions of employment. Declining health and safety standards. Attacks on pension rights. Attacks on effective trade union organization. The privatization of public services. The spread of zero-hours contracts. Austerity. Growing inequalities in employment and in society as a whole. Environmental damage caused by the chase for profits.
It is important to register that fact to counter bogus claims by the right wing – within and outside the trade union movement – that unions have lost touch with their members and focus on esoteric international issues at the expense of their members’ real concerns.
Having said that, the agenda does include a number of oddities.
Motion B27 harks back to the “Buy British” campaign of the Daily Mail of the 1960s by calling for legislation to ensure that multinationals, companies and government departments “buy British goods to support British workers.”
Motion F28 rightly condemns celebrations of the 1914-18 war but claims that the Tories’ celebrations are “at least in part a consequence of their defeat in Parliament over armed intervention in Syria”, and that opposition to militarism requires support for the so-called “Stop the War Coalition”.
(The latest feat of the latter “coalition” was to act as apologists for the Russian militarism’s annexation of Crimea.)
Among various motions attacking “Israel the Apartheid State”, motion F11 condemns the “inhuman conditions” in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria resulting from “the siege” and “military attacks”.
But the forces carrying out the siege and the attacks (i.e. the Syrian army, which enjoys the support of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command)) are not even mentioned in the motion. Instead the real culprit is … Israel! As the motion puts it:
“The situation in Yarmouk is a direct result of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine since 1948 and the failure of the world to address the rights and demands of the Palestinian people.”
(In contrast to the various “End Israeli Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine” motions which advocate ratcheting up the boycott of Israel, motion F12 calls on Unite to encourage Israeli and Palestinian unions “to maintain their strong bilateral relationship as an important aspect of bridge-building for the peace process.”)
Finally, and on a very different note, motion P5 lists a comprehensive and worthwhile series of measures which Unite should take to support lay reps in the workplace.
Never has the aphorism “When I try and get hold of a full-timer, none of the f***ers ever phone me back” been expressed more eloquently and more constructively than it is in this motion.
From the AWL website:
Above: McCluskey and Serwotka
By a PCS activist
The annual conference of PCS, the largest civil service trade union, on 20-22 May will debate a motion submitted by the union’s Executive (NEC) on PCS merging into the big general union Unite.
The motion would instruct the NEC, on completion of talks with Unite, to convene a special delegate conference to debate the terms of “merger” and decide whether to proceed to a membership ballot to authorise the “merger”.
Strictly speaking the “merger” would be a transfer of undertakings. PCS members, staff and assets would transfer into Unite, essentially on the basis of the Unite rulebook (although the PCS leadership is said to be looking for assurances on democracy and PCS membership of Unite decision making committees).
Some PCS members think the leadership is keen on merger because the union’s future looks extremely difficult. With Tory-led Coalition’s austerity drive, PCS has lost a significant number of members since May 2010. In 2013 alone it lost a net average (leavers minus joiners) of 1,600 members each month. Further civil service job cuts are looming.
Moreover the union is under explicit threat of Tory ministers quickly ending the “check-off” whereby civil service departments deduct PCS dues directly from members’ wages and pass them to the union.
The PCS Independent Left, the left wing opposition to the ruling Left Unity/ Democracy Alliance, has said that if PCS is facing financial meltdown then “merger” with Unite has to be supported, irrespective of qualms, simply to keep trade union organisation alive in the civil service and other workplaces where PCS organises.
However the PCS leaders claim that the union is well able to continue as an independent organisation. The PCS Independent Left therefore argues that it should do so rather than transfer members to Unite.
The PCS leaders proclaim that moving PCS to Unite “would create a union able to bridge the traditional divide between unions operating in the public and private sectors so that we can boost our bargaining power.” They do not explain how, for example, the bargaining power of Unite members in a car factory will be boosted by the adhesion of PCS to Unite, or how the bargaining power of civil servants in HMRC or DWP will be boosted by being in the same union as car workers and other trade unionists in the private sector.
The Left Unity/Democracy Alliance has run PCS for eleven years. Over that time it has totally failed to overcome successive governments’ divide-and-rule policy of carving the civil service up into a huge number of “delegated bargaining units” and to regain civil service national bargaining. Yet that same leadership now asserts that merely by joining Unite it will overcome the bargaining divisions between public and private sector workers.
The PCS leadership effectively assumes that union “merger” is a shortcut to the development of wider working-class political awareness and industrial militancy.
The PCS leaders state that “merger” (transfer!) would create “a new, powerful force in the public sector adapted to today’s changing industrial circumstances that can deliver more for members” but has not explained precisely what it sees as the changing industrial circumstances and precisely how this new force within Unite would be better able to deliver for Unite and PCS public sector members. They do not say how the awful defeats PCS has suffered under their leadership would have been avoided if we had been Unite members.
The underlying and only very partially stated argument would seem to be that:
• PCS cannot “win” against the state on its own (winning is rarely defined by the PCS leadership),
• Public sector workers must therefore strike together on pensions, pay, jobs and services (and presumably keep striking until the demands of all the different occupational areas of the striking public sector workers have been satisfied – not a model the PCS leadership followed in the pensions dispute with the last Labour Government)
• Unison and other unions cannot be trusted to do so, as shown by the pensions debacle in November 2011
• If PCS “merges” with Unite and a large public sector group is created, then Unite will be able to call out its civil service, NHS and local authority workers at the same time, and thereby put pressure on Unison and other unions to join with it.
There is plenty of talk about a “new powerful force”, “making a difference”, needing “a more effective trade union fightback in the public sector” and PCS and Unite sharing the same basic approach of being genuine fighters for members. However, nothing has prevented Unite and PCS from calling such joint action before now if they wanted to.
In reality, Unite remains a relatively minor player in the NHS and local government. A fully united public sector fightback would require Unison to play an effective and committed role. That is extremely unlikely under the current Unison leadership.
PCS should certainly agitate for joint action, but has to develop its own independent strategy for winning on issues facing PCS members. There is no short-cut through merger with Unite.
The PCS leaders hint that they see themselves (in Unite) as competing with Unison for authority in the TUC and members in the NHS and local government. They say, “A merged union would become the second largest public sector union. It would be the first public sector union to hold substantial membership in…the NHS, local government and central government.” PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka spoke at last year’s PCS conference of creating a “left wing pole of attraction” in the union movement.
But competition with Unison is unlikely to attract its membership in mass numbers. If a few left-wingers are won over, that will be at the price of them abandoning the fight to replace the leadership in Unison of Dave Prentis or a successor in the same mould chosen in Unison’s next General Secretary poll in 2015.
Mark Serwotka or the Socialist Party, the dominant group in the PCS leadership quite clearly see themselves running Unite’s public sector group. They are certainly not going to give up the leadership of an independent trade union just to play second fiddle in one sector within Unite.
And Socialist Party must have high hopes of dominating Unite’s “United Left” through the much bigger PCS Left Unity membership.
Merger is likely to mean losing PCS’s democratic structures and its actual and potential industrial coherence.
PCS has annual elections at all levels; annual national and group conferences; delegates directly elected by branch members; and a widespread membership understanding of the key industrial issues.
Delegates to Unite’s national conferences are indirectly elected by regional committees and regional industrial sector committees; national policy conference takes place every two years; national rules conference every four years; industrial sector conferences every two years. Elections for the Unite NEC, Regional and Branch Committees are held every three years.
PCS’s very different circumstances enable direct relationships between members and the different levels of the union and within the single “industry” that is the civil service and the private sector support companies that provide services to the civil service. The end result is a membership with common workplace experiences and issues that gives national PCS an explicit and (potentially) unifying coherence of trade union purpose. That makes accountability (potentially) easier to judge and deliver.
There is simply no real industrial logic to merger with Unite.
There is some opposition on the left and right to merger with Unite because of its relationship to the Labour Party. It’s an opposition which either sees PCS in apolitical terms (a union for state employees!) or sees politics purely in terms of standing would be left-wing independent candidates in opposition to the Labour Party. Both are wrong and fail to outline any way in which PCS can help remove the Tories from government, ease the considerable pressures on members, and replace them with a trade-union based party whose leaders need to be opposed and tested with positive working class policies.
For certain an alternative to Labour will not be found through TUSC or similar candidates. Serious socialists opposed to the merger should not get caught up with opposition on sectarian grounds.
Above: the CPB, Morning Star and (to their shame) the Socialist Party support No2EU
The Morning Star – to all intents and purposes the paper of the Communist Party of Britain – has a problem with Ukip. In particular, it seems unable to make up its collective mind as to whether or not Ukip is racist. Whilst most on the left, including several Labour MPs, have no hesitation in denouncing the Farage rabble for racism, the Morning Star and the CPB front ‘No2EU’ seem not so sure.
Last month the Star ran an article headed No2EU: Ukip Will Win Unless We Tackle EU, that included the following:
But No2EU convener Brian Denny said simply calling Ukip racist would not stop it from success at the May 22 European elections.
“If Labour keeps ignoring the issue the only winners will be Ukip and worse,” he said.
“The free movement of capital and labour, a cornerstone of EU law, is creating chaos across Europe.
Now, the Star isn’t quite saying there that Ukip are not racist, but that “simply calling” it “racist” is insufficient – which is obviously true, as far as it goes.
But the Star‘s true position has been made clear in the present weekend edition May 3-4), which caries an article headed Don’t Be Fooled By Farage, written by John Haylett, who edited the paper from 1995 to 2009 and remains a prominent member of the Party. It includes the following:
The EU has never been hugely popular in Britain, viewed as a hulking continental power that interferes in too many decisions proper to Westminster level or devolved administrations.
And although race relations in Britain are generally good, this is no thanks to a political elite that characterises immigration as a problem.
With unemployment at an underestimated two million-plus level and nearly 900,000 16 to 24-year-olds on the scrapheap, scapegoating migrants provides fertile electoral ground for desperate politicians.
Labour apologises for not being tougher on immigration when in office while the conservative coalition pledges more stringent controls.
Ukip trumps them all by rejecting EU free movement, claiming that 26 million jobless people across the bloc have their eyes on British workers’ jobs
It’s nonsense. It’s scaremongering. It encourages fear of foreigners, but it’s not racist.
Farage has no difficulty knocking down this knee-jerk response, championing a level playing field for would-be migrants and criticising the negative effect of EU Fortress Europe on African and Asian workers seeking jobs in Britain.
The Ukip leader favours an immigration points system whereby employers could bring in staff from anywhere in the world.
I read that as Haylett saying that not only is Ukip not racist, but that he – Haylett – (and, therefore the Star and the CPB) in reality – once you cut through the bullshit – agree with them on immigration.
And if you think that’s me misreading Haylett’s piece for factional reasons, I submit the following, from an article on the same page of the same edition of the Star:
The free movement of labour policy of the EU superficially appears progressive and is seen as such by many on the left, but it is designed only to allow systematic exploitation of labour.
It’s another example of the post-modern myth of “freedom” and “choice.”
The European Court of Justice is also complicit in this with rulings such as the Laval, Viking, Ruffert and Luxembourg cases all defeating trade union moves to prevent migrant workers being used to displace unionised workforces.
One of the often ignored problems with mass migration is the displacement and disruption that its victims suffer.
Now, there’s a serious discussion to be had by trade unionists regarding the impact of immigration upon terms and conditions. But the likes of Denny, Haylett, the Morning Star and the CPB, are not contributing to that debate by parroting what amounts to Ukip propaganda.
And it also explains why they’re so keen to defend Ukip from the charge of racism.