It’s time for the silent 90% to fight back and challenge our elected Group representatives to step up to the plate and lead resistance against the employer that has closed hundreds of workplaces, shed 40000 jobs and introduced a performance system designed to take away the last vestiges of dignity and control over our working lives.
Workers in HM Revenue & Customs are under attack. Thousands of jobs are at risk and while staff are being forced to take on more work for cover for the fact that the department is woefully understaffed, our working conditions are being eroded.
Our leave is being restricted. Where staff have benefits such as flexi, plans are being made to water them down if not take them away. Where those benefits don’t exist, staff are being treated like automatons in the modern ‘dark satanic mills.’ To top it off, promotions will be rewarded with detrimental contract changes and staff are being forced into an arbitrary stack ranking Performance Management system aimed at marking 1 in 10 of us as ‘must improve’ and shuffling us closer to the door.
All of this is being driven by a government ideologically committed to decimating public services for private profit, a goal which our employer has wholeheartedly fallen in line with.
Their ultimate aim is a tiny core of skilled, permanent staff, with additional work and peaks in demand being met by outsourced, temporary staff with no union rights and appalling pay and conditions. In such a situation, even the permanent staff will suffer as bargaining power in such a casualised workplace will be non-existent.
We can fight these attacks, and we can win. But as things stand we are not doing that because neither of the two groupings competing for control of the PCS R&C Group Executive Committee – the right-wing ‘independents’ and the Left Unity faction – are up to the task.
The right-wing ‘independents’
It has been a while since the GEC has been controlled by the right-wing, but many PCS members will have long memories of the kind of union they ran.
More concerned with getting on with management than with getting results, the only answer that they offer is to do nothing. They claim to represent a ‘political mainstream’ in the union, but offer no concrete answers on how they would make the gains that we are so sorely lacking against a government and employer bent on attacking us. In fact, current Group President and prospective Assistant General Secretary Lynda Priestly describes austerity (which is making members’ lives harder) as “an interesting concept, framed as a solution for economic instability. Done properly and fairly, it’s one few can argue against in the current climate.”
The right-wing candidates (who list themselves as independents despite clearly standing together as a faction) stand for a union which aids and abets management. They are not on the side of union democracy or basic fairness and decry any effort at effectively fighting for our interests as ‘far left.’
Left Unity describes itself as ‘the socialist group in PCS’ and has been in control of the union at both Group and National level for over a decade. In that time, they have made improvements on the stagnant, pro-management body that the union was under the right-wing.
But Left Unity in power, while not institutionally corrupt like the right, is becoming more deeply flawed year on year. One reason for this is complacency, since the effectiveness of LU as an electioneering machine guarantees them nominations and votes regardless of their conduct. Another reason is a toxic culture of command and control, since the faction is rigidly hierarchical and authoritarian, silencing rather than engaging with criticism and dissent and thinking itself above the will of the membership. This takes the form of inner group politics and also on occasions National PCS have exerted influence to prevent Group action at key times.
In the past year alone, the Left Unity-majority GEC has ignored, fudged and actively defied the bulk of instructions given by members through their delegates at the last Conference. This was illustrated most starkly by the long delayed and almost immediately aborted campaign against Performance Management. While our GEC refused to follow through the members’ will for non-cooperation with the system, the senior management union ARC did as its members bid even against their own recommendations by calling a strike over the same issue. This resulted in the unprecedented situation of PCS members having to cross picket lines staged by a supposedly less active trade union.
Left Unity love to talk the talk, but more and more they are refusing to walk the walk. They do not go with the will off members and are showing an increasing contempt for union democracy in line with their opponents on the right.
A fresh approach
Fed up with this state of affairs, a number of PCS members have come together in order to present a third alternative.
We do not all have the same political standpoint, but we have come together on two key points of agreement: the need for a trade union which listens to and acts upon the will of the membership and the need for a trade union which will fight to defend its members interests.
As we face a hostile government and employer, the need for a GEC which meets these criteria is more important than ever. One ballot will not change everything that needs changing, but it is a start and from here we can build a different culture. One based on grassroots organising and the workplace as the heart of democratic decision making.
If you believe in this, then please use your vote in R&C Group elections to support the following candidates:
Graham Allport, Colette Brough, Victoria Cuckson
Rebecca Girven, Ian Hough, Gerry Noble, Ian Pope, Gary Stein, Steve Ryan