Neither of the two factions in PCS R&C Group (the right-wing or LU) have shown they have the skills, talent or confidence to negotiate effectively for members. Both still insist on accepting the employer’s tactic of dealing with the workforce as a set of smaller, separate business units. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing most of the time. The result of this for members is that gains in one area are wiped out elsewhere.
Jobs is the classic example, both factions claimed to have saved jobs, even created jobs when the Compliance unit started to recruit. At the same time, staff in the Processing stream were being cut and those left faced worsening terms and conditions. We all know over 40,000 jobs in HMRC have gone in ten years and countless workplaces lost forever – with more to come. A monumental failure by any standards, when with hindsight one looks at the lack of real resistance over that time.
The factional rivalry, fuelled by ego and fear of ‘the far left’ on one side and by ego and fear of ‘the right’ on the other (not to mention that Left Unity is itself a collection of inner factions) prevented our Group reps from uniting and applying some basic trade unionism i.e. don’t let the employer divide and rule. Surely it should be about the employees being represented to the employer – a hurt to one is a hurt to all. Instead, one could suggest that “little empires” have been created and that some of the negotiating relationships have varied from cosy to convenient. This can no longer be acceptable.
The concept of working together to unite the membership and approach the employer from a position of strength and confidence has been put to one side by both factions for selfish reasons. In the case of the left the Socialist Party (Militant Tendency to give them their spiritual name), often to deliberately override the industrial relations interests of members in favour of a party or ideological line.
The effect over time on grassroots activists and members has been to separate them from the leadership (whichever faction has claimed to hold that position). The right wing keep quiet because it suits them and the left continue to pretend they represent the grassroots when they have no influence beyond the activist layer. Caught inbetween are national reps who are on neither side but need both to have any influence.
When push comes to shove both factions need the rank and file activists to deliver for them. To achieve this while keeping us in our place, they use various methods:
- Claiming victories when there are none;
- Making activists feel guilty if they speak out;
- Command and control to enforce their particular line;
- Playing off rep against rep;
- Revealing splits to the employer;
- Allowing party politics to influence Union business;
- Bullying reps and being willing to let the employer discipline those who speak out;
- Soft-touch campaigns and “letter writing” that avoid real contact with the grassroots;
- Using full time officers to produce and drive issues
The list could go on, but one thing is certain: when elections come round both factions ignore the clearest sign that they are failing. The turnouts reveal that 90% of the members are not motivated to vote for either of them. This suits both sides as they have a fear of what would happen if the turnout dramatically increased.
Something needs to change. The silent majority need a voice. Those with experience and capability, and there are many already on the GEC even if they are hampered by the factions, need to remove the cotton wool from their ears and start listening to and acting on what is colloquially known as ‘the bleedin’ obvious.’
If a united approach is taken against this heartless employer from top to bottom, we have a chance. If it isn’t we will continue to get picked off one by one. Those that fail to see and act on this need to step down and make way for those willing to recognise the thing common to us all: We are all workers and we are all being hurt by the same enemy.
Left or right? Let’s just fight!