Tuesday, 2 December 2008

PCS dispute - a defeat?

Some of the Lambeth Housing stewards recently said that they thought the PCS (the civil service union) had made a tactical error in calling off the strike when the government had promised the PCS nothing other than talks.

It now seems that the PCS has settled the dispute and the outcome is as some of the housing stewards had feared. See here:



This seems to say that there might be some extra pay in exchange for “efficiency savings” and “significant workforce reform”. Neither of those phrases will be a positive thing for PCS members and probably mean job cuts. The PCS mentions in its statement that this means cut backs in consultants but I find it hard to believe that this is what the management and government have in mind.

A couple of quotes from a trade union web board I go on (from PCS members):

“it seems there has been a decision to settle the dispute in return for nothing at all. There are some words on 'recyclables' but these are not commitments and are linked to job cuts and performance pay. Far worse than anything I expected.”


“The government has avoided strike actions for some pretty vague and intangible reassurances”

The PCS statements ends by saying:

"Since 2004 we have protected pensions, won agreements on avoiding compulsory redundancies and on privatisation, and stopped attacks on sick pay.

Members should feel proud that we have now made this breakthrough on pay."

However while I can understand the PCS wanting to be positive this just isn't a rounded assessment. With pensions the PCS agreed to a two tier pension deal where new members now have a significantly worse pension, and is a recipe for weakness in future industrial disputes over pensions. Also while it is good that compulsory redundancies have generally been avoided it is the case that a huge swathe of the work force has been cut back and that has put a lot more pressure on work loads and services. And now with the pay dispute I'm not convinced there has been a breakthrough. There are no guarantees here and the underlying message seems to be that management might consider some pay increases in return for job cuts. I hope I'm wrong on this, but I can't see how else it can be read. I really don't think this should be dressed up as a victory just as UNISON tried to dress the pensions defeat up as a victory.

While the PCS has one of the best union leaderships (along with the RMT) that doesn't mean it should be beyond criticism.

I’m not pointing this out to be “sectarian” but just because I think the PCS leadership made a tactical mistake here and I think the whole union membership (no matter what union they’re in) has to look at what can be done so we can win future disputes. We can’t carry on with the current strategies as they clearly aren’t working in terms of winning disputes.

This is not meant to be uncomradely in terms of the PCS or anyone else but we can’t avoid these kinds of discussions as all union members are facing job cuts and pay cuts, and with the recession getting worse these attacks are likely to get worse.


Sacha said...


Aren't you being a little too polite?

"PCS has one of the best union leaderships (along with the RMT) that doesn't mean it should be beyond criticism."

Well, firstly, the RMT leadership is pretty shit too, repeatedly fucking up or selling out disputes. Secondly, isn't the PCS leadership actually pretty shit? It was central, for instance, to the sell out over pensions in 200, present as a victory the deal in which young workers were sold out and the workforce divided - and giving 'left' cover for the other unions to cave.

Talk to revolutionary militants in PCS for horror stories about the record of the leadership.

Isn't the technical term for the way they have justified this deal "bullshit"?

DANJ said...

I get what you're saying Sacha, but generally I find that more comradely debate gets a better response, especially if you are talking about other socialists.

I don't really apply the term "sell out" to the PCS because I think the Socialist Party are making a tactical error. They're not doing it for a place in the House of Lords or massive salaries (like UNISONs leadership). That isn't to say though that this isn't a serious tactical mistake, and the same goes for the pensions deal which will be a disastour in the long run.

Also being one of the best leaderships doesn't say that much, the benchmark is pretty low!!

Jeremy said...

Dan, Sacha

I agree with Dan. I look forward to Sacha showing his disdain for polite debate and calling Steve Hedley a bullshitter to his face at the AWL's meeting on Thursday. Or will Sacha suddenly find his manners?

But on the topic, it certainly should be described as a rotten sell-out. No new money; plenty of room for management to drive a wedge between those wanting to save jobs as dole queues rise and those wanting more money to buy the kids clothes, etc.

Not only that, the way it has been delivered to the members stinks: no vote (will one come, like it did with the pensions, months or years later?), dressed up as a victory, a "breakthrough" when it is not. We can't always win, but we can always be honest and democratic.

Finally though, this is the end result of a strategy of one and two day strikes spread out over four years. Workers Power certainly argued that this strategy had to be changed and called for all-out strikes and sharply escalating action.

While the SWPers on the NEC may have voted the right way, they never questioned the strategy. The AWL and Permanent Revolution also were less than clear or adopted the halfway house position of "rotating" and "selective" action. This never worked in the 1980s when I was a civil servant, didn't help the posties last year and I don't think was a "revolutionary" alternative strategy.


DANJ said...

I thought the AWL supported Steve Hedley?!

In terms of it being a sell out, it depends what you mean. If you mean the members are being sold out, then fair enough. But I wouldn't call the SP members sell outs. They aren't doing it for material gain (unlike many union leaders). They are just wrong.

But agree that the deal is a rotten one.

I thought they had to put it to a vote to members, if they don't then that really takes things to a whole new level. And as you say it should be very soon.

Also agree, as said in what I wrote above, that it shouldn't in any way be described as a victory or breakthrough. If the leadership thinks the the dispute can't be won they should come out and say that, not dress it up.

You haven't got it right about Permanent Revolution. We have consistently criticised the policy of one day strikes, across all the unions. Indeed I've done it myself in the Lambeth UNISON branch about our own dispute.

And again PR have said that the action needs to be escalated to win (up to and including all out strike action). Again in UNISON many of the housing stewards have argued exactly that point.

You should be careful in the way you phrase things because you also put PR and the AWL in the same bag and this simply isn't true. The AWL have talked about rotating and selective action. And while this is a tactical decision it's not something PR have put forward. From PR back in 2007:

"Given the scale of the attacks a single day’s strike on 31 January, combined with an overtime ban and the possibility of another strike in a few months time, is woefully inadequate.

Indeed, it is a recipe for demoralisation that will lead to lower and lower turnouts in industrial action ballots and on the picket lines.

The government is determined and so must we be. Today must be the first round of protest that leads to an escalating series of actions up to and including an all-out indefinite strike."



Sacha said...

I'll reply on selective action when I have more time.
I don't accept there is a comparison between Steve Hedley on the SPers in PCS. Because I'm uncritical of Hedley? No, of course not. I have all manner of disagreements with and criticisms of him.
The difference is that, with whatever criticisms, Steve Hedley is a militant class fighter who puts the SP to shame.
Having said that, I'm not particularly fussed to push my point against Dan's.
More on selective action soon.