PCS ‘left’ ditches democracy
By Rebecca Anderson, 30 January 2015
The National Executive Committee of the Public and Commercial Services union has made the outrageous decision to cancel annual elections for both their own committee and the Group Executive Committees that lead the various departmental unions, like the DWP.
Ironically the current leadership of PCS took the leadership of its predecessor union to court over the issues of democracy and annual elections.
The union leaders’ reason is that the government has launched an unprecedented attack – massive job cuts in the civil service, a scab union in HMRC, cuts to facility time and now the withdrawal of the union’s ability to take subs out of members’ wages (the “check-off” system). The latter measure means having to persuade every member to set up a direct debit.
Job losses have been slowly eroding the union’s membership for years, which now stands at around 230,000, and the withdrawal of check-off has created an immediate crisis where the NEC has estimated that they need to save around £3 million in non-staff cuts.
The NEC are meeting again in late January to decide how to save this money, but the decision to cancel the elections (which cost around £600,000) was taken in December because the election timetable meant that they either had to be cancelled or go ahead at that point.
The NEC has said in their defence that all of their decisions – except the one to sell the union headquarters – can be reversed at the May conference and therefore that the ability of the membership to hold them to account has been retained. In other words, we have taken away your democratic rights now, but you can ask for them back after the event!
One of the main concerns of the growing number of reps and activists in revolt is that there was absolutely no warning given to the membership. Surely the NEC saw the union sliding into financial crisis; yet they did not consult the branches and instead took a unilateral decision to have another term in office.
On the contrary, at the 2014 conference, when the membership was debating whether to pursue a merger with Unite, we were assured that the union’s finances were healthy. To now find out that we are in such dire straits that the leadership would rather cancel an election than spend a small proportion of the £25 million raised from the sale of the headquarters is shocking.
Two campaigns – one by dissidents from the leading Left Unity faction and another by the Independent Left – have been set up to demand the reinstatement of elections. Some branches have passed motions to this effect, while reps and activists from other branches have put their names to statements.
It is testament to the PCS leadership’s political as well as financial bankruptcy that its first act is to discard democracy. And it is a scandal that this includes Socialist Party members. Democracy is not a luxury for a working class organisation, it is its lifeblood.