Annual General Meeting – report back

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PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka addresses the Bootle Taxes Branch AGM. We did plan to upload a video of his speech, but technology failed us on the day.

On Thursday 28 February, PCS Bootle Taxes Branch held its 2013 Annual General Meeting. Despite difficult circumstances, including having to split the event in to two meetings and a record number of motions, the event was a success. Members overwhelmingly supported a defiant campaigning agenda in the face of the government’s onslaught against civil servants.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka, who spoke at both meetings, outlined the case for a yes vote in the ongoing strike ballot. Alongside the full details of attacks on pay, pensions, jobs and working conditions, members heard of the disgraceful behaviour of Department For Education bosses – who wore party hats whilst making job cut announcements into a game. Mark also told how the union defeated a disgraceful attempt in one department to force redundancies using compulsory IQ tests, which included trying to force a new mother to attend just two days after she had given birth!

Talking about the tactics needed to challenge this onslaught, he said:

What we’ve done previously is try to get as many people out at once, to send a message to the government and put political pressure on them as a form of protest. We won’t be doing that this time. Instead, we’ll be announcing a number of days of action in advance, but not telling the employer what form they will take until the last possible minute to maximise disruption. This will include 15 minute walkouts, two hour or half day strikes, rolling strikes to take out different departments at different times. We will also be looking at how we can use a work to rule to the most effect in different places. Our aim is to stop them hitting targets and let them know they can’t take our hard work for granted.

Dave Hansford from Porstdown Vectis Branch also spoke at the second meeting. He detailed management’s plans to force poor performance markings on 10% of staff, as well as the WIN Is Needed campaign against office closures in his branch. Both subjects were addressed in motions put by Bootle Taxes members.

Members supported motions on a variety of subjects. These included fair distribution of the 1% pay increase, funding for future learning, reducing the length of time that members can be held on formal procedures, discounting disability related sick absence from disciplinary hearings, strengthening the position of the Environmental Advisory Committee and pushing for HMRC to issue full training to managers on mental health issues. As is now tradition in the Branch, a motion on Pacesetter from John Virtue passed with overwhelming support, this one calling for individual targets to be entirely scrapped.

In terms of national campaigns, members backed a motion on office closures which included adding industrial strength to parliamentary lobbying – and supporting members facing closure who choose to occupy their workplaces. There was strong support for a motion urging absolute non-cooperation with privatisation alongside protests against the companies who gain contracts, along the lines of the UK Uncut and Boycott Workfare campaigns. An impassioned speech from Branch Secretary John Smith led to unanimous support for a motion on non cooperation with the newly imposed performance management targets.

Members backed motions calling for the establishment of a strike fund, PCS taking the lead in building towards a general strike where the TUC won’t and adding the issue of tax relief on dividends into the union’s tax justice campaign. Phil Dickens spoke of the anger growing among claimants – citing a strong turnout on a march that very day against the government’s Bedroom Tax – when arguing for PCS to support non-compliance with welfare reforms and sanctions in order to build a practical unity between workers and the unemployed.

Finally, there was some debate over a national campaign motion calling for sustained action to beat the government. There was a consensus about the variety of actions required, but whilst the original motion was critical of the TUC and called for a censure of the NEC, the Branch Executive Committee moved a version of this motion with the criticisms removed.

John Virtue, moving the BEC’s amendments, said “Conference last year passed a motion calling on the NEC to work with other unions to coordinate strike action. The fact that it couldn’t do that isn’t the NEC’s fault, as Mark Serwotka has told us how difficult it was to engage with other unions.”

Phil Dickens, the author of the original motion, argued: “The PCS Left Unity group, which controls the NEC, called a conference in January [2012], declaring that it would push on and continue the fight. The problem was, it didn’t. We didn’t join the doctor’s strike or the teachers in taking action short of strike. The pension dispute was left to rot and, ultimately, die. Now, at last the union has shifted away – but only after workers in Coventry walked out on Francis Maude – and the 14 November day of action which this branch took part in forced the leadership to move.

“[…] Mark Serwotka has previously spoken of how defeating the government needs a variety of tactics including selective, coordinated and rolling strike action. He’s absolutely right. But he’s been saying that for three years. Support this motion and urge him to make that rhetoric into reality.”

Speaking in support of the BEC’s amendment Assistant Group Secretary Vicki Searle acknowledged that the leadership had moved in line with the militancy of members. But she said, “setting up a separate rank and file group that promotes a rift with the leadership is divisive at a time when we need unity.”

The meeting voted in favour of the BEC’s position to remove the censure and criticism of the leadership, but also strongly supported the motion’s instruction to take a sustained fightback to the government. This, along with the other motions passed, show that whilst we are willing to openly debate and disagree when it comes to tactics members agree on one thing – that doing nothing is not an option. Both of these points are strengths that have made the branch, in Mark Serwotka’s words, “one of the best organised and strongest campaigning branches in the union.”

We would like to thank all members who attended, not least for the generous donations which helped us raise over £150 for the branch hardship fund.

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