Monday 20 to Thursday 23 May saw delegates from across PCS gather for the union’s annual group and national conferences. Among them were Bootle Taxes delegates, carrying a strong mandate from members on the vital debates happening that week.
Not all of the motions put forward from our Annual General Meeting and Mandating Meeting got heard. This was always inevitable due to time constraints and the sheer volume of motions submitted meaning that multiple motions will come forward on the same subjects. However, delegates successfully argued for a significant majority of them to be debated on the agenda – and every motion moved by our branch passed.
The diverse range of motions heard in Revenue & Customs Group Conference was reflected in those moved by our branch delegates.
Sarah Broad brought most of the conference hall to tears in moving a motion on training in mental health issues for managers that passed unanimously. She received a standing ovation for her moving speech. By contrast, a call for facilities in HMRC buildings to encourage take-up of the cycle to work scheme – also moved by Sarah – went through on the nod.
The branch’s tradition of having a motion on Pacesetter at every conference in recent memory was continued by John Virtue. He also moved a vigorous challenge to the notion that Pay As You Earn is up-to-date as asserted by senior management.
Phil Dickens moved a motion on office closures which added a vital industrial element to the group campaign – as well as a commitment to support independent action by staff such as occupying their workplace. He also condemned the Group Executive Committee’s inaction on the current Benefits & Credits outsourcing when moving non-cooperation with privatisation in any form.
The branch also passed motions calling for a vigorous challenge to the current leave situation in Personal Tax, a salary sacrifice scheme to fund learning and challenging inequality in Performance Management – all spoken to by Margi Henderson.
One of the cornerstone debates of Group Conference was on Performance Management. Ever since the new process was announced, and with it the threat of what would happen to the “bottom 10%,” it has been one of the most important issues for reps and members.
The Bootle Taxes motion challenged the Department on equality issues related to performance, noting how women, ethnic minorities, LGBT and disabled staff as well as part-time and term-time staff are disproportionately affected. Moving, Margi called for a performance appraisal system unlinked from pay progression and an end to inequality in assessments.
This was in general debate with two rival motions on the new system itself – one calling for complete non-cooperation, the other for a continuation of the present policy of cooperation under protest. The debate was fierce, with the GEC advocating the latter position and arguing that the former would fall through – whilst many delegates countered that by cooperating (even under protest) we were effectively allowing the new system to establish itself.
Ultimately, the call for non-cooperation carried alongside the Bootle Taxes motion emphasising equality in whatever new system came to pass.
The union’s national conference opened with a heated debate on the current national campaign. In the opening debate, there was strong agreement from all delegates on the need for a robust campaign going forward.
Moving the National Executive Committee’s emergency motion, General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “We are in the fight of our lives. Giving up is not an option and neither is defeat. But we have to accept that at the moment, despite the magnificent action already taken, it has not been successful in bringing ministers to the negotiating table.
“So this motion sets out the fact that we need to take stock over whether there are more things we can do to in order to put more pressure on minister. We will have more action in June but if that is not successful the motion calls on us to have a national strike before the end of June and if you agree that then we immediately approach the NUT and NASUWT to co-ordinate our strike. But if that isn’t enough we will need a new, extended phase of the campaign so we will have a massive consultation over the summer.”
The NEC’s motion was in opposition to a motion from R&C West Mercia Branch which also called for a broad range of tactics – but which censured the NEC for inaction in the past year and praised the rank-and-file of the union for forcing it back into action.
Mal Blinston (incidentally, a founder of Bootle Taxes Branch) referenced how workers in Coventry had walked out on Francis Maude in October and then staged further walkouts for several weeks in succession. He said that the mood from members was for a fight but needed more than just single day strikes months apart.
The NEC motion ultimately passed, however the strategy for action in the West Mercia motion was reflected in the Bootle Taxes national campaign motion moved by Vicki Searle.
Merger with Unite
On the Wednesday morning of conference, there was a heated debate over the prospect of PCS merging with the Unite union.
Mark Serwotka pointed to the record of the two unions working closely together in the fight against austerity. He was at pains to insist that a merger was not a done deal, but that by supporting the motions up for debate the union would have a mandate for talks and could explore all possible options.
There was strong opposition, including from Bootle Taxes. Many delegates focused on the issue of Unite being affiliated to Labour, arguing that PCS should maintain its independence. However, other issues such as Unite’s reticence in joining coordinated strikes and PCS’s strong lay-led democracy compared to Unite’s full time officer-dominated bureaucracy also came to the fore. One delegate suggested that the merger would in reality be a hostile takeover.
The motions ultimately carried, however only following a card vote – wherein each branch casts a block vote which is counted as the number of members in their branch – as on a show of hands it was too close to call.
Welfare reform and sanctions
Ahead of the start of national conference, at lunchtime on Tuesday there was a demonstration outside the Brighton Centre. Called by the Civil Service Rank & File Network – with support from Boycott Workfare, Disabled People Against Cuts and the Brighton Benefits Campaign – it called for the union’s members in DWP to refuse to sanction people.
This was in relation to several motions that called for the same and the debate that had been raised on the subject in recent months.
The first conference agenda contained no such motions, due to those submitted falling foul of legal advice and being omitted under PCS rules. This provoked the call for a demonstration and statements from claimant groups urging the union to let the debates be heard. It also inspired emergency motions which sought to put the issue back on the agenda without falling foul of legal advice.
The one that was debated, alongside a broader motion on opposition to welfare reform, came from a DWP Branch and called for non-cooperation following a lawful ballot. Both motions passed without opposition, as did a later one on campaigning against the Bedroom Tax – something Bootle PCS members are already keenly involved in.
Conference heard motions on subjects ranging from Scottish independence to the attempt to rob members in the new National Crime Agency of the right to strike. Sarah Broad spoke in favour of the only environmental motion on the agenda. PCS voted to affiliate to the Shrewsbury 24 campaign following a packed out fringe meeting addressed by Ricky Tomlinson.
Despite being a shorter conference this year, the range of issues covered was broad. The dedication of delegates was praised, particularly those in groups such as DWP who had been denied facility time and attended using their own annual leave or unpaid special leave.
The question now is how the union puts the decisions made into action. This will be down to the hard work of reps and the support of members across the country, particularly in relation to the current campaign and the government’s determined attack on the union through facility time cuts and the victimisation of reps. Whatever happens, there is an interesting year ahead.