PCS’s Annual Delegate Conference ran from the afternoon of Tuesday 20 May to lunchtime on Thursday 22 May. Amongst other subjects, the key debates were on the national campaign on Tuesday afternoon and the possible UNITE merger on Wednesday morning.
Before discussing what was on the agenda for the Conference, the branch would like to extend our best wishes to General Secretary Mark Serwotka. Mark was unable to attend Conference as he was undergoing an operation on his heart which would possibly allow for a heart transplant in the near future. We wish him a speedy recovery.
The debate over the national campaign this year followed the recent announcement that a coordinated strike over pay was on the cards for July 10. This coordination, first muted by the People’s Assembly, remains dependant on several ongoing ballots and consultations.
Because of the news, however, two rival emergency motions were put to Conference alongside the National Executive Committee (NEC) motion to carry forward the strategy from last year’s summer of consultation. One motion committed the union to the date of 10 July, following a consultative ballot, while the other committed more broadly to the principle of coordination but left the date open subject to any changing developments.
As the Bootle Taxes motion on building up real momentum and sustaining action was bumped from the agenda by the emergency motions, Phil Dickens made reference to it in the debate and urged the NEC to take the instructions in it on board when developing their overall strategy.
He said: “It’s been eight months since the summer of consultation ended and eleven months since the last strike action in the national campaign,” highlighting the need to end the ‘stop-start approach to the dispute over pay, pensions, jobs and terms and conditions. “It’s time to stop farting about and to fight to win.”
The NEC motion passed alongside the motion that supported coordinated action without tying PCS down to any single date.
The UNITE merger debate
Recent revelations that the proposed merger between UNITE and PCS would actually be a ‘transfer of engagements’ with no significant changes to UNITE’s rules or structure prompted a motion from Bootle Taxes to call the whole thing off. This was pitted against the NEC motion committed to talks without precondition and another motion supporting talks only with stringent preconditions.
John Virtue moved the Bootle Taxes motion, laying down all of the issues that should have dissuaded delegates from pursuing the merger talks any further. These included, despite the fact that individual members have to opt-in to affiliation, the fact that the union was bound by its principal rules to support the Labour party. This would inevitably impact on our negotiations with whoever was the government of the day. Also of concern were the facts that the leadership of the union had referred to “reps who disagreed with the official union policy as cancerous,” and that paid officers used official union resources for electioneering against challengers to the ruling elite.
John argued that although members had fought hard and won massive improvements in PCS’s democracy over the years, the problem was that it was near impossible to change the “heart of UNITE” in the same way as it is “not a branch led union”. And on top of all this pointed out that the NEC had been rather quiet about the fact that most members would see their subs go up when they joined Unite.
The debate was long and impassioned, with a multitude of speakers in favour of each of the three motions. However, it was clear that those speakers with deep concerns about pushing forward were those that most reflected the thoughts of members and reps on the ground.
Despite speakers for the NEC motion being in the majority, the NEC getting three speakers in the same debate and the publications coming out before Conference and guest speeches during Conference all heavily geared towards the NEC motion, it clearly fell on a show of hands. A card vote called by the chair of the debate only confirmed how heavily the NEC motion lost.
Despite this bloody nose, however, talks will continue as the motion setting preconditions then passed. This meant that the Bootle motion fell, but it certainly suggests that once the final terms of a merger come to a Special Delegate Conference the NEC cannot expect it to go through on the nod. The concerns raised by John and by delegates from other branches have still not been answered and, given the similarity of most arguments in favour of continuing talks, it is not clear that they will be.
Badgers and other matters
Apart from the motion rejecting the UNITE merger, three other Bootle Taxes motions were heard at Conference. Sarah Broad moved motions on fuel poverty, the badger cull and the mental health of union reps which were all carried.
It has to be said that badgers were far less divisive at Conference than they had been in our AGM. At the Conference social on Wednesday night, comedian Jeremy Hardy even made a joke that delegates had to be up early to “vote on motions about badger gassing,” only to be told that the motion had already passed that same day!
National Conference further agreed to a coordinated campaign against the draconian new Performance Management system across all groups; to ensure that industrial questions facing PCS members were at the heart of the debate around the Scottish independence referendum; and to fight against zero hour contracts, privatisation, the cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the gagging bill.
One particular debate concerned the decision to remove the free diary for PCS members. The branch moving the motion explained how the diary was both a useful organising tool and a badge of honour for members, while other speakers told of how widely discussed the diary was once it was taken away. Some speakers argued that the union’s spending priorities should be elsewhere, but with the support of the NEC the motion passed and diaries will be making a comeback.
Overall, it was a productive Conference which discussed and passed policy on a wide range of issues. The branch offers its thanks to all members who attended the mandate meeting, and to the delegates who carried out that mandate in Brighton – in both cases in their own time as a result of the government’s insidious attacks on facilities time. The year ahead will be an interesting one.