Compared to the R&C Group Conference, national conference was a relatively subdued affair for Bootle Taxes. That said, it was still a lively one with lots of healthy debate and its fair share of controversy.
Conference opened on a sombre note, given the horrific attack that had taken place in Manchester the night before.
Delegates observed a minute’s silence, and received statements from Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Chris Stephens MP, Chair of the PCS Parliamentary Group. Both were due to speak at Conference, but withdrew as their parties had suspended campaigning in the wake of the attacks.
PCS President Janice Godrich made the following statement, which was fully supported by Conference:
Our thoughts are with the victims of this horrific attack and their families, those who have lost friends and loved ones, and with all those affected by such sickening violence.
We utterly condemn this abhorrent attack against innocent people, many of whom were young children. Today, we grieve for those who have lost their lives so tragically.
We pay tribute to the dedicated emergency services and public sector workers who responded so selflessly and professionally last night, and who continue to work tirelessly to keep us safe at all times.
Our union stands in solidarity with the people of Manchester against such appalling violence, and for peace and unity.
We reject absolutely the hate and division that drive terrorist attacks like this, and reject all forms of prejudice and intolerance peddled by a violent minority in the aftermath of such incidents.
We are strongest when we come together and we urge our members to take part in memorial events and to express their sympathy with the victims and their families.
The agenda for the first day of Conference covered jobs, pay and pensions. In particular, there was a considerable debate on the pay strategy to be pursued by the union.
Mark Serwotka moved the National Executive Committee motion endorsing the union’s new pay campaign. However, Bootle Taxes delegate Phil Dickens spoke in opposition to it as the passage of this motion meant that the motion from Bradford and Bootle calling for more ambitious demands would fall.
Phil’s contribution led to a number of other branches getting up in opposition to the NEC motion as they wanted the later motion heard. Clearly, there was a mood for the union to make greater demands of the government on pay. As Phil put it, paraphrasing an age-old radical slogan – “Those who demand the impossible achieve what is possible, but those who demand only what is possible never take a single step forward.”
In their right of reply, the NEC argued that their motion was more important as it was the only one to offer a strategy on pay. This argument appeared to swing the vote, despite the strategy it offered already being enacted and not being opposed by the rival motion, and the NEC motion passed.
On Wednesday, one of the first motions heard was from R&C Liverpool Branch, seconded by Bootle Taxes, instructing the union to campaign for the S*n to be banned on government premises. Moving the motion, Kris from R&C Liverpool said the tabloid was “an enemy of the working classes and an obscene publication.”
Speaking for the NEC, Lawrence Dunne said the newspaper had “had enough chances and should go the same way as the News of the World.” His full speech can be seen in the video below.
The highlight of the day at Conference was the fact that Tim Megone ended up speaking on an awful lot of motions. The delegate from the Treasury Solicitors Office is well known in PCS circles for his hilarious rhetorical turns which this time round included assuring Conference that, despite some moderate success in negotiations, he was “not in a state of perpetual orgasm.”
A key debate that same day was how PCS intervened in the general election. A number of different motions from branches across the country proposed various strategies, however it was ultimately the motion from Bootle Taxes to support Labour candidates as far as was allowable by PCS policy which won out.
Debate on the matter was heated. Some delegates felt that the motion didn’t go far enough in calling for a Labour government as in the best interests of members, whilst others felt it went too far in support of Labour. The NEC supported the motion and, despite the vote being close, it carried.
Conference ended on Thursday with some controversy over equality issues.
A motion from one branch to disaffiliate from Abortion Rights was roundly opposed and overwhelmingly defeated. Though it was noteable that while the majority of speakers in the debate were women, the majority supporting the motion were male. In fact, Bootle Taxes delegate Simon Connell was the only male delegate in the debate to speak in favour of a woman’s right to choose.
Following on from this, Conference debated affiliation to Stand Up To Racism. Bootle Taxes was one of the few branches to oppose affiliation, as voted by our Mandate Meeting, with Dec Henry pointing out both the organisation’s role as a recruitment front for the Socialist Workers Party and the widely-reported controversy that the SWP had been at the centre of in recent years. The President was amongst those to argue that the motion wasn’t debating affiliation to the SWP, though the NEC member speaking in support of the motion was (like many others speaking in the debate) herself a member of the SWP.
The motion passed, with our opposition being a minority position.
A motion on the rights of transgender people, calling for PCS to campaign for the full implementation of the recommendations in a government ‘Transgender Report’ published in 2016, received widespread support. However, the NEC called for Conference to either remit the motion to them or to oppose it in a move that was highly controversial.
The basis for this position was couched in terms of running the report past all of the union’s equality committees, with a particular mention given to women’s groups. However, there was fear that this was an attempt to placate a fringe of the feminist movement which is actively hostile to transgender rights. However, Conference overwhelmingly backed the position of PCS Proud – the union’s LGBT network who were advocating for the motion.
Speaking in support of the motion, Saorsa of DWP Bradford said the union could not “waste another year” considering the issue, adding: “It’s about time we supported trans members.”
With both Group and national Conference over, the task now is to take forward the policies which members have set for the coming year. As always, branches and members will be a key part of this, and Bootle Taxes will keep members up to date on union activity through all the usual channels.
How our motions fared
Below is a list of all the motions heard at national conference which either came from Bootle Taxes or covered a motion which came from our branch on the same subject. The full details of the motions below and others which weren’t heard due to time constraints can be found here.
A6 – Carried
A11 – Fell
A305* – Carried
*Emergency motion 3 passed at our Mandate Meeting was heard as A305 at Conference.