[As agreed by the Branch Executive Committee, July 2017]
The past two years have been particularly tough. With the government and HMRC working to break the union, we faced restrictions upon our facility time right at the point when we effectively had to re-recruit our entire membership due to the shift from check-off to direct debit. Despite this, we have arguably come out stronger than before.
Our branch can be particularly proud of what it has accomplished. As well as securing over 90% of the existing membership in the switch over, we have since then seen our density continue to climb and managed to increase the number of members actively involved in the union. This despite being in a period where it has been over two years since we last took any kind of national industrial action.
We have not only recruited new members but new reps, who have stepped forward to fill in what were some pretty substantial gaps in our structures. Not to mention that Bootle Taxes members were involved in the crucial victory over ISS when they tried to cut the cleaners’ hours to pay for an increase in the minimum wage. We delivered a 100% turnout for strike action and an international corporation backed down to a small group of staff who should have been isolated and easy to do over.
But there is always more work to do. The branch can always be more active, more inclusive and more combative. This strategy is aimed at helping us to achieve that, and is built around an organising model rooted in the workplace.
Our organising model
Our ability to stop the employer’s attacks or to win positive gains is decided by how strong we are as a collective. Put simply, that means our ability to credibly threaten disruption if we don’t get our way.
Organising is about getting into such a position of strength. To do this, we need to increase our membership – but not simply by offering them free pens and lanyards if they fill in a form. We need to build a membership that is well informed, actively involved in the union and directing reps on what issues to take up. A membership ready to take action if it doesn’t get its own way.
Effective two way communication is integral to effective organisation. It almost doesn’t matter what PCS is able to secure for members if they don’t know about it, as they have no stake in any gains made and management have less incentive to honour them. Likewise, if members are not able to communicate with their reps when issues crop up, then we cannot credibly claim to represent their interests.
Bootle Taxes has done a lot of work in this area, and we are continuing to look at ways that we can improve further. Lists of all reps for each section are displayed throughout the branch. Briefings which come out from the union centrally are distributed to all members as a matter of course. We have launched a new monthly e-newsletter, with a re-launch of our hard copy newsletter in the pipeline.
- All office committees in the branch should provide at least monthly updates to members of what is being discussed with management, including any agreements reached and any areas of dispute. The BEC should be sent copies of these updates.
- The Branch Executive Committee should ensure that minutes and reports from BEC meetings are made available to all members once agreed.
Bootle Taxes has one of the highest levels of membership involvement in the union, with more reps than almost any other branch. It is also worth noting that new reps are supported and encouraged not only in taking up the role but in increasing their involvement with the branch. This has been particularly important with a number of experienced reps either leaving the branch, taking a step back, or being unable to fulfil certain roles.
There is still work to do on an ongoing basis, however. We are still a long way from our aspirational goal of having a PCS Advocate on every team, and it is vital that knowledge and experience is shared rather than hoarded. All reps should ultimately aim to replace themselves rather than to ensure that they can never be replaced.
- The Branch retains its commitment to recruiting and utilising Advocates throughout the branch.
- Unsuccesful candidates in rep elections should be asked to take up Advocate roles as a matter of course.
- The Branch Training Officer should ensure that all reps have undertaken the training relevant to their role.
- The Branch Organiser should ensure that all new reps are familiar with what is expected of them and where they can turn to for help and support.
- The Branch should develop training in order to ensure that all reps are familiar with and feel confident organising within the workplace.
There are two strands to our organising work in respect to equality. The first is to ensure that our structure is representative of the membership, and the second is to ensure that we are actively working to make our workplaces more supportive and inclusive with regards to equality.
In terms of representation, it’s clear that we have some way to go. The majority of our membership is female, for example, while the majority of our reps are male. We need to better understand under-representation in other areas as well and work to address this by ensuring that where there are barriers to female, black, LGBT or disabled members being more involved in the branch, we work to remove them.
A key part of this, as well as of taking up the equality agenda generally, is ensuring that we are involved in promoting equality and diversity. This includes the big annual equality events such as black history month, LGBT history month, disability history month, and so on. Organising around these dates gives us an opportunity to at once raise the profile of PCS, recruit members, and educate both members and management on equality issues.
- The Equalities Officers, along with the Women’s and Young Members’ Officers, should establish branch equality networks to address under-representation and inform negotiations with management.
- The Branch Organiser should work with these Officers, supported by the BEC, to organise branch activities around the key dates in the equality calendar.
- The Equalities Officers should consult members on whether to introduce Black Members Officer, LGBT Members Officer and Disabled Members Officer roles, and if the BEC agrees to introduce these roles following consultation they should be ratified in an amendment to the Constitution at the 2018 AGM.
Building power and leverage
The ultimate aim of all of our organising efforts should be to tilt the balance of power in the workplace from the bosses to the workers. This places us in a much better position to win both for individual members and collectively – but to do this we have to know our strength and the leverage that gives us.
The branch has already done extensive work in mapping the workplace so that we know our density in each area of the branch. This has helped us to ensure that our records are accurate and our email lists up to date, as well as to target recruitment. All office secretaries have been given access to the branch membership map so that they know who in their office is or isn’t a member and can recruit accordingly. This will be an ongoing job of work.
Knowing the membership density for each office also gives those office committees an idea of the leverage they hold if facing a dispute. Being able to say to management that x% of their staff are in PCS and willing to act over an issue always puts us in a stronger position with regard to industrial relations.
Another key element of shifting the workplace balance of power is collectivising grievances. Where multiple members are affected by the same issue, we should be seeking as far as possible to bring them together and highlight that issue. This could be the basis for collective grievances, for example if one manager was bullying a number of staff. But equally it could be the basis for localised disputes, where members taking some form of collective (non-industrial) action could exert the pressure needed to stop management acting out of turn.
The latter is important because it gives members a taste of their own collective strength, and demonstrates clearly to others that we are organising and winning. This gives us leverage when future issues crop up, and increases the confidence of the workforce, and where it is possible we should be looking to put it into practice.
- The Branch Organiser and Deputy Organiser are responsible for ongoing updates to the membership map and to the branch’s Commix records.
- All Office Committees should work with the Branch Organiser to organise within their area and identify where they have strength and leverage, as well as how to use it.
- Each Office Committee should appoint a local organiser to take the lead on this work.
- The Personal Case Coordinators work with reps to identify trends in personal cases, particularly where these present the opportunity to collectivise individual issues and achieve victories.
Ensuring that our industrial relations are joined up is a vital part of building workplace power and leverage. One thing that the employer has been very good at in recent years is taking advantage of division in PCS’s approach to push through detrimental changes in weaker areas, making it more difficult to resist them in stronger areas.
In the branch we have seen this most keenly in PT Ops, where negative policies that come to Unit 3 have already been rolled out without much objection in a different part of the Bootle Group. It is important that we learn from this and ensure that it doesn’t repeat itself.
Equally, where we get the opportunity, we need to use the existence of better conditions in one part of the branch to push for them in another. We need to be vociferous in arguing not only against a race to the bottom but in favour of everyone being pulled upwards – and ensuring that members’ anger at any disparity is channelled towards demanding improvements instead of that others share the detriment.
- No change to working practices, terms or conditions will be agreed without being put to the entire office committee for debate and, if necessary, a vote.
- If there is a potential knock-on effect of such a change to other parts of the branch, the BEC and the relevant other office committees must be notified before any decision is taken.
- Office committees will notify the BEC of any agreements reached with management locally.
Those staff not directly employed by HMRC make up a small percentage of the workers within the three buildings our branch covers and a small section of our membership. However, they should not be forgotten or neglected, not least because we have already demonstrated that we can organise effectively in that area and win.
There are outstanding demands to be pursued with ISS from the campaign we ran in 2016. We were successful in winning back the hours that were cut, but they remain on the minimum wage with only the statutory minimum in holiday entitlement and statutory sick pay, a world away from workers directly employed by HMRC.
ISS cleaners are not the only outsourced staff covered by the branch. All of these people, working for Mapeley, Carillion or anybody else, work for HMRC even if the Department isn’t their direct employer. We ought to be organising them as such and demanding that they are treated as such.
- The BEC continues to pursue the demands of the cleaners’ campaign and to work with other branches and the GEC to spread the campaign across the Group to stand a better chance of achieving members’ demands.
- Reps should seek to organise all workers on the HMRC estate, with the aim that outsourced staff have equality of terms and conditions and should ideally be brought back in-house.
All of the above puts us in a much stronger position for our campaigning work, both delivering for national and group campaigns and building up campaigns at branch and workplace level.
Using campaigns around specific issues in order to recruit and get more members actively participating is the most basic principle of workplace organising. When we’re active, we retain and gain members whilst inactivity only allows people to grow apathetic and/or disillusioned.
However, it is also important that we don’t fall into the trap of setting up campaigns at the drop of a hat and seeing them disappear unresolved when we have no further use for them. A basic rule of good organising is to pick winnable battles, and to win them through collective action.