General Secretary and AGS elections – Left Unity candidates are Fran Heathcote and Paul O’Connor

On the 17th May Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary, announced that he will be retiring next year. PCS Left Unity is proud to have worked with Mark for many years and we wish him an enjoyable retirement.

The election timetable for a new General Secretary will run alongside the election process for the Assistant General Secretary. The elections will be held later in the year and branches will be able to nominate candidates.

The timetable is here:

Monday 2nd September: Call for nominations

Monday 16th October, 5pm: Deadline for receipt of completed nominations

Monday 23rd October, 5pm: Deadline for acceptance and election addresses

Thursday 9th November: Ballot opens

Thursday 14th December, 12 noon: Ballot closes

Upon the announcement of Mark’s retirement the Left Unity National Committee decided a process for selecting our candidates for the two roles. At the end of that process our candidates are.

Fran Heathcote for General Secretary

Paul O’Connor for Assistant General Secretary

Fran Heathcote

Fran joined the DHSS and CPSA in 1993, quickly getting involved in her local BEC. Soon, she became active in the South West, representing CPSA and then PCS at the SW TUC. 

Fran became the South West Regional Organiser within DWP and worked with many South West branches, as well as rapidly building her own branch, working with a team of newly recruited reps.

In 2003, Fran was elected to the DWP GEC and soon afterwards, became North East group liaison officer and DWP group Organiser.

On moving to the North East in 2005, she worked with a network of new and more experienced reps to strengthen the region’s organisation, helping to transform the region to be much more inclusive, soon taking up post as Regional Chair. 

DWP President

In 2012, Fran was elected as DWP President, negotiating on many issues during her time, including steering the group through the removal of check-off. Elected to the NEC since 2014, Fran was elected as Vice president in 2017, before becoming Deputy President, then President at the end of 2018.

Fran has a wide range of experience, having held various posts at every level of PCS. 

Seasoned anti-austerity campaigner

A seasoned anti-austerity campaigner, with a background of fighting for better social security, Fran is well known for her work as an activist, whether that be supporting our members on picket lines, working with other unions to build for coordinated action or representing PCS at the People’s Assembly, where Fran holds a seat on the steering committee. A tireless advocate for equality and increasing participation within underrepresented groups, Fran is passionate about organising and campaigning, with the bargaining experience to back that up.

Fran has a proud record of working with regions and branches, a building unity across the union.

Paul O’Connor

Paul O’Connor began working in the then Inland Revenue in 1988. He quickly became active in a PCS predecessor union, the Inland Revenue Staff Federation (IRSF). He worked in the Inland Revenue and subsequently HM Revenue and Customs for nearly twenty years, remaining active in the IRSF, the Public Services, Tax and Commerce Union (PTC) and subsequently PCS. He served members in various roles, including Office Rep, Branch Secretary, Branch Organiser, Branch Chair and on the Group Executive Committee. He was also Chair of the PCS North West Region from 2005 to 2007.

In 2007, Paul became a Full-Time Officer of the union, serving as Group Secretary to the Home Office Group. He was promoted to National Officer for the Home Sector in 2010. He was then promoted to Senior National Officer in 2012, a role in which he has served as the unions Head of Bargaining. He manages a team of 7 National Officers and 31 Industrial Officers. He has been at the heart of re-orientating PCS’s staffing structure to make it more responsive to the needs of activists and members.

National Campaign

Paul is also Secretary to the union’s National Disputes Committee, where he has oversight for all of the industrial action campaigns taken forward by the union. He has been instrumental in the establishment of the unions Fighting Fund and the development of our industrial strategy, targeted action funded by a levy, in pursuit of our current national campaign.

Check Off victory in the courts

Paul also has responsibility for taking forward strategic legal cases. He has led litigation against the employer which has seen PCS win seven High Court cases through judicial review, including: overturning detrimental changes to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme, an estimated benefit to members of £100 million per year; establishing a contractual right to check off leading to a £3 million damages settlement for the union from the DWP.

Resisting racist Rwanda deportation policy

Paul was central to defeating the government’s attempt to force PCS members to perform a dangerous pushback manoeuvre on refugees crossing the English Channel. He is continuing to oversee litigation to fight the government’s inhumane Rwanda deportation policy and is campaigning for the dismantling of the hostile environment for refugees in which our members are being forced to work.

PCS conference report – Building the movement, winning the future

PCS Left Unity had an overwhelmingly positive conference in Brighton last week.

We had already enjoyed very successful election results, with members re-electing a Democracy Alliance NEC, with just a handful of casualties, despite the unholy alliance of our opponents from Independent Left and Broad Left Network, joining forces. Whilst those Democracy Alliance candidates not elected will be sorely missed, it is clear that the alliance, formed with the sole aim of removing Left Unity from the leadership of our union, and which barely survived ADC, did not reap the anticipated benefits. There is now much discussion about whether it can survive the upcoming GS/AGS elections, with one Independent Left candidate declaring in advance of these discussions concluding. In contrast, Left Unity have invited nominations from across our membership, and will wait for these to close before declaring our candidates.

The main debate at ADC on Tuesday afternoon, over the way forward for the National Campaign, following passionate contributions on all sides of the argument, and a fair bit of sectarianism from our opponents, saw conference vote convincingly for the Left Unity strategy, as set out in our emergency motion, and reject the defeatism of our opponents. This was an important victory and one which allows the incoming NEC to continue with the strategy that gives us the best opportunity of winning for our members.

In some respects, conference last week crystallised a simple question – what kind of union do we want? The task of building a fighting, democratic union is ongoing, but it is an ambition that can not only be knocked off course but, as we have seen this week, could easily be reversed if some of our opponents came to power.

The Left Unity position on most of the key debates at conference was overwhelmingly successful, with conference rejecting the anti-democratic attempt to run PCS for 5 months without a General Secretary or disenfranchise those branches and activists that could not physically get to Brighton. The BLN were behind both of these moves to subvert the democracy of our union, and in particular, their attempt to restrict the right to vote in the block vote elections to those fortunate enough to be in Brighton, whilst preventing those joining virtually, due to health or caring responsibilities, from taking part, was a cynical manoeuvre.

Both of these assaults on democracy were resoundingly defeated by conference, and saw our opponents become ever more agitated. Heckling and shouting, and intimidating many first-time delegates, who have told us they then felt unable to fully take part in what should have been a positive experience.

It became obvious why the BLN were keen to avoid the results of the Block Vote elections being declared, when the results confirmed that members had not elected a single one of their candidates.

A historic vote was carried on our devolved administrations, resulting in inaugural, policy-making conferences being planned in Scotland and Wales in the autumn, following elections of executive nation committees for the first time. This is ground-breaking for PCS and something to be welcomed, having been widely consulted on, and supported, in our devolved nations, yet another example of democracy in action. 

On Equality, conference rejected the NEC motion which attempted to set out a pan-equality agenda, taking forward work on black members’ issues, womens’ issues and disabled members’ issues, as well as LGBT+ issues, in favour of a motion narrowly focused on Proud. The incoming Left Unity led NEC will ensure that this motion is implemented, recognising that the most successful outcome is one where more LGBT+ members participate in the Proud network, making it a far more inclusive part of our union. PCS Left Unity is fully committed to working hard to ensure that this happens.

Wednesday night saw a successful Left Unity rally, where a packed, enthusiastic room heard from Mark Serwotka and Fran Heathcote, alongside a number of excellent contributions from the floor. The focus was very much on the future and the success of the National Campaign. Lots of positive feedback was received afterwards and a long list of new joiners.

Conference is a time when you should come away feeling refreshed and revitalised, and whilst there are always setbacks, we hope that delegates, trainees and observers enjoyed the experience and will be able to take forward the issues agreed into their workplaces, and involve themselves wholeheartedly in working together to win our campaigns.

If you’re not yet a member of Left Unity, please get involved in our campaigns and consider joining us. The future of PCS and our ability to co-ordinate and work with other unions, is dependant on Left Unity growing within our union, pursuing the message of hope and unity that only we bring to PCS members.

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Awe inspiring Amazon picket line in Coventry

100 GMB pickets brought the Amazon plant in Coventry to a halt this morning.

At 6.30am the pickets who had gathered on the footpath swarmed into the road. At first a few cars drove at speed through the line but soon the pickets brought the cars to a halt and the road was ours.

To chants of “What do we want? £15”, “we are not robots” the strikers held the road for over an hour. “The workers united will never be defeated” was less well known but was soon taken up as a chant.

Amazon lorries were trapped in the traffic alongside people heading to work.

While some pickets were blocking the road others were working along the queue talking to the drivers and recruiting to the GMB.

I asked one of the organisers if it was like this every day on the picket line? “Oh yes” he said casually, they take over the road every day.

After the picket we had a march around the Amazon car park. One of their staff attempted to read out a trespass order which includes the line “desist from your nuisance” which amuses the organisers.

While it may be just a strike, this strike is more, it’s more like a rebellion.

Today’s strike was the last of 14 days of strike action. The GMB is growing every day. They are demanding £15 per hour. Although that has not yet been won Amazon felt enough pressure to increase the rate by 50p per hour. People report an improvement in working conditions inside the plant.

The strike is an inspiration. I’ve been at a variety of meetings over the last year or so where Amazon staff have spoken. Their story has changed as they have progressed. It started out with them talking about the pressures in the plant, more recently about their first sit down stoppage in the canteen. Now they talk about how they are organising in the plant and fighting for union recognition.

They have had to overcome many hurdles. There are people from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe in the plant, with differing first languages. But on the picket line this is a strength. Everyone driving in knew someone on the picket line and we heard discussions in a variety of languages.

Amazon is one of the wealthiest organisations in the world, skilled at tax evasion and not recognising unions. Jeff Bezos can afford to join the rich boys space race. When the GMB win recognition in Coventry it will open the door to every plant in the country, and the GMB is already organising in a number of them.

As trade unionists we should celebrate the work being done to unionise Amazon and lend them all the support we can.

Pete Jackson

Pete is standing for the NEC on the Democracy Alliance slate. The full slate can be found here ->

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