Radical rank and file campaigning in PCS – The experience of Central London Town Committee

26 Whitehall PCS reps and activists met with Mark Serwotka and Fran Heathcote last month to discuss how we build the national campaign in our local area.

PCS members in 2020 face a Boris Johnson government intent on attacking the civil service with Dominic Cummings plotting reorganisation and the most intense pressure ever on services and staff.

PCS is launching a campaign over the attacks expected in the near future:

  • further pay freezes
  • attacks on redundancy pay
  • refusing to pay back the money we are owed for our pensions.

We can’t wait another 5 years and have no choice but to fight these now. We will work with other unions like the FBU who have successfully challenged pensions inequality through the courts. UCU members in universities are taking another 14 days of strike action and CWU are about to re-ballot their postal members.

Harnessing energy from the rank and file

Learning the lessons from our previous campaigns, organising and rebuilding our strength on the ground needs to go hand in hand with campaigning and can’t be done separately.

We want a radical approach to revitalising the rank and file of the union.

Of course we need a lead from the NEC and national officers, but we don’t want a top down union and are calling for campaigning organisation in every area.

It’s up to us as activists on the ground to make this happen, and we want our new reps and advocates to come to the fore.

Getting to know each other!

It had always amazed me that although there are so many PCS members and branches concentrated in the Whitehall area, there were so few links between the branches unless they were in the same group. Activists working just a few hundred yards away from each other didn’t know each other or would only meet at the national Conference if at all!

Like in many areas, the town committee had not been active for a while when PCS launched the national industrial action ballot over pay in 2018. I had just become one of the NEC Liaison Officers for London & SE and decided that getting people together to help organise around the ballot was a key part of my role.

We started meeting informally in the bar of the civil service club, later getting money for a room for more formal meetings. Because people found it useful to meet up with other activists we agreed to meet weekly during the ballot.

There was a lot of good will to help out with leafleting at other branches and organising stunts and other actions, as well as an appetite for discussion about how to take the campaign forward. That side of our networking continued into the second ballot. for example by supporting activists to go desk to desk to try and make contact with all of our members and to try different ways of organising.

A campaigning network

Our network of 150 on email and 70 on a whats app group has been built both as a forum for discussion and through taking action together over various campaigns.

Organising solidarity for strikes, planning ways to take union action over climate, opposing the far right and campaigning during the general election have all brought different activists together at different times.

We have also mapped private sector contracts in the area to roll out the outsourcing action to other workplaces, and would like to organise the new anti-racist training locally.

We now have a core network of activists that know each other and have an idea of the different strengths and weaknesses in our area.

Joint branch committee?

We have experimented with meetings in the evening or at lunchtime. Currently we are trying to encourage branches to organise their branch committees to coincide with our meetings which are 12:30-2pm, with the longer term aim of quarterly joint branch committee meetings in the area. This is something hubs as well as other areas might like to try.

Pensions campaign launch

We are launching the national campaign with a pensions campaign briefing meeting with a q&a session on pensions and a UCU striker.

We then plan to roll this out with the aim of organising similar meetings in every workplace in the area.

Candy Udwin

Candy Udwin is standing for nomination to the NEC as part of the Democracy Alliance