Safety first to defend our reps and members

The PCS Left Unity-led NEC met on 26 March and took the difficult decision not to go ahead with this year’s NEC and Group elections in May due to the pandemic crisis unfolding every day before our eyes. We agreed to keep this decision under review, keeping branches fully informed.

Nobody takes a decision like this lightly. We had to give careful consideration to all of the factors. PCS is well-known, across the movement, for being a union that enshrines democracy and we remain proud of our record.

There was overwhelming agreement though, that in the midst of this huge crisis in our workplaces and communities, it would be wrong to just carry on regardless with the inevitable campaign activity that comes with these elections.

PCS reps are working incredibly hard on behalf of members in what is an unprecedented situation, the significant majority view was that to go ahead with these elections would not only be seen as incredibly self-indulgent, at a time when members are so worried for the safety of themselves and their families, but would detract attention from dealing with all of the many urgent issues that arise from the crisis.

The view of the independent scrutineers (CES) was that, whilst it is still technically possible to go ahead and that it would still be possible to post papers out, and then count the returned ones, there is great uncertainty about the period ahead, not least regarding the impact on their own staff and the postal workers, our comrades in CWU.

The Cabinet Office informed us that approximately 76% of civil servants are not currently in the workplace, many working from home. Approximately half a million people have claimed Universal Credit in the last 10 days with over 110,000 trying to sign up in the 48 hours prior to the NEC meeting. The system really is being tested like never before, and continued under-resourcing is being exposed.

Against this backdrop, most NEC members, although not all, agreed that it was the only correct option to take. We had already agreed at our meeting on 19th March not to proceed with our annual conference in May, the period when the virus is expected to peak in the UK, another decision that will be kept under careful review.

Most members would expect, at a time like this, for there to be unanimity on the NEC and the vote was certainly overwhelming, but unfortunately the recently formed Broad Left Network (BLN) faction, argued that ‘there is no good reason for these elections not to go ahead’ at this time, with a longer ballot period (meaning that they would continue throughout the predicted peak in the UK) and with increased electoral activity throughout the extended ballot period.

The BLN argues that democracy is sacrosanct and that nothing should get in the way. This argument was put forward, despite hearing from two fellow NEC members, one who lost a family member last week and another whose granddaughter has been hospitalised.

The arguments put forward, and the lecture on democracy, demonstrated a breathtaking disconnect from reality, and the very real fears most of our members are experiencing, whilst their main concerns are their attempts to practice social distancing and keeping their families safe.

After the BLN proposed amendment, to extend the ballot period but continue with a ballot in May, was resoundingly defeated, the four BLN supporters, and one member of the Independent Left, voted to oppose the recommendation that the elections do not go ahead as planned, and that the situation is kept under review.

Nobody wants to be in this position. Nobody takes any pleasure from everyone’s lives, workplaces and working practices being turned upside down. The coronavirus is dominating the life of every rep and member, and for some this will be a time of sadness and loss.

PCS reps are doing a fantastic job of supporting our members, and interest in PCS is at an all-time high. Our members, many of them designated key workers, are keeping this country afloat and the services that they provide must be recognised, not just in words, but in their pay packets.

PCS is adapting fast to an ever-changing situation because it has to. Being in a union, and experiencing the support that gives, has never been so important.

Senior officers are in almost daily virtual meetings with the Cabinet Office to make demands and get improvements to guidance being issued, both centrally and at a delegated level.

Reps at every level are working flat out to take up members’ concerns and, as a result, are winning practical, and in many cases, longer term benefits for members.

Members recognise that it is PCS that is winning these improvements for them.

We all need to work together, with as much unity as possible, to ensure that PCS members get the support that they need, not be distracted by attempts to paint these difficult decisions as in any way anti-democratic.

We urge all activists, regardless of factional loyalty, to work with us to defend our members’ interests at this unprecedented time. We owe it to our members.