Our aim must be levelling up, not levelling down

On Saturday, PCS President, Fran Heathcote shared a platform with Jeremy Corbyn (MP), Diane Abbott (MP), Ellen Clifford (Disabled People Against Cuts) and John Rees (People’s Assembly) at the People’s Assembly Zero Covid Conference, in their closing session entitled ‘Health, Wealth and A New Deal’.
Here are the main points from her speech:

“The Tories have been launching ideological attacks on our members, and on the working class, for as long as they’ve been in power. Their strategy is one of cuts and privatisation, and attacks aimed at decimating the public sector, aimed at benefiting their friends in big business and seeking to make a profit out of the welfare state. So when Sunak announced this week that there would be no return to austerity, it sounded more than a bit hollow to our members, against a backdrop of a pay freeze, attacks on their pensions, redundancies, proposed job cuts and office closures. Call it what you like, but our members recognise Austerity when they see it.

PCS members have delivered vital services throughout the pandemic, not always popular jobs necessarily, but vital to keep the country running. They deliver Universal Credit, They administer the Furlough Scheme, They keep the courts running, the list goes on. We represent a growing number of outsourced workers now, not just civil servants.

And for a brief period, they got clapped as key workers which, whilst the recognition was welcome, didn’t exactly put food on the table.

We know that austerity attacks the sick, it attacks the disabled, it seeks to make the working class pay for the failures of big business, and that the Tories and the right wing media then seek to pit people against each other, Public versus Private, striver versus so-called shirker, public sector worker versus benefit claimant, which is why I am always delighted to work alongside Ellen Clifford from DPAC and other campaigners to ensure that there is no division. And that people understand that this division is a deliberate strategy from which only the Tories and their friends gain, and that what we need now is to co-ordinate and join up our campaigns wherever possible.

The trade union movement must be at the forefront of leading the fight against austerity, standing together and not allowing groups of workers to be picked off. This will be a hugely challenging period, as the Government seek to get the working class to pay for their abject failure throughout the pandemic. Our aim must be levelling up, not levelling down, so that we are all able to help to rebuild the economy, not see it destroyed for generations to come.

The best way of fighting cuts and austerity, is by building strong unions, in our workplaces and in our communities.

PCS membership has now gone over 180,000, the highest it’s been in several years. This month alone, we had 1700 new joiners, and every month throughout the pandemic, an average of 1800 new joiners.

We’re working hard to increase participation and engagement from members, developing digital technology and reaching out to build our campaigns. Over the last two weekends, our activists contacted over 80,000 members, resulting in nearly 1000 saying that they want to get involved – building local activity and encouraging PCS members to get involved in wider community campaigning where they live, building alliances and strengthening organisations.

And we must fight for decent social security. Join up with anyone prepared to stand up for the very simple idea that the welfare state should be a safety net for those who need it, so that nobody has to choose between heating and eating.The TUC has agreed that the General Council will meet on 7th December, where PCS will be arguing for the biggest possible campaign of joined up, co-ordinated action.

Long before Sunak’s announcement, we launched our pay petition as an initiative to engage our members, both within the civil service and our outsourced workers, about the battles to come on pay. Not because anyone argues that a pay petition alone will smash the government pay cap, but because we knew that these attacks were looming and that we needed to lead a campaign of opposition, and generate action amongst our members, and a dialogue with the government.

PCS has long argued that there is an alternative, and has been at the forefront of articulating the sort of system we want to see – not just what we don’t want. So I am delighted to announce that, on the back of what the government is now unleashing, yesterday, PCS got over the 100,000 signatures we need to force a debate in parliament and demand that our members get the recognition that they deserve.

We used that petition as a structure test to put in place plans for building our campaign and our fightback. We have had to learn lessons during the pandemic about how we can reach out and engage in this virtual world, how we can operate differently and how there can be no going back to austerity. We’ve recruited more members, we’ve recruited more reps and we’ve recruited more advocates.

So, in closing, I would say that the period ahead will be incredibly tough and our efforts must go into ensuring that everybody joins a trade union, whether in the public sector or the private sector, that we join up and coordinate our campaigns wherever possible, in the face of the continued attacks that we know are coming, and that we stand together as a movement, against this rotten government, to ensure that we mount the biggest fightback possible, and give them the biggest ‘bloody nose’ in their attempts to attack our members, our class and the welfare state. Solidarity to everyone here today, and thank you for listening.”             

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