Fighting to secure a real pay increase for our members

On 15 December a Parliamentary debate took place regarding Civil Service pay. The debate was secured by the PCS pay petition reaching over 100,000 signatures, with both the petition and subsequent commons debate, important strands of the national campaign PCS has been pursuing under the Left Unity leadership of the union; the aim to secure a real pay increase for our members after years of government pay restraint.

A key component of this campaign being the need to engage with members on the importance of national pay and the broader campaign that needs to be won, if we are to succeed in overturning the Treasury and Government’s pay freeze. The fact hundreds of members and reps gave their own time to help contact members at home, via text using new technology brought into the Union, meant the PCS message encouraging members to get involved, sign the petition and share it with friends and family, was delivered quicker than ever before. This magnificent effort was crucial in signatures for the petition moving past the 100,000 mark, something Left Unity’s political opponents were dismissing as unachievable only a matter of weeks earlier.

During the debate itself the Government disgracefully failed to field senior Ministers to hear the realities our lowest paid members face up to on a daily basis and the impact over a decade of pay restraint on Civil Servants has had on our members. Instead they did all they could to limit the debate on the terrible impact low pay has on their own workforce; afraid, it would seem, they would be unable to justify their refusal to give a decent pay rise to the same workers they have showered with warm words and praise, alongside other public sector workers, throughout the pandemic. If ever we needed a reminder we will have to fight for a pay rise for our members, their disregard for a debate which highlighted the harsh reality their own workforce faces due to low pay, was probably it.

The message PCS wanted to deliver in the debate was achieved, despite the Government’s efforts, and Labour MP Kate Osbourne summed it up by stating “Many of those who administer benefits are at virtually the same income levels as those receiving them. How is that sustainable?”

Left Unity in it for the long haul

The Left Unity leadership of PCS have been very clear that we did not expect the petition or the debate in Parliament alone to be enough to secure a change in Government policy over pay. But the hard work put in my activists and members to push the petition, meant that both were a step on the path to exert more pressure to provide a decent pay increase to our members who are struggling to make ends meet.  Left Unity members on the NEC, and within groups, have been clear that the strategy we need to win must be to mobilise members to get involved in our campaign and to see clearly that their concerns are being taken seriously by their union.

Following the Parliamentary debate an online rally was led by PCS President and Left Unity member Fran Heathcote, attended by hundreds of PCS members, and which has already been watched over 10,000 times via Facebook.  At the event Fran was joined by PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka, and Labour MP and PCS member Rachel Hopkins giving an update on both the debate and the next steps in the campaign.

The Junior Minister speaking on behalf of the Government, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Kemi Badenoch MP, tried during the debate to frame the issue as private versus public sector, ignoring the points made demonstrating money spent on public sector wages is spent by members in the private sector, driving the economy and helping the country’s recovery.

When addressing the evening rally Mark Serwotka rightly made the point that after praise for the work of Civil Servants from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, with people across the country clapping key workers, including Civil Servants, on the doorstep throughout the earlier part of the pandemic, “they can’t even be bothered to turn up to justify what they are doing, let alone give people the courtesy of meetings or responses”. He went on to say that the Government has now broadened their attack over public sector pay to much of the public sector, not just in the Civil Service, and that we must use this to build support for a co-ordinated response to the pay freeze. We all know that a pay freeze is in effect a pay cut in real terms for workers, many already living on or below the poverty line, and in order for us to force them into a U-turn over public sector pay, coordination with other public sector unions could be crucial.

Left Unity members on the NEC have led calls for the TUC to coordinate a virtual lobby of Parliament in early March over Public Sector pay, for all unions with affected members. We want to involve Civil Servants, Teachers, Local Authority and Council workers, standing together, united in our demand for a fair deal on pay; after everything we have all done to keep society functioning and support people both throughout the pandemic and the recovery from it, public sector workers deserve nothing less.

LU believe it is vital that we have a huge number of PCS members taking part, continuing to try and build pressure on the Government over pay and, as Mark Serwotka said, ensure we are “not at the back of the queue, but are in the front line alongside all our colleagues in the public sector”.

As part of this ongoing campaign, Left Unity members on the NEC will be ensuring we’re taking forward the interests of our members in the private sector working on Government contracts. Demanding fair pay, terms and conditions including proper sick pay arrangements, something we know is lacking for many of our members in that part of the union.

Throughout the pay campaign, Left Unity members have been leading the union, with pay ballots in the last few years delivering the highest levels of participation and the largest percentage turnouts in the union’s history. Whilst we narrowly missed the Tory anti-trade union legislation’s 50% threshold by a very small margin (1.2% for the last ballot), we recognise that low pay is still a vitally important issue and continue to build both the activism of our members, alongside increasing our membership numbers. Left Unity have presided over a campaigning, fighting union in PCS for over two decades, and we continue to take the fight to the Government. We are demanding PCS members are treated and paid fairly, and properly recognised for the vital work that we do, not only during the pandemic but continually, supporting the public when they need our members the most, and providing a vital safety net to some of the most vulnerable in society.

If you are a socialist and interested to understand more about the work of PCS Left Unity please keep in touch with our posts to find out more. Our website is updated frequently. If you would like to join PCS Left Unity click here

Steve Swainston.

Steve is a Democracy Alliance candidate for the NEC elections this year – click here for full candidate list

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