We know that the world is upside down, but how abnormal does it have to be for the ‘Texas Cat Attorney’ to get more hits on YouTube than the moon landings? Jackie Weaver; the Britney Spears of Handforth Parish Council has endeared herself to the nation (apparently) for putting a couple of shouty old men into a Zoom waiting area, and it was very funny to watch an embarrassed academic fight off his excited toddler on a serious BBC interview about North Korean Politics. I suspect many of us are sick to the back teeth of having to tell people that they are ‘on mute’ and I am sure many of us wonder if it will ever be customary to dress the bottom half of the body in office attire again.
However, the shift to working from home and meeting online has opened a serious debate and it is one we are having in PCS and one we should be encouraging in our Branches and offices. When CCTV came in to Job Centres it was pretty comprehensive coverage, so that virtually each desk could be seen. My first experience of intrusive remote management was when some senior managers took it upon themselves to use the CCTV to make sure all the staff were wearing name badges (when things like that mattered). The union was fast to act on that one and got management to see that CCTV was not a tool to control us, but part of keeping us safe at work. But lately there appears to be a bit of ‘mission creep’ among many managers.
Some managers are insisting that the camera is switched on during meetings so that they can see us, and it is absolutely 100% certain that some of them are continually monitoring our online presence by checking if we are showing Red, Green or Amber on Teams or Skype. During a recent disciplinary meeting as I was supporting a member the manager heard something that she clearly thought was suspicious coming from somewhere and asked me if I had someone off camera listening to her in the room with me. I won’t bore you with my response, but this seems symptomatic of a feeling of loss of control by some managers, which will have implications for members. What should our organised response be to new working practices?
Branches are being currently being asked to consider ways that PCS as whole can respond wider change, but in terms of a response to increased digitalisation it seems to me that, while there are drawbacks, they may be outweighed by the advantages. I’m really yearning to go back to the ‘old normal’ but does that mean that every time we meet as a Branch or GEC or NEC that we have to all travel to be physically together in a room, I would argue not. I won’t say that we should never meet in real life ever again but we can do as much (arguably sometimes more) online. And we can do it faster. In the last couple of weeks, we have seen how effectively activists have been able organise an industrial response in DVLA. Members would never have been able to meet with their GEC or NEC members so easily without being able to use online meetings. We have also seen that Branches have been able to call members meetings at short notice where the attendance figures could only have been dreamed of before lockdown.
I can’t wait for the time when we can have a PCS National Conference again, but I am open minded about the future format of Branch meetings and I am eager to see if we actually increase our participation in AGMs by holding them online. Would there ever be a reason to revert to doing things as we have always done them if that decreased participation? I hope members take some time to think about this and make their views known at office meetings and AGMs. I would say we have to be more ‘agile’ than management and use what works best because as someone once said ‘it’s more difficult to hit a moving target’.
Jimmy is standing for the NEC as part of the Democracy Alliance slate. Click on the image for the full slate.