A fantastic show of strength
Wednesday 15th March was fantastic! Full of enthusiasm, optimism and hope. That feeling that you’re part of something much bigger.
PCS members and reps filled picket lines in record numbers. Feedback from reps and branches was at least as many, if not more, out than last time. Many young workers striking for the first time, getting a feel for what it’s all about.
I visited seven or eight London picket lines during the morning, joined by General Secretary, Mark Serwotka and chair of the PCS Parliamentary group, Chris Stephens. Our picket lines were loud, they were determined. Full of flags, placards and the new, red PCS beanies.
We marched from Embankment to Downing Street, the chants and cheers ringing in our ears, especially as we marched past Westminster, knowing that MPs were inside those walls, taking decisions about the budget and where taxpayers’ money would be spent, and not spent, in the midst of the cost of living crisis.
Our own PCS rally, outside Downing Street was big and loud. As I stood up to speak, all you could see were yellow flags, red beanies and at the back, or front, depending on your perspective, the massive PCS balloon.
The highlight for me was our 4 young strikers, who got up to describe their experiences of leading and organising action, some for the first time. We had powerful solidarity speeches from president of the RMT, Alex Gordon, and Kim Johnson, MP for Liverpool Riverside, alongside our own Mark Serwotka.
Then, with heads held high, led by the impressive PCS Samba Band, we marched into Trafalgar Square, to join thousands of strikers and supporters from other unions.
At this rally, hosted by the NEU, both Mark and I addressed the huge crowd that had gathered, alongside speakers from other unions striking and others, all calling for unity and solidarity.
That overwhelming message of solidarity is what was best about 15th March, giving us all a lift and making clear we would stand together and stand up to this government.
Targeted Action ramping up
It is clear that the strategy adopted is giving us unprecedented leverage. Sustained targeted action, alongside all-member action, that massive show of strength, when it can have the most impact. Maximising pressure on government and employers, minimising the financial impact on members during the cost of living crisis.
The National Disputes Committee continues to authorise submissions from many different groups and work areas, making the campaign impossible to ignore.
Just this week, we have announced that over 1000 Passport Office members from all across the UK will walk out for 5 weeks, causing possibly the most significant disruption yet.
Also taking action will be National Highways staff, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency members, including driving examiners and test centre staff, the British Library and the British Museum.
Many more areas are now making submissions for further areas to target action. Alongside all-member action, and the show of strength that demonstrates, this really is a strategy designed to have the biggest impact, becoming more and more difficult to ignore.
Now to win the reballot
The NEC meets on Monday to take stock and agree next steps, but it’s clear we are now in the strongest position that we have been in for decades.To maintain that position of strength though, we have a very important task ahead of us.
Our current mandate runs out on 7th May. We are now running our renewal ballot from 20th March to 9th May. It is crucial that, in order to maintain that pressure and leverage on the government to get around the table and talk to us, we beat the threshold in the reballot resoundingly.
The areas that have recently joined the action, such as HMRC, will not be part of the reballot, as they now have their mandate. For the rest of us that are though, we must strain every sinew to make sure that we don’t let government off the hook.
If they thought that they could sit out our mandate until it ended, they would do. In order to put pressure on them to get into talks that we are seeing elsewhere in the movement, we must send the clearest message via this renewal ballot that we are not going away, and that the way to resolve the dispute is to talk to us and put money on the table.
This will be a massive collective effort. Working together we can do this. It requires good levels of organising and membership engagement. We have learnt so much from what we have done so far, it is well within our gift to, not just beat the threshold this time around, but to smash it.
It would be a mistake to believe though, that this will just happen. It will take effort and hard work, reaching out to our members and giving them confidence in the strategy, the campaign and the strength of our position.
Nobody said that this would be a quick dispute, that it would be resolved immediately. What we do in the next 6 weeks will determine the success of our campaign. We really are on the cusp of something significant, but it requires us to hold our nerve, not be distracted by those that would seek to divert us, and work together to deliver the strongest renewal ballot result that we can, and we will do that best by working together.
Good luck with your efforts in your branch and please contact any of us within Left Unity if you need help or support.
Fran is re-standing for PCS national president as part of the Democratic Alliance. The full Democratic Alliance slate can be found here – https://pcsleftunity.org/democracy-alliance-nec-nominees-2023/
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