Organising with other unions during the lockdown

The impact of coronavirus and the lockdown on the way we had become accustomed to organising was incredibly sudden and brought most planned activity to a halt.

A couple of weeks in our Town Committee met on Zoom to discuss how things were going in the different groups and workplaces and to see how we could support each other. At the meeting we agreed to work with other West Midlands unions to find ways to organise and campaign in these new circumstances.

The first meeting had nearly 40 people involved from across the major unions and the following week had 45 people in a public meeting with Fran Heathcote, PCS President, UNISON assistant secretary Roger Mackenzie and others speaking. Now called the West Midlands Coronavirus Action Group – People Before Profit it is one of many similar initiatives that have sprung up across the country. The People Before Profit Health Worker Covid Activists group has helped raise the confidence of health workers to demand and campaign for the PPE they need.

The West Midlands Action Group has been sharing news, raising arguments for PPE and Testing and is now campaigning against an early return to work. We have organised for a small group of socially distanced members to show solidarity with the weekly clap at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Around the country similar initiatives are being taken. We are organising virtual meetings, filming interviews and producing propaganda.

Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in we know that our rulers and the Tories will be looking to continue to run society in the interests of profit, and our class will always have to find ways to fight back. We are all probably tired of online meetings, but they have provided a way to continue to organise and build in these restricted times.

Pete Jackson

Birmingham PCS Town Committee convenor

The People Before Profit Health Worker Covid Activists group is holding a “No return to unsafe workplaces” public meeting on Wednesday 6th May at 6pm – click here for details

Unprecedented times – Protect PCS members

PCS, like everyone else is having to get to grips with whole new ways of working. Reps at every level are in a seemingly constant set of negotiations to get the best for the members that we represent, and to keep them safe.

Negotiating to protect our members

At national level, PCS is literally in daily talks with Cabinet Office to engage over coronavirus crisis issues concerning health and safety, terms and conditions and safeguarding issues to keep people safe and maximise the number working from home. Seeking to identify the workers whose attendance in the workplace is critical and maximise safety measures for those workers.

The Cabinet Office say that overall, 80% of the Civil Service are at home, this figure is very different though, in departments like DWP, where as many as 60% of members are required to be in the workplace, all designated ‘key workers’, a term originally used to secure them access to school places, but quickly leapt upon by operations managers to try to ensure that even those who could feasibly work from home, were not allowed to.

We have the Passport Office attempting to start bringing staff back into the workplace to carry out non-essential work, begging the question, how many of us need a new passport processing right now? Having successfully delayed the reopening of two offices whilst proper risk assessment processes took place, PCS has now issued detailed guidance, including legal advice, inviting members to contact a dedicated address individually with any concerns so that they can be given comprehensive advice, tailored to each individual in order to protect them.

PCS has pressed hard on the issue of workplace closures in sites where Covid-19 has been identified, with some successes in HMRC, where PCS was able to close the Salford office, all credits to local reps there, alongside group negotiators, after the initial complacency by management. This has led to an agreed HMRC protocol for workplaces where cases are identified.

In the Border Force at Heathrow, following the death of a member, PCS pressed for proper PPE. When management refused and members started to wear facemasks, astonishingly, they were instructed to remove them due to concern it gave the ‘wrong impression’.

All of this has led to PCS seeking to reach agreement on a protocol for what to do if a case is suspected.

Evidence is starting to become apparent of instances where management did not act quickly, or decisively, enough. In DWP we are seeing more confirmed cases, and offices being closed, because proper procedures were not followed and subsequent time was not allowed, following deep cleaning taking place. The long- awaited testing is being used as a means to getting people back into the office once they have tested negative, rather than being used to ensure the wellbeing of staff.

At a time when the Government advice is ‘Save Lives, Stay at Home’, some departments seem to be panic-running in the opposite direction. The latest correspondence from Cabinet Office dated 24th April indicates though, that they do not foresee any sudden movement of civil servants currently at home coming back into the workplace which is to be welcomed, and negotiators will continue regular dialogue in order to closely monitor this position.

No Going Back

Reps are all grappling with the complex conundrum of keeping our members safe, but also ensuring that we can continue to provide essential services during the pandemic.

One thing is clear and that is that during this national crisis, it is our members and many others across the public sector and the NHS, that have been there to help people, delivering invaluable services to the most vulnerable, paying out from the Job Retention Scheme those workers that have been furloughed, providing the support to keep the country running.

What unites these groups of workers is that they have been under-resourced by successive governments and attacked by the Tories under the guise of Austerity. And whilst it’s great to hear our members praised by celebrities (thanks Pete Andre), we need to ensure that when this is all over that the recognition is not forgotten, that you cannot have everyone banging pots and pans on a Thursday night in recognition of key workers, carers and the NHS, yet continue to support policies that see them privatised, demonised and sold off to the lowest bidder.

None of the warm words will mean anything if government and employers don’t reward them with a pay rise above the rate of inflation and put the same investment into public services and their workforce, as they do into their friends in big business, because we will not forget. It is our job, as trade unionists to ensure that nobody forgets.

The PCS Outsourced Workers Committee agreed the ‘No Going Back’ campaign to ensure that gains made such as sick pay from day one and the civil service agreement to pay workers 100% pay etc must be retained after the COVID pandemic and that ultimately, the best way of achieving this is to bring the work back in-house.

All of this excellent work being done by reps at every level is being appreciated by our members, and interest in PCS is at a real high.

Making Demands

Members will remember that at the end of February PCS wrote to the head of the Civil Service, setting out national demands over pay, pensions and the CSCS.

Then, recognising the crisis that everyone is dealing with, and the need to get every department focusing on what they should be doing, getting as many as possible working from home, but still delivering essential services, often to the neediest in society, PCS set out a number of interim demands, to be implemented centrally, by the Cabinet Office. If government can be run centrally when it suits, with staff interchangeable between departments, this makes future arguments for delegation harder for them to justify.

These were interim demands, and in no way detract from our national demands set out at the end of February, a point acknowledged by the Cabinet Office, which was made abundantly clear in all material.

1. A suspension of the delegated pay process, and an immediate above inflation pay increase for all staff implemented across the civil service from the centre.

2. A 2% reduction in pension contributions.

3. No changes to the CSCS for at least a year.

4. A moratorium on office closures and redundancies.

  1. Any key coronavirus issues not resolved at departmental level, including enhanced health and safety, to be subject to national bargaining.

Most activists and members recognised these as a very positive step forwards, at a time when delegated talks are not taking place, and that if these could be achieved, it would take PCS forward in pursuing our national demands at the appropriate time.

Wrong time to sow division

Only those seeking division attempt to portray this as “parking our key policies and instead put forward watered down demands at this time of crisis.” as stated in this week’s Broad Left Network article entitled ‘Bold Response Required Against Government on the Run’.

Broad Left Network is the Socialist Party electoral front in PCS. At a time the union has been frantically working to protect our members and those in society who rely on the services our members provide, PCS has been churning out materials and briefings. This was the only thing they have published on the BLN website since a call for election nominations in January.

Not a word had been said about Coronavirus or the situation facing members, despite a plea on their website to ‘Follow my blog’. Their slogan ‘Action not Words’ looks a little hollow in light of their lack of activity, and with what little activity they do indulge in limited exclusively to attacking their own union’s democratically decided policies and strategy. It is extremely disappointing that BLN are seeking to spread division during this critical time for our members.

The PCS National Executive Committee overwhelmingly voted to postpone the annual elections to that body in order to prevent unnecessary contact during lockdown and in light of social distancing measures in order to protect the health and safety of activists, members and CWU postal workers.

Incredibly as recently as last week the SP members within the union, including their leader within BLN, have continued to argue there is no good reason why the PCS elections cannot take place, while acknowledging the electioneering that would create.

This, at the very time when casualties from the virus could be at their peak and the impact this would have on PCS members and their families, adjusting to life in their second month of lockdown. It is almost beyond belief that they are prepared to make such comments intended to attack the union’s efforts to protect workers’ health and safety as “anti-democratic”.

Even their own BLN supporters do not support them in this, they were amongst those writing to PCS requesting that the elections be called off at this time. SP are completely out of touch on this issue but see anti-PCS leadership as their priority for factional and electoral purposes.

Socialist Party Scotland ran an article by an SP NEC member from the DWP group, in relation to members at Paisley jobcentre being sent home after national PCS intervention, for which he attempts to take credit. He makes the deceitful statement “Police visited the protest and agreed it should carry on. This undermines the view of some in the union that face-to-face activities should not be carried out during the Covid epidemic”.

No-one in the union has ever said that no face to face activity should take place, but many of us have stressed the point that every efforts to social distance should be made and guidelines carefully observed.

It is telling that this “revolutionary socialist” was prepared to accept the view of the police as more important than the concerns expressed by our own reps and members.

But the motivation behind his baffling comments is explained by the fact that the Socialist Party had, with little or no regard for the health and safety of members who were doing their utmost to practise social distancing, carried out a paper sale outside an office in London, where the casualty rates are amongst the highest in the UK, aimed at collecting signatures to send their factional and electoral material to.

It is worth noting that when branch officers and members complained to PCS and the matter was discussed at the NEC, this same individual hypocritically and dishonestly accused the general secretary and senior officers of ‘politicising things’.

In actual fact the general secretary, supported by senior officers and endorsed by the NEC, responded in a low key manner to the concerns raised by members by writing to SP acting general secretary, a letter aimed principally at securing a commitment from them that the party would not repeat this activity that may endanger members’ health and safety during lockdown.

The response from the SP was a bizarre suggestion that PCS was trying to prevent a socialist organisation, but not the capitalist press, from selling papers.

Their response, in which they still refused to give assurances that they would not repeat the activity, attacked Mark Serwotka and the PCS leadership. When this correspondence was debated at the NEC, it was pointed out by members of Independent Left that this was not a Left Unity decision, but in fact a stance supported by the branch and London regionally committee, many not Left Unity supporters, who had raised the issue.

The acting general secretary of the SP has now replied to say that “clearly there are profoundly different views between us on these vital questions of how the labour and trade union movement should operate in these extremely challenging times which it is in the interests of the movement to discuss out. Consequently we believe it would be useful for the movement for us to publish this correspondence on our website and in the pages of the Socialist.” SP have now published this correspondence.

In their replies the SP give little or no acknowledgement of the concerns of our members and certainly no commitment that their activity would not be repeated.

Keep members safe, Campaign for better

Left Unity welcomes all efforts that are being made by reps and members to stay safe and supports every member who wishes to challenge any situation which they believe puts their safety at risk. We need to keep our members safe, that is after all a key priority for any trade union, but the conundrum is how we continue to deliver services, including those to the most vulnerable, whilst keeping as many members as possible at home.

At a time when our services have never been more vital, when union membership has never been more crucial, let’s do what we have to, to keep members safe. But when this is over, we need to remember, we cannot allow things to go back to the way they were and understand that they have been changed forever.

It is PCS’s priority to ensure health and safety, and whilst sadly we have lost PCS members to Covid19, we will not stand by and allow our members to suffer and will do all that we can to protect them.

The Left Unity leadership supports all members who feel that their safety is being jeopardised and who want to challenge their employer, PCS will back them completely. But, as socialists, we also have a responsibility to keep services running in what is literally, a life and death crisis.

Our members deliver vital services, the media and certain celebrities are currently recognising that, but we need to keep the pressure on Government to reward our members, not just with warm words, but with recognition through our pay, terms and conditions. That is what the PCS leadership must continue to fight for.

Up and down the country, and across PCS Departments and Groups, it is Left Unity members and activists who are leading negotiations and are at the forefront of the campaigning and organising activity that is required to build PCS during these unprecedented times.

If our members are key workers, providing invaluable services, let’s treat them like key workers and reward them accordingly.

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.

Coronavirus is a trade union issue

The Coronavirus presents us with a significant threat, and it is one we need to respond to carefully, but clearly and urgently.

For most of us it is difficult to know the truth about the threat that the virus presents; while some people are responding to the hype in the media, creating panic buying, there are others who think it is no more serious than the flu.

Regardless of where our opinions lie on this as trade unionists and socialists we need to see this as a trade union and a class issue, as we would any other. The response to the crisis should be driven by the needs of the population, not profit.

While the government have currently taken limited measures to assist workers affected by the virus, allowing SSP to be claimed after day one instead of day three, we know that millions of people in the gig economy will get little support if they are forced to go sick. Our movement is rightly demanding that there should be sick pay available for these people so they don’t continue to work if they, or their family, are sick or self isolating.

In the Civil Service we know that serious preparations are being made for a major pandemic and it’s impact on our workplaces. Yet basic day to day precautions should be taken immediately. Public facing offices have been told that they can use sanitising gels and wipes, but a recent attempt to buy them through the central ordering system in one department found that none were available. We need our employer to act to protect us, not just talk about it. Local offices could hold meetings to discuss what steps we will take if we are not protected adequately.

Many offices complain that there are not enough cleaners. In many front facing offices desks are touched by dozens of hands every day, yet the desks are cleaned just once a week. We could be demanding more cleaners for our offices and should highlight the strikes by ISS cleaners in Bootle, Liverpool and Birmingham who are demanding the living wage.

In one office a member of staff was sent home because they had been in an at risk country, but the cleaning company refused to do a deep clean until the person had been confirmed with the Coronavirus. Fortunately they were clear, but had they not then staff had been exposed for no good reason except that the cleaning agency wanted to save money. We need to demand urgent deep cleaning, with staff advised to stay at home until it is done, wherever there is a possibility of a Coronavirus case.

The Chief Medical Officer has advised that in 2 weeks time people with coughs and colds may be told to self isolate. There is a possibility that schools will be closed. This will have a significant effect on our workplaces. We need to demand that everybody who has to self isolate, or to look after a family member who is self isolating, is guaranteed that no action will be taken against them. We need to demand that there is no increase in workload on those who continue in work.

We should also be raising concerns about unnecessarily exposing staff with vulnerable heart and lung conditions to the public.

As many of our services impact on the public we need to to demand that they don’t lose out. In the job centres if an office suffers from significant staff shortages or is forced to close claimants could lose benefits. This can be resolved by focussing remaining staff work on making sure claims are paid, not the trivia of meeting pointless targets.

Whichever department or office we work in our colleagues will be talking and worrying about Coronavirus. Our job as trade unionists is to work with them to make our offices as safe as possible, and put the PCS at the front of health and safety in the civil service.

Birmingham ISS cleaners prepare to strike

PCS-LiverpoolAt conference last year our Branch Secretary made contact with the people co-ordinating the campaign for ISS cleaners on Merseyside . We discussed if we could get our cleaners to join PCS again as they had all previously left. If we could get them to rejoin could we then get them to a position to where they felt able to take action?

I had previously been in touch with the organiser before on the subject. He kindly offered to come down to speak to the cleaners and I was able to get a few of the cleaners to meet with him.

From that initial meeting two of us agreed to go up to Bootle on 21 June to meet with Phil and some of the cleaners who had been balloted for strike action on 16 &17 July.

Since returning from Bootle I started having regular meetings with the cleaners.The important thing is that we all keep in touch now either through meetings or WhatsApp group which we set up as not all cleaners are able to get to the meetings. We have succeeded in re recruiting them to the PCS.

Staff from the Regional  Office were very supportive.They have attended some of our meetings. We had leafletting session outside the office 16 December with a few of the cleaners to try and raise their profile.

After a few false starts we finally got NDC submission accepted. We had a fantastic turnout and vote to strike.

So now we are looking forward to Monday. We will be leafletting staff from CCH to get them behind us. We will be holding a rally assisted by the Town Committee with PCS President Fran Heathcote, Midlands TUC and  councillors speaking.

This is the first time any of the cleaners have taken action, they are nervous but up for the fight.

ISS cleaners in Birmingham, Bootle and Liverpool will be on strike on Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th March.

https://www.pcs.org.uk/news/iss-members-in-birmingham-bootle-and-liverpool-vote-overwhelmingly-to-strike

Radical rank and file campaigning in PCS – The experience of Central London Town Committee

26 Whitehall PCS reps and activists met with Mark Serwotka and Fran Heathcote last month to discuss how we build the national campaign in our local area.

PCS members in 2020 face a Boris Johnson government intent on attacking the civil service with Dominic Cummings plotting reorganisation and the most intense pressure ever on services and staff.

PCS is launching a campaign over the attacks expected in the near future:

  • further pay freezes
  • attacks on redundancy pay
  • refusing to pay back the money we are owed for our pensions.

We can’t wait another 5 years and have no choice but to fight these now. We will work with other unions like the FBU who have successfully challenged pensions inequality through the courts. UCU members in universities are taking another 14 days of strike action and CWU are about to re-ballot their postal members.

Harnessing energy from the rank and file

Learning the lessons from our previous campaigns, organising and rebuilding our strength on the ground needs to go hand in hand with campaigning and can’t be done separately.

We want a radical approach to revitalising the rank and file of the union.

Of course we need a lead from the NEC and national officers, but we don’t want a top down union and are calling for campaigning organisation in every area.

It’s up to us as activists on the ground to make this happen, and we want our new reps and advocates to come to the fore.

Getting to know each other!

It had always amazed me that although there are so many PCS members and branches concentrated in the Whitehall area, there were so few links between the branches unless they were in the same group. Activists working just a few hundred yards away from each other didn’t know each other or would only meet at the national Conference if at all!

Like in many areas, the town committee had not been active for a while when PCS launched the national industrial action ballot over pay in 2018. I had just become one of the NEC Liaison Officers for London & SE and decided that getting people together to help organise around the ballot was a key part of my role.

We started meeting informally in the bar of the civil service club, later getting money for a room for more formal meetings. Because people found it useful to meet up with other activists we agreed to meet weekly during the ballot.

There was a lot of good will to help out with leafleting at other branches and organising stunts and other actions, as well as an appetite for discussion about how to take the campaign forward. That side of our networking continued into the second ballot. for example by supporting activists to go desk to desk to try and make contact with all of our members and to try different ways of organising.

A campaigning network

Our network of 150 on email and 70 on a whats app group has been built both as a forum for discussion and through taking action together over various campaigns.

Organising solidarity for strikes, planning ways to take union action over climate, opposing the far right and campaigning during the general election have all brought different activists together at different times.

We have also mapped private sector contracts in the area to roll out the outsourcing action to other workplaces, and would like to organise the new anti-racist training locally.

We now have a core network of activists that know each other and have an idea of the different strengths and weaknesses in our area.

Joint branch committee?

We have experimented with meetings in the evening or at lunchtime. Currently we are trying to encourage branches to organise their branch committees to coincide with our meetings which are 12:30-2pm, with the longer term aim of quarterly joint branch committee meetings in the area. This is something hubs as well as other areas might like to try.

Pensions campaign launch

We are launching the national campaign with a pensions campaign briefing meeting with a q&a session on pensions and a UCU striker.

We then plan to roll this out with the aim of organising similar meetings in every workplace in the area.

Candy Udwin

Candy Udwin is standing for nomination to the NEC as part of the Democracy Alliance

Turning the tide against racism – Scotland Stand Up To Racism conference 2020

On 22nd February 2020 I attended the Stand Up To Racism Scotland Conference in Adelaides in Glasgow. After attending the planning meetings on behalf of PCS, I was excited to see the finished outcome. I wasn’t disappointed.

The planning committee had decided on the name of the conference prior to the General Election, as we knew that whatever the result there would still be work to be done on tackling racism, however one result would mean a lot more work for us. Unfortunately that was the result we got.

The conference itself was well attended, despite being held on a cold, wet and windy Saturday. We started off with an opening plenary, titled “After Johnson’s election – how can we turn the tide against racism?” with a video of the first speaker from Aufstehen gegen Rassismus, which is an anti-racism and anti-fascism organisation in Germany. We also heard speakers from SUTR Scotland, RMT union, as well as a shopkeeper from Niddrie and Anas Sarwar as convener of the cross party group on tackling Islamophobia.

There were workshops – three before lunch and three after – which featured a number of speakers from various anti-racism organisations, trade unions and university students. The workshops ran at the same times, meaning we had to pick which we wanted to attend, some were in the venue, others were across the road in the Novotel. All looked interesting, however prior to lunch I attended one entitled “Leave or Remain – say no to the hostile environment”. We heard from a Glasgow University Student who had been granted indefinite leave to remain a number of years ago, however changes to this status by Theresa May has led to a long, ongoing legal battle.

We also heard from an International Officer from Edinburgh UCU, who talked about the points based immigration policy, which he said is already in place but would now include EU citizens. This would be pitting skilled workers against unskilled, however as one of the speakers had pointed out there is no such thing as an unskilled worker. There would also be a requirement of a minimum £25,000 annual salary, which is more than a large number of the government’s own staff earn. He talked about how low attendance can affect an immigrant student’s visa, how he needs to keep attendance for that reason. If UCU was to take strike action and an immigrant student’s class wasn’t cancelled due to the lecturer not being a union member, that student would be forced to cross a picket line or be marked as absent. One attendee talked about universities using GPS trackers in phones to record attendance, and that information could eventually be used by potential employers.

We heard from someone who had moved to Scotland from Nigeria to study. He was completely blind and had been promised a guide and specialist equipment. He paid 3 times that of a Scottish student, only to arrive to equipment that didn’t work and be told that he would be able to work out how to get around the university. After complaining he was thrown out, and only remains in the country thanks to UCU and Positive Action in Housing.

After lunch I attended a workshop entitled “Organising against racism in the workplace” which PCS NEC member and Left Unity West of Scotland convener John Jamieson was one of the speakers at, along with a women’s & equalities officer from Unite. John passed on solidarity wishes from Mark Serwotka, Fran Heathcote and the NEC. He spoke about how PCS tackles racism, the fight we have ahead due to the election result and how over the past few years personal cases involving racism have increased. The Unite speaker was fairly new to the role, however talked about educating members, as well as looking at the make up of workplaces and union committees and seeing how representative they are, particularly regarding BAME members. She said that she had recently got 3 BAME members more active just by approaching them and inviting them to meetings, which she found was easier than getting women involved.

We heard a story of how a Polish member of staff at a high school had sat at a table which had swastikas etched into it. The management tried to clean the desk but they were so deep into the woodwork that the table had to be thrown out. When a complaint was made, HR said it was low priority. It was pointed out that this is a hate crime that has essentially been covered up.

This workshop was particularly interesting as it was mainly trade unionists in attendance, however it could have been held over a whole day and we would still have been able to continue talking about these issues.

Other workshops covered islamophobia, antisemitism, climate justice, refugees welcome, institutional racism and cultural racism.

There was then the closing plenary, entitled “#WorldAgainstRacism – mobilising for UN Anti Racism Day demonstration”, during which we heard from speakers from Scottish Youth Climate Strike, Unison Scotland, All Under One Banner and Stand Up To Racism. This was mainly to inform attendees about the Stand Up To Racism march and demonstration in Glasgow on 21st March 2020 – 11am at George Square.

Following this conference I have joined up to SUTR Scotland, and fully intend to become more involved. Racism is unfortunately on the rise, and we must fight back against it. We must tackle it in our workplaces and in our communities.

Liz McGachey

See also Making PCS central to anti racism in our communities

click on the image below for demo details