The Future of PCS

Fran Heathcote, Left Unity PCS President, looks at the issues facing PCS reps and activists in the period ahead.

By now, most PCS activists will have attended a ‘Future of PCS’ briefing. They have been held in every group, region, nation and equality forum at the start of a process to engage everyone at the earliest stage in what will be an ongoing discussion, in order to get as much input as possible.

This is taking place at a time when PCS has been involved in a number of campaigns and disputes which the Left Unity-led NEC are fully supporting, and asking Left Unity members to show their support too.

Whether it’s the ISS Cleaners in HMRC striking for fair pay, the Tate workers in the Culture Sector striking against redundancy, the Southbank workers balloting over redundancies, the consultative ballot that was held in DWP over safety in 21 Universal Credit service centres and associated jobcentres, or Driving Examiners in DFT group being consulted over safety concerns, it is clear that there is a lot going on right now within PCS.

Alongside all of this, we are in a continuous round of meetings with Cabinet Office and ministers around all things COVID-19 related, including our ongoing efforts to keep our members safe, and stopping them being forced back into the workplace before it is safe to do so, our default position being safety first.

The pay petition still needs more signatures. We hit 50,000 relatively quickly and it now needs a push to get over the 100,000 mark to generate a debate in parliament, not because anyone claims that a petition alone will smash the government’s pay policy, but because it allows us to engage members around the complex picture of delegated pay across the civil service, taking account of developments in departments like HMRC as those talks progress.

On pensions, the government are seeking to re-evaluate the scheme in order to make our members pay for their illegality. There is a public consultation running until 11th October which PCS has publicised on the PCS website and we are pursuing a legal challenge, alongside a number of other unions, including the FBU.

During the crisis many things have been done differently, in terms of digital technology, virtual meetings have become the norm, which included the NEC meeting fortnightly initially and now meeting monthly. Our regular cycle of conference and elections have not taken place and there have been virtually no T&S costs throughout this period.

PCS, like the Civil Service, is having to learn lessons from the crisis and consider how we might do things differently in future.

Over the last few months, the NEC has been discussing the future of PCS and our ability to campaign based on our organising principles of Building, Growing and Winning.

There have been two national briefings issued BB/37/20 and BB/42/20 and LU members are encouraged to familiarise themselves, in particular, with BB/42/20 which includes a lot of background information, including a timeline of events that have affected PCS, going right back to 2004 when Gordon Brown announced his 100,000 civil service jobcuts, and the impact on PCS throughout this whole period to date.

ADC 2018, following the 3 year strategic review, agreed a number of objectives and targets, following the brilliant work of reps and activists during the removal of check-off to secure the future of PCS against what was an existential threat.

We have been successful in achieving many of these targets but it is now clear that we are not going to hit our key objective, which was to grow PCS to 200,000 members by the end of 2020.

In fact, when we began this work, membership stood at 181,764, now it is nearly 3,000 less, so although we are seeing some really good organising initiatives, in terms of recruitment, increased digital use and during the crisis in particular, a large increase in reps, advocates and members, and an increase in participation, the fact is that PCS membership is not increasing at anything like the required rate, despite the civil service growing.

We have seen some parts of PCS beat their recruitment targets set within our strategy, areas such as Home Office and Scottish Government have grown and continue to grow, but in other parts of PCS, including our two biggest groups, membership has fallen.

Recently that has changed and in DWP and HMRC, we are seeing more joiners than leavers and a net increase in membership which is to be welcomed. Of course, this is not all traditional civil service recruitment either. Many new entrants are coming in on agency or fixed-term contracts, with the challenges around recognition that brings.

We need to turn civil service recruitment into PCS recruitment and look at each group and area in detail.

The union need to fully understand the scale of the recruitment challenge and have tasked the National Organising Committee to provide detailed analysis to the NEC on 30/09 which will then be shared widely.

It is against this backdrop that the NEC agreed that just maintaining the status quo is not an option. PCS could of course, sit back and hope that our organising strategies continue to bare fruit, and in our two biggest departments there is some evidence of that, but the Left Unity-led leadership concluded that if we don’t embrace the need for change now, and just wait, in a few years things will have got worse.

We need the ability to take on the employer, in both the public and the private sector, with the resources to campaign and organise effectively.

The NEC agreed that any discussions must be fully informed, with the full engagement of reps and activists, and discussions should be transparent, which is why groups, regions, nations and equality fora have all just been invited to hold meetings with either myself or the general secretary as the speaker, not at the end of the discussion, but at the very start of the process.

We are all proud of PCS, of what we’ve built together, in terms of our campaigns and our democracy, and so we feel strongly that we need it not only to survive, but to be available and fit for purpose in the future. If we want to be ahead of the game, we need to start developing a strategy in advance and prepare for the battles ahead.

The Left Unity NEC is very clear that the union is not on the financial brink, or in some form of crisis, having worked very hard to stabilise PCS throughout what has been a period of massive challenges. Reps and activists have done some great work together.

We are getting through and we are stabilising, but we are not yet where we need to be.

Our fighting fund now stands at over £1.7million, built up using a combination of a proportion of the money won from DWP, when we took them to court and won, over their removal of check-off, and the donations that many members now make to build up a ‘war chest’ to support groups of members taking strike action.

Throughout the pandemic, there has been an influx of new members saying that they want to be more involved in their union, and have put themselves forward to play a more active role.

All of this is to be welcomed but let’s be clear, we are going to need every single one of them, given the scale of the attacks we are facing in the period ahead. The detailed membership and recruitment analysis is going to be vital in understanding where we are recruiting, where we aren’t and why that is.

Although we now yield a rental income of over £1 million per annum by renting out parts of PCS HQ, it is a fact that if membership drops, then so does our available income.

It is very clear that a large factor in the financial quandary we face is because less membership subscriptions, coupled with a deficit in the PCS staff pension scheme, mean less available resource available for campaigning. This year, as staff have left the organisation, they have been replaced from within it.

Despite there being 20% less staff now, the truth is that although we have an effective recovery plan in place to address the staff pension deficit, it is a 10 year plan, meaning that staffing costs are unlikely to reduce significantly any time soon. At it’s peak, membership in PCS stood at 327,000 members in 2004, now it stands at approximately 178,000, and so it is inevitable that we will need to take steps to put in place a staffing structure commensurate with our size.

PCS values the fantastic staff we have, and the NEC are determined to ensure that they are protected by the no compulsory redundancy/ no compulsory transfer guarantee and that we maintain good relations with the staff union, the GMB, and everything is taken forward in full consultation with them.

We are currently spending too much on internal structures, staffing and administration costs, and these costs, as a proportion of income are getting greater.

Five years ago staffing costs were approximately 58% of income, now these costs are 62% of income. The aim is to generate at least 50% of income towards campaigning (more would be welcome obviously), and we are some way off that, this is an issue that we need to address.

So the quandary that faces all of us who care about the future of PCS is this – How do we campaign effectively and support our reps, if we don’t have the same level of funds to direct towards that? This isn’t a question for the NEC alone, but for all of us working together to shape the future of PCS. Left Unity needs to be at the forefront of that discussion.

That does not mean that we are giving up on building PCS, and as stated previously, we are seeing some really encouraging signs of the strategies we have put in place taking effect, but the truth is, if we don’t recruit massively, in the face of a hostile government, a future recession and job cuts, together with all of the attacks that we face, we won’t be able to mount effective campaigns to defend ourselves.

The NEC has agreed to look at two ‘visions’, both about radical change, but for a healthier PCS allowing us to build, grow and win. Both set against some guiding principles:

  • Any decision to change must be lay-led, open, democratic and put members at the centre of any change. Everything needs to be transparent, democratic and any decisions will be made by Annual Delegate Conference, or a special conference held for this specific purpose.

  • We must keep Equality at the heart of everything we do.

  • Honour our commitments to staff, guaranteeing no compulsory transfers, no compulsory relocations and all done in full consultation with GMB.

We want to consider two options:-

A complete restructuring of the union, with less employment costs, less servicing costs and more resource into frontline organising and campaigning. Develop further the use of digital technology, recognising that things cannot just remain as they always have done and focusing on whether the structures we put in place when PCS was formed, are still the best ones.

Looking at every level of PCS; What do branches do? What do groups do? What do our staff do? And how does PCS function?

Recognising that we are not asking anyone to work harder, but many may be asked to work differently.

A possible merger, engaging everyone in the discussion at the earliest stage and based on our set of key principles, which are that any merger being considered should:

  • Increase industrial strength and bargaining power

  • Maintain or enhance lay-led democracy through membership participation

  • maintain the role of conference and our commitment that it continues to be our policy-makling body, to which all branches are entitled to elect delegates.

  • Strengthen workplace organisation

  • Secure the union’s finances and maximise resources for building the union and fighting to win

  • Increase diversity of representation on the union’s structures and enhance our ability to organise on equality issues.

It may be that we end up with an amalgamation of the two options.

The clear view of the Left Unity majority on the NEC was that at this stage we should rule nothing in, and rule nothing out. We should gather the information from the membership analysis, the Financial analysis and from the scoping documents and then following an initial discussion of the NEC on 30/09, we should immediately conduct another round of meetings with regions, nations, groups and equality fora, to continue the consultation.

The timescale we are setting will allow for the maximum further discussion, and any proposals to ADC 2021 are likely to be ‘broadbrush, direction of travel’ motions, as opposed to motions for radical change.

During the initial round of discussions, one rep questioned why these meetings were taking place, as they weren’t being asked to decide anything yet, but that is the whole point of the process, recognising that change is necessary but making it a shared discussion and not one decided on behind closed doors. We want to involve as many reps and activists as possible in developing our strategy.

Rather than engage constructively in this debate, Left Unity’s embittered political opponents in the Socialist Party front, Broad Left Network (BLN), seek to spread division and instablity for electoral and factional advantage. Cynically distorting the union’s position as a rushed approach, with changes to be forced on reps, when they know quite well the exact opposite is true.

The timescale allows for extensive discussion and debate at every stage, so that anything that is debated will come as no surprise to anyone, because it will have been discussed and talked through far in advance, before any proposals for change are made.

Left Unity are clear that this open and transparent approach is what our activists and members would expect of us. BLN’s incredible falsehood that the union’s assessment of staffing costs is a myth, shows an appalling level of recklessness, ignorance and a failure to grasp the challenge posed by the staff pension deficit.

Once viewed with respect in PCS, the Socialist Party is now increasingly detached from reality, putting forward a series of bizarre assertions and arguing for positions that gain little or no traction with NEC members, activists or their shrinking group of supporters. Their destructive actions in PCS are now evident in other unions too; rather than seeking to build unity on the left, they pursue their own selfish agenda to try and win influence, regardless of the interests of members and activists alike.

BLN NEC members need to engage with members in their own branches and workplaces, by attending their BECs and understanding the issues that members face.

These are not theoretical, university-style debates, they are the very real concerns of our members, and at stake are their jobs and livelihoods; It is members, and their reps, that must be listened to first and foremost.

The Left Unity majority on the NEC are determined to keep our members and supporters informed of the facts, and involved in the discussion, and urge everyone to play an active part in the consultation taking place at every stage, to ensure that all options and views are heard, and that the decisions we take in the future fully reflect the needs of our members and activists.

Please feed in your views and make sure that together we agree a strategy for a stronger, campaign-focused PCS, that can continue to deliver for its members in the future.

Demand the immediate reinstatement of trade unionist Richie Venton at IKEA

Dear Brian
Richie for info
I am writing on behalf of the PCS Left Unity National Committee (the socialist grouping within PCS) to offer our full support and solidarity to Richie Venton in his campaign.
We fully endorse the statement and ask that you let us know if there is anything you would want us to do in support of the campaign.
Yours fraternally and in solidarity
Fran Heathcote
PCS Left Unity Organiser

 

JOINT STATEMENT BY TRADE UNIONISTS                                    

Reinstate trade unionist Richie Venton and the IKEA worker’s conditions he is defending 

As trade unionists with experience and responsibility across a range of employment sectors we deplore the sacking of the elected USDAW shop steward and convener at IKEA Braehead, Richie Venton, for simply standing up for workers’ health and lives in the midst of the worst killer pandemic in a century. 

This is the first case in Scotland of a union activist being sacked for taking action in defence of workers from the threat posed by Covid-19, and we are determined to overturn this gross injustice and ensure that this can never happen again. We thus demand Richie’s immediate reinstatement to his job and to the union position members elected him to. 

Richie is known to us as a principled, lifelong trade unionist and campaigner for workers’ rights, widely respected for his dedication to the rights of fellow workers and acts of solidarity with others over many years.  He has been sacked by the multi-national IKEA – the richest furniture company on the planet –  for opposing the removal of full wages from workers in self-isolation or sick with Covid-19. He warned longstanding employees that company plans would mean many being excluded from the company sick benefit scheme. He pointed out the risk of members resorting to work despite having symptoms – because they could not afford to be off sick on £95-a-week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). 

He raised concerns with employees as he had with management: that financial hardship would endanger spreading the virus and threaten the lives of workers and shoppers. 

Evidence of increasing transmission is a major problem across different workplaces and dangerous clusters of virus outbreak are found in range of occupational settings, including care homes, poultry and meat plants, factories and offices*.  Workers should not have to choose between below subsistence £95 SSP and endangering the lives of themselves and others. 

Under these unprecedented circumstances they should be guaranteed their average wage whilst off sick or in self-isolation, in accordance with government health regulations. That is what we believe to be required to implement the First Minister’s declaration that no worker should be forced back to work. 

We note with incredulity that since suspending, silencing and then sacking Richie as the elected union representative, IKEA have implemented several attacks on the conditions of workers he has been elected to represent. These include forcing employees to book a full year’s holidays a year in advance, causing untold pressure on families; and a drastically inferior sickness and absence policy. Under this policy workers will be excluded entirely from company sick benefit (receiving only £95 SSP) on the third occasion they are off sick in 12 months, or after a total of 10 days off in a single year. This is a brutal reduction in entitlements that excludes more employees from a reasonable income whilst sick, makes illness an unaffordable option and risks further endangering the health and lives of their work colleagues. 

We are concerned that IKEA and other employers are attacking workers’ wages, jobs and sick pay under cover of the Coronavirus crisis at a time when the lives and wellbeing of workers and their families should be prioritised. That a multimillion pound corporation has sacked an employee with 12 year’s service for doing what he has the right and indeed responsibility to do as an elected trade union official is shameful.  By sacking Mr Venton, the employers have clearly victimised a workers’ representative for daring to stand up for workers’ rights and inform employees of employers’ detrimental plans which could fundamentally endanger their health. 

We condemn this blatant trade union victimisation by IKEA and the dangerous cuts to workers’ rights that have followed the sacking of Richie Venton.  His immediate reinstatement is a most necessary step by IKEA at this time where robust health and safety measures and protection of those off sick or in self-isolation are an urgent priority. These measures should include receipt of adequate wages that allow them to stay at home and their right to have concerns raised by their elected worker representatives without victimisation.  

We demand, therefore, that IKEA reinstate Richie Venton to his job and union position; reverse their cuts to sick workers’ wages; and avoid a trade union organised boycott. We offer our fullest solidarity to any action the IKEA workers decide upon to win decent conditions for themselves and reinstatement of their elected union representative. 

* https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/covid-19-clusters-and-outbreaks-occupational-settings-eueea-and-uk 

Sign the support petition at bit.ly/PetitionIkea for solidarity details go to reinstaterichieventon.com Tell your MP to sign the parliamentary motion supporting  the campaign. Go to bit.ly/EDM4Richie

DWP – Pull out all the stops to win the ballot

DWP putting safety at increased risk, Pull out all the stops to win the ballot

If ever there was a ballot we must win, this is it. Let’s be clear – this dispute is about safety. There have been grim predictions from prominent scientists about the prospect of a second wave of Covid-19 in the winter. In these circumstances, it would be very dangerous to extend operating hours in 270 Jobcentres and 21 Universal Credit ServiceCentres from November 30th. Yet – this is exactly what the DWP intends to do.

This is a political decision. We have to send a message back that we won’t let the Government, and DWP, play around with our lives.

This issue affects every Jobcentre member, including those who have opted out of the Employee Deal, and even those who don’t currently work in one of the offices where the employer intends to extend operating hours from 30th November, and every member based in one of the 21 Service Centre sites where the employer wants to extend operating hours.

If you work in a Jobcentre which isn’t immediately affected by the current DWP plans, please be aware – DWP have informed PCS that all Jobcentres, subject to viability, will extend their operating hours at some point in the future.

If you’ve opted out of the Employee Deal, don’t be under any illusion that this issue doesn’t affect you as well. If you are working in an office where the hours get extended, the safety risks increase for everyone in that office, even those who are not working during the extended hours.

Even if it were safe to extend the hours, there is no rational reason to do it. We’ve previously been told the DWP might want to extend operating hours because many people who claim Universal Credit also work, and might not be able to access Jobcentre services during Monday-Friday 9-5, and some other people might prefer to visit Jobcentres on a Saturday due to needing a quieter environment. Neither of these scenarios are issues now, any more than they were issues before the onset of the pandemic.

Management’s latest argument is that there is likely to be another spike in unemployment over the next few months. They claim this means they need to expand operating hours. But that just makes no sense at all. Jobcentre staff have already copedwith 2.5 million extra Universal Credit claims earlier during the pandemic, by changing their working practices. There was no need for extended hours then, and there is no need for them now.

Political pressure

The government’s drive to reopen the economy, no matter the increased risk to safety it causes, is being mimicked by DWP right now.

Left Unity are aware of DWP’s plans to bring more customers in to our Jobcentres in thecoming weeks, we know they intend to reopen medical assessment centres bringing thesick and vulnerable in for assessment, and intend to ramp up of the conditionality and sanctions regime. At a time when infection rates are on the rise and a second spike of Covid is likely, and when the economic crisis will leave millions out of work and companies cutting back or closing altogether, to increase face-to-face activity in our offices and put pressure those on benefits by reinstating the previous hardline benefit regime is disgrace. They are placing the lives of our members and the most vulnerable in society at risk.

It is imperative that we get a good turnout in this consultative safety ballot. Feedback from members is positive. First demanding to know when they were going to receive their ballot papers, and many since eager to tell us they have voted, we are confident we can achieve a high turnout. This will enable the LU led GEC to go back to DWP, tell them our members don’t accept it is safe to extend operating hours from 30th November,or extend services in Jobcentres, and demand once again that they withdraw their plans.

If, at that stage, they still insist on going ahead, we will seriously need to consider holding a Statutory Ballot, which would be a strike ballot. If we wanted to take action as a result of that, not only would we need to have the majority in favour, we would also, due to the Tory anti-trade union laws, have to get at least 50% of members voting in that ballot. We need to be in a position where we’re confident we can achieve that.

For the next ten days Left Unity urge reps and members to pull out all of the stops to deliver a huge turnout and drive out the vote in the consultative ballot. Branches need tocontinue issuing regular updates and reminders to members, urge them to speak to others about the importance of voting, involve PCS Advocates in this process, and find ways to keep checking whether members have submitted their votes.

The relaunched Branch app is a great tool in helping us to do this, and every branch should use it. Meetings of members need to take place urgently if they haven’t already. Some branches have already held successful Zoom meetings, uniting those working in the office with those working at home.

This ballot has to be an absolute priority for all of us. Let’s make sure we win it.

VOTE YES IN THE BALLOT – VOTE YES FOR SAFETY

Things are hotting up in the PCS

Things are hotting up in the PCS over the summer as the government tries to push civil servants back into offices and treats us with contempt over our pay rise.

With a national consultative ballot over industrial action in DWP, and a growing number of local strikes and disputes PCS members are fighting back.

Every PCS activist needs to be making plans to support these campaigns and organising meetings for BECs and members to prepare to step up the action.

Government hypocrisy over return to work

Despite parts of the country put back into lockdown, and daily predictions of a Coronavirus second wave, Boris Johnson tried to get a mass return to workplaces from 01 August.

As usual the Civil Service is singled out for attention, with press reports suggesting civil servants are lazy! These are our members who have succeeded in delivering key services either from their kitchen table, or having to continue to travel into work during the pandemic.

There is no practical reason for a return to offices where people have been working from home. This is an entirely political move by the government trying to show that the economy is working.  The NEC will continue to oppose any unnecessary return to workplaces until our 5 tests are met.

https://www.pcs.org.uk/news/pcs-exposes-contradictory-covid-advice-from-boris-johnson-and-the-cabinet-office

Johnson has not succeeded in getting a mass return to offices so far, but we need to organise in our branches and groups so we are ready to resist when the government puts on the pressure.

DWP national ballot ups the ante!

In DWP the GEC has launched a consultative ballot starting on 17 August over the proposal to extend opening hours in offices at a time of pandemic, without our members’ legitimate health and safety concerns being taken seriously. https://www.pcs.org.uk/news/pcs-consultative-ballot-of-jobcentre%C2%A0and-universal-credit-workers-opens-17-august

This is a significant step to show that DWP members are prepared to stand up for themselves and the claimants,  and we need to get all our members on board. Holding members meetings in car parks or on zoom will be key, as well as making sure every member is contacted.

NHS workers lead the pay fightback

NHS workers have been taking to the streets in large numbers over the government pay insult to key workers.

In PCS nearly 40,000 have shared our pay petition, but the next step is to get to 100,000 signatures for a parliamentary debate. https://www.pcs.org.uk/news/pcs-pay-petition-passes-37000-after-two-weeks

Each branch needs a plan for sharing the petition and using your branch app to check who has signed already. Let’s use this as part of the union’s plans to get organised in every workplace and to build our networks at every level of the union.

HMRC cleaners strike back

Liverpool cleaners are back on strike for the month of August, hopefully to be joined by those in Birmingham demanding the Living wage and proper sick pay.

*  e-action to write to HMRC https://www.megaphone.org.uk/petitions/hmrc-meet-with-pcs-members-for-fair-wages-and-conditions

*  Strike fund donations via PayPal: https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/pcscleanerstrike or to bank details: Ac name: PCS Liverpool/Bootle Campaign Sort code: 60-83-01 Ac number: 20415772

Support the strikes and protests in Culture

Around 1000 PCS members are threatened with redundancy in the culture and heritage sector and we are demanding that either the £1.5bn culture bail out is used to protect these lowest paid jobs or that the institutions join us in demanding more money from the government to save jobs.

After some large protests at Tate and a joint protest on the Southbank, Tate retail members have voted overwhelmingly for strike action and Southbank Centre members are holding an indicative strike vote. Further protests are planned.

* Tate strikes start on 18,19 21 and 22 August and then further extended action, picket lines till 10:30am. Rally on Tuesday 18 and Saturday 22nd 11:30 at Tate Modern

* Messages of support to culturesector@pcs.org.uk

* Donations to PCS Culture hardship fund Sort code 086001 Account no 20169002 or https://www.gofundme.com/f/tate-commerce-strike-fund

Action plan to prepare to step up the fightback

  • Have a BEC and plan members meetings to discuss all of these campaigns.

  • Don’t forget to include a discussion about ‘Black Lives Matter’ and how you are raising at work

  • Support the health workers fighting back over pay

  • Support PCS members on strike in HMRC and Culture and invite them to your meetings

Candy Udwin

Culture sector jobs massacre – Demand Government handouts save lowest paid

Support Tate workers ballot and protest
Many hundreds of jobs are being cut in arts and heritage despite the recent announcement of a £1.57 billion rescue package.
Secretary of State Oliver Dowden said grants and loans would aim to preserve “crown jewels” in the arts sector but that hasn’t stopped redundancies and pension cuts for those who work with the crown jewels in the Tower of London.
Hundreds of the lowest paid often BAME staff have also been told their jobs are going in other major institutions including Tate, Southbank Centre, National Gallery, Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Household. PCS are demanding the bail out money should be used to protect these lowest paid jobs.
Members at Tate galleries are leading the way and are balloting for strike action after an
indicative vote of 93% for strike on a 99% turnout. They have a day of action on 27 July when the galleries reopen with a socially distanced protest outside Tate Modern.
https://www.facebook.com/events/586493985381551
Watch this space for protests elsewhere too.
Please send messages of support to CultureSector@pcs.org.uk

News from the NEC

The Left Unity led NEC met on 8th July to discuss a number of key issues currently facing PCS.
This was one of a series of fortnightly meetings held by Zoom since lockdown began. This report provides an overview but if you would like more information about any of the issues covered, you are encouraged to contact any Left Unity NEC member, who will be able to provide more detail.
 
Coronavirus Crisis still the Biggest issue 
The Coronavirus Crisis remains the biggest issue facing members right now, serious activists understand this, and the efforts of all group and national negotiators have been rightly focused on keeping our members safe, and returning to work only when it is safe to do so. Our PCS 5 tests are being used as a basis to develop robust strategies for safe working at branch and group level.
 

The Left Unity-led NEC have made a number of gains in talks with the Cabinet Office, and these have been publicised to group negotiators, and in areas where we believe that there is still more to achieve, we have highlighted to groups where they are urged to push for better and further gains. HMRC Group’s LU leadership secured a Departmental agreement to protect members safety having had some terrible member fatalities from the virus.

BAME issues have been an important part of these discussions and a series of meetings with the Cabinet Office have taken place to discuss the COVID-19 impact on BAME groups.
PCS are pushing for more, and better, data, with priority given to early positive actions, bearing in mind the danger of a second wave of the virus.
 
We received the welcome news that LU negotiators in DWP group have negotiated a BAME-specific risk assessment, the first of its kind, which can be used to gain improvements elsewhere within PCS. HMRC have also now agreed to rollout mandatory anti-racism training for all staff, following strong representations from our PCS representatives.
 
Whilst the Cabinet Office maintain that their position remains that workers should stay at home, and stay safe, there are moves to return members, in both DFT, where the employer wants to reintroduce driving tests and DWP, where they seek to reopen jobcentres and reintroduce conditionality and sanctions, both of which cause concern for the safety of our members and the public.
 
Groups really come to the fore during the crisis
Group negotiators have done a fantastic job, working around the clock, alongside full-time officers, to provide help and support to affected members, negotiating tirelessly with the employer, and working closely with branches to get proper safety measures in place. Local health and safety reps have really come to the fore, holding management to account and ensuring adequate PPE and full risk assessments are in place before signing off agreements to get members back into work.   
We are getting numerous reports of reps challenging poor practice and refusing to reopen workplaces without full risk assessments and proper PPE. 
 
Building the Union
The importance of being a union member has really been spelled out during this period and membership has taken an upturn, with many groups seeing a net rise in membership during the first 6 months of 2020.
8938 new members have joined PCS during the first 6 months of 2020 and we are seeing many new volunteers get involved in PCS through our call hub work, with more than 2000 Advocates registered.
This increased activism is one of the benefits of our work during the crisis and with departments like DWP promising in excess of 13,500 additional staff, with 4,500 expected by October, our work around recruitment and induction is really high profile. 
Bargaining and Campaigning successes during the crisis, alongside increased activism at branch level, with several departments launching staff recruitment exercises, give us the opportunity, alongside the launch of the National Campaign, to conduct focused recruitment activity and raise the profile of PCS in every workplace.
 
Whilst our opponents in the Socialist Party-led Broad Left Network (BLN) make cheap political attacks, despite presiding over areas with membership density of less than 20%, Left Unity recognises that a combination of effective bargaining, campaigning and good workplace organisation is what recruits new members to PCS. 
 
The figures never tell the whole story, but they don’t lie either, and give us the ability to measure where we are doing well and where to target resources. Much of the technology that has been developed during lockdown has given us new methods of refining our Organising strategies and reaching out to members and reps to develop new and better engagement.
 
Pay Campaign
Members stated clearly in PCS’s recent survey that they are angry over low pay and when surveyed back in May, 87% of those currently in the workplace, still wanted us to campaign for more. 
In February, PCS put in our demand for 10% which reflected the years of poverty pay and stagnation suffered by PCS members. In March, when the Coronavirus crisis hit, we immediately put in our interim demand, as a means to get an above inflation increase to all members in the absence of delegated negotiations. This had been adopted by Scottish government, who paid 3% across the board as an interim payment in advance of pay negotiations after the crisis.
Of course, once again, SP’s Broad Left Network attempted to paint this as a ‘sell out’ where we would settle for a couple of percent instead of campaigning for our demand of 10% – the word interim seemed to be lost on them and when surveyed, members expressed high levels of support for these demands.
 
When the government refused to negotiate over our interim demands on pay, as detailed in the Letter from Lord Agnew, they immediately published their  remit, a measly 1.5-2.5%. Whilst some had predicted a further 1% pay cap, this remit was wholly inadequate, even lower than the award that had just been rejected in Local Government.   
 
The NEC agreed to launch a national petition as a vehicle for building mass support for our pay demands and as a vehicle for organising. It allows us to use high profile campaign methods, alongside local, workplace and work-based organising in branches. It allows us to engage with members and activists, including our new layer of volunteers who have said that they want to get more involved in the campaign, at a time when large swathes of our membership are not in the workplace,. and to build support for a campaign of action later in the year.
The petition is in two stages, the first to get to 10,000 signatures by 30th July to generate a response from government, and then to get to our 100,000 target by 30 October in order to generate a parliamentary debate.
 
Whilst nobody believes that a petition alone will shift government policy on pay, it is clear that the ability to beat the threshold in a later pay ballot will depend on our ability to engage members and secure their buy-in to our campaign and that this methodical work, combining tried and tested organising and campaigning methods with new technology and the ability to engage and secure buy-in at a time when not everyone is in the workplace, and learning from our analysis so far, Left Unity NEC members believe it is our best chance of being able to win a ballot when the time comes.
 
Our opponents in BLN have tried to rubbish this campaign from the outset, using the worst sectarian methods aimed at undermining every debate at the NEC (unsuccessfully) and publishing articles dooming the campaign to failure from the outset, whilst offering little in the way of constructive suggestions, just endless amendments where they seek to ‘out-left’ Left Unity. 
The level of support that they have at the NEC is now pitiful. They have yet to successfully win an argument at the NEC, instead choosing to use the time at the meeting to challenge rulings and delay proceedings with pointless amendments, and then complain when meetings run out of time before all of the business has been taken, as if this is some sort of coincidence.
 
Left Unity NEC members are committed to fighting for fair pay for our members. The same members who have earned the warm words and praise of ministers and the public, must now be rewarded by recognition in their pay packets. 
To dismiss every campaign as doomed to failure from the outset is an abdication of responsibility and really shows our opponents up for what they are.
The petition will be widely publicised and should be live from this week on the gov.uk website. We urge every Left Unity member to campaign amongst members to make it a success.   
 
Tough decisions to make 
Having originally taken the difficult decision three months ago not to go ahead with Annual Delegate Conference in May, and not to go ahead with our annual elections at group and national level due to the Coronavirus crisis, both decisions were to be continually reviewed, and the Senior Officers and then the NEC have agreed that now is the time to review both decisions.
 
Elections   
In March the NEC noted that whilst it was technically possible to go ahead with the national and group elections, we faced an unprecedented situation in which our members’ workplaces and working practices were in a state of extreme disruption. The NEC at the time agreed that no elections should proceed.
On reviewing this, it was considered that the reasons for not going ahead in March had not significantly changed. The pandemic is still dominating the lives of reps and members, and a second wave is now predicted, with lockdown already reintroduced in Leicester.
Knowing that elections would bring with them a degree of campaign activity, and the mixed messages this would send to members and the employer, and knowing that some members would still not be in the workplace, and may therefore not have access to ballot papers (for those with a workplace ballot address) it was decided that, whilst there is always a need to be as democratic as possible, this has to be balanced with the need to prioritise members’ safety.
 
Both Independent Left (IL) and BLN were in favour of going ahead, citing examples of elections that had recently taken place in other unions, but it was pointed out that these were for a three year term in the case of Unite’s Executive Council and for the General Secretary election of Equity, where an election for the post hasn’t taken place for 15 years an election is required as the current incumbent retires in October.  
There is no membership demand for PCS elections to take place now in order for those elected to serve a term of less than 6 months, when the regulations for the 2021 elections would need to be signed off before the results could be announced. It would be a costly and resource-intensive exercise at a time when FTO and reps efforts are correctly focused on dealing with the crisis.
Left Unity members argued that this was not a sensible use of resource and that national elections for 2020 should not be held, this was overwhelmingly carried with IL and BLN voting against the recommendation.
 
Group and National Conferences
 Again, both IL and BLN argued that these should now go ahead, with IL submitting a motion saying that they should take place in October/ November.
The Left Unity majority were in favour of a more nuanced position, and the possibility of some sort of virtual event to take place later in the year should be examined, whether that could be a decision-making conference with all of the issues that entails, and that a report should be brought back to the NEC for decision. This was overwhelmingly carried with IL and BLN voting against.
 
It is still against the law to gather in groups larger than 30, with no indication of when that might change. Venues such as the Brighton Centre are closed until further notice and so only a virtual conference is possible at this stage, and with ADC receiving an average of 600 motions, the way that it could work remotely, either by Zoom or a similar medium, is hard to envisage, not least because of the way Standing Orders would operate, and the ability to engage branches in order to obtain a mandate means that the democracy argument is not straightforward. 
As a comparison, TUC Congress is taking place virtually, not as a delegate conference but as a virtual extended General Council meeting using a system of weighted electronic voting on affiliate union motions.
 
If policy making is the purpose of such an event, there are a number of factors that would need to be considered in terms of their practicability. These included – different types of policy proposals, adequate member involvement for mandating, basis of delegate entitlement, ways of debating, the availability of electronic voting systems, potential for rep participation, equality impact assessments to maximise participation, particularly for our disabled members.  
 
Left Unity members wanted all of the facts in front of them before making a knee-jerk decision being favoured by others that there must be a conference irrespective of all of the other considerations. The recommendation by the General Secretary was overwhelmingly carried.
 
Motions to TUC
We are entitled to submit two motions to the virtual TUC and these were agreed. One on Coronavirus: economic recovery in the public sector and one on Pay: public sector pay campaign. 
The deadline for these is 20 July so they were discussed and agreed at this NEC.  
 
Time constraints and the number of amendments submitted by our opponents to change wording of recommendations in every paper meant that some important business wasn’t heard and will be picked up at the next meeting. 
These included Strategic Objectives and BAME issues/ Black Lives Matter protests. 
A further Left Unity report updating on both issues, with a detailed PCS Black Members report, will be provided after the NEC has met again to discuss these issues.
 
In terms of the Strategic Objectives though, it is worth noting the following:
  • In 2018 the union set itself a target to build the union to reach 200,000 members by the end of 2020 
  • It is now clear that we are not going to meet that target. Membership is currently 177,554.
  • There are a number of reasons for this and the National Organising Committee has been tasked with providing a detailed analysis of the reasons that we have not met these objectives, and reporting to a special NEC in September.
  • This doesn’t mean that we are in crisis, it does mean that we need to look at how PCS operates with the aim of securing a sustainable future and our ability to advance members’ interests. 
  • We also need to look at how we have done things differently during the pandemic and see if there are lessons PCS can learn for the future.
  • We are trying everything possible to return PCS to growth and recent indications are that there are modest signs of growth in some departments.
  • Our recent experience tells us however, that increased organising activity has not been enough to overcome the hostile environment of the UK government and related employers, in order to turn the membership figures around.
  • It would be irresponsible to just carry on as if the difficulties we face do not exist, or just hope to overcome our challenges. We have to take steps to address all of this, and that is why the left-led NEC has already agreed two options to explore further:
  • The first is to radically restructure PCS involving significantly reduced employment costs, inevitably meaning radical changes to the way we do things, a more streamlined, restructured organisation, very different to how PCS looks now.
  • The second option is to merge with another union, we have existing policy to explore merging with Unite dating back from 2014/15, as a means of creating a stronger union force in the public sector. Any merger discussions would need to be based on increasing our industrial strength, taking into account economies of scale, increased resources and our strong, democratic, lay-led traditions.
  • The next NEC will seek to commission scoping papers on both options to be considered at a further meeting in September. These papers would set out processes for considering all possibilities in a transparent democratic way with the widest possible debate and consultation with branches and members.
  • Our BLN opponents have written an article, where they attempt to make this out as somehow underhand, and that they hadn’t realised at the NEC when they heard the financial reports or the organising reports what the implications are. In fact, Left Unity want the widest and fullest consultation possible about the future of PCS and we need Left Unity members to be a part of it.      
There is a lot happening in PCS right now, and we want to keep Left Unity members updated on everything. 
We hope that you have found the updates contained in this report useful and we will continue to update you as issues develop. The Left Unity National Committee are discussing ways of keeping in touch with you all. 
 
Please get in touch if you are reading this but are not currently a Left Unity member. We are the Socialist Group within PCS. Together we are stronger.

We stand for equality for our Trans sisters and brothers

PCS Proud on Twitter: "There's been a lot of coverage about trans ...The Tory government have cynically announced that they have abandoned reform of the Gender Recognition Act. After months of speculation the hope that Trans people would be able to self identify has been quashed.

Currently Trans people are made to go through a lengthy journey, firstly a medical diagnosis must be obtained from one of a handful of the UK’s Gender Identity Clinics, the waiting lists for which can be years long, then there is a wait of two years to legally change their gender and pay a £140 fee. Self-identification would have allowed trans people to change their legal gender after affirming it to a registrar.

Trans people suffer horrific oppression with 75% of the Trans community recorded as suffering hate crime each year. Studies suggest up to 41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide, a dramatically higher figure than for the general population.

In 2019 New Zealand granted asylum to a British Woman on the grounds of the scale of Transphobia in the UK.

The demand for Trans rights connects to the wider struggles for justice and equality. The slogans Trans Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter have been used on demonstrations recently, with 15,000 people demonstrating for Black Trans Lives Matter in Brooklyn after two Black Trans women were murdered within 24 hours of each other recently.

Scrapping the reform of the GRA is part of the drive to the right by the Tory leadership under Johnson. Just as they deny institutional racism exists and mock taking the knee, so Johnson defends using terms like “tank top bum boy” in the same way that he defends referring to Muslim Women who wear the veil as ‘Letterboxes’. As their failure to manage the Coronavirus crisis continues to dent their popularity, so dog whistle racism and homophobia grows.

As socialists and trade unionists we stand for equality for our Trans sisters and brothers and condemn Johnson’s cynical abandonment of their rights.

The Tories want to roll back LGBTQ+ rights and are using the Trans community as a battering ram. During the 1980’s the Tories introduced Section 28 fuelled by the disgusting falsehood that Lesbian and Gay people were a predatory threat to children, now they are capitalising on the myth that Trans rights are a threat to Women’s rights, a myth that has been spun by the right to cause division.

We reject the argument that Trans rights and Women’s Rights are in any way contradictory to each other, this argument creates a bitter divide between oppressed groups and gives the Tories the space to heap further misery on those groups it seeks to marginalise. In order to achieve a society without oppression we must fight for liberation and equality for all.

Socialists and Trade Unions need to support the calls from the Trans community for reform of the GRA and demand that individuals are able to self identify their own gender. Left Unity members call for PCS and other unions to back the campaign for the consultation on GRA reform to be published and implemented.
Marianne Owens

Why must every black British mother have to tell her son how to walk?

This is the text of a speech by Annette Rochester, PCS NEC member, to a Midlands Regional meeting on Zoom in early June.

Today I’m tired. sleepless. Angry. Over 50 years ago Malcolm X said – That is not a chip on my shoulder – that’s your foot on my neck. How prophetic those words were.

Today – Public Health England published a report that I haven’t yet read – delayed by what is going on in America which proves that the government is aware of the social disparity it reveals. they know they need to take the moat out of its own eye and that what is happening in America isn’t because they are unique and could easily happen here.

Already we are seeing uprisings in places like New Zealand and Australia where in just one year – 1991 – 99 Aborigines were killed in custody. In the 28 years since then a further 432 have died. In Britain since records began not one officer has been tried and convicted of murder or manslaughter when people have died in their custody although in that same period 1741 people lost their lives and Black & Asian people are more than two times more likely to die.

Across the West Midlands in the last 3 months there are 6 cases alleging police brutality- 4 involving the same officer.

And of course there is the over-representation of Aborigines, African Americans and Black British people in prison. There is a multitude of reasons for this but anyone who badges this as simply class war needs to understand that we cannot fight a class war whilst we are under siege and fighting for our very survival – our right to breathe.

Every black British mother must tell her son how to walk – how to react to a police stop and search. I’ve told my son and now I’m telling my grandsons. I remember going to a PCS BM conference which was addressed by the then chair of the Black police federation – a detective inspector who told us of the time he was stopped and searched with the old chestnut – you answer the description of a burglar – in his 3-piece suit!

At the same time society refuses to acknowledge the mental strain this puts you under so we often get tagged with the aggressive trope!

It’s not our bodies or minds that are weak but the systems that are supposed to support us. In fact, those systems are often weaponised against us and the recently released Public Health England report highlights it is racism that is the main cause of increased deaths in the communities.

I’m fortunate enough to have lived long enough to have been here before. And unfortunately have seen the same problems that impacted me, impact my son and impacting my 15-year-old grandson who was stopped and search after playing basketball with the same tired old excuse. Why is he not allowed to be a child?

Society is governed by contract – We are policed by agreement. Black and Asians Britons – just when are we going to be allowed to be called Britons? – are expected to sign up to this as part of society but are being short-changed. We cannot put people on the outside of society and expect them to live by its rules.

At work including the civil service we are over monitored and under praised. Our lived experiences doubted and diminished, our opportunities stifled. And rather than seeing fewer race cases they are on the increase.

Some of this is down to lack of empathy and of course downright racism as evidenced in the NHS where it is reported black and Asian medics are pushed to the frontline riskier roles because they are not valued in the same way.

The civil service is promoting the progression of BAME staff – social mobility being one of its top priorities. But all organisations should remember tokenism is not representation – I should not have to say what you want me to say – I want to able to give my truths and for us to work properly together. When all voices are heard we create a rounded sound – a choir.

I would love to see more black activists working with me in the union and in wider society – helping to create a wall of sound and that’s why growing the BM network is one of our priorities. The DWP group has already started on this kicking off with two learning events for all BAME staff in London and West Midlands before lockdown. And we intend to continue this work across the country.

Covid and videos of a state sanctioned murder has opened people’s eyes to the very real injustices and inequality in society. Please keep them open.

You will have heard Lewis Hamilton state he was a lone voice – it’ s horrible being the lone voice – then Charles LeClerc responded saying he wanted to speak out but does not know how to. Then spoke.

I- we – loved that! Please don’t be scared to speak out: White silence is violence. Help us the take that foot off and create not a tolerant society but one in which we can all thrive.

People Before Profit National Coordinating meeting

PCS Left Unity has supported a number of People Before Profit meetings in recent weeks. We are supporting the meeting this Sunday and Fran Heathcote is one of the speakers.
People Before Profit: Health Worker Covid-19 Activists Group:
*National Coordinating meeting*
We are holding a national co-ordinating meeting on Sunday 14 June, 12 noon-1.30pm
The aim is to discuss the battles we face, now and in the near future, to share experiences of organising and resistance during the pandemic and to plan for further action in the days and weeks ahead.
• We have to continue to throw ourselves into the urgent fight over safety at work.
• We also know other battles are emerging.  Mass job losses have already begun – in aviation, in engineering, in retail. And more are threatened.
• And employers and the government will want to make us pay for their failures, with pay freezes and austerity.
👉If you want to attend, please sign up through Eventbrite here, in order to receive Zoom details: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/x/people-before-profit-national-coordinating-meeting-tickets-108163447784
We also invite local Covid action groups, trade union bodies (national, branches, broad lefts etc) and parents groups to co-host the event and to send delegations.

Organising at work in the Covid-19 pandemic

My PCS branch in a non governmental public body and has worked hard over the last ten weeks to ensure our workplaces and staff are safe in this crisis. We felt our senior management was slow to react to the growing crisis and was still waiting on 16 March for government advice. We called an emergency branch committee meeting that day and drew up a list of what we needed from our employer as workers, parents and carers. This included full pay for anyone who wouldn’t be able to work their hours due to childcare and other caring. We included our cleaning colleagues who are outsourced and our agency staff and we recruited some more of them to the union. We immediately wrote to management with our list of needs including that all cleaning or agency colleagues who cannot work during this crisis are paid in full. We said we wanted our offices deep cleaned by properly trained and protected cleaners.

In that first week we called an online members meeting and managed to get over 210 members involved at short notice. The branch committee talked to loads of members by email and phone calls. We called directors again and again and firmly insisted on our requirements for the health and safety of our colleagues whether they are in the union or not. By Friday we had got almost everyone sent to work from home, including staff who had not previously been given tech to work from home. We got assurances that noone with caring responsibilities or health issues would have to be on-call, go to external meetings or anywhere they didn’t feel safe.

In the following two weeks we won ‘care plans’ with time off on full pay for parents and carers who cannot work their full hours. We pushed for the same emergency leave for anyone whose mental health suffers in this crisis but the take up of this has been patchy and anxiety levels are very high. Our senior management talks up our mental health support systems in usual times but staff still report bullying and a lack of support for their mental health and that situation hasn’t been completely solved. The anxiety also affects managers and we have had to try to diffuse situations exacerbated by the lockdown and fear of the virus.

Our online meeting system struggles with more than 200 participants so we repeated our weekly members’ meeting in the morning and afternoon of the same day. Some 300-350 members have joined these meetings weekly and of course there have been arguments and political disagreements but they have kept the committee and members focused and engaged. There are worries about the coming economic crisis and the cuts we may face but we have discussed and agreed we must resist being made to pay for this crisis.

Members’ voted recently to move to fortnightly meetings and we stuck to the plan despite Johnson’s chaos inducing message to stay alert, because our Director General sent a message that our organisation remains in lockdown and working from home. The branch committee continues to meet weekly.

Currently all our offices are closed and two or three individuals go into one office once a week to deal with post. This is on a voluntary basis and anyone else has to get written permission from a director to go into an office. We have been invited onto the working group for the eventual reopening of our offices but it’s moving slowly and it is clear we will be working from home for the foreseeable future.

Many members have been extremely worried at the prospect of sending their children back into schools on 1 June. So we invited Peter Middleman, National Education Union (NEU), NW regional Secretary to our online members’ meeting last week. Over 80 members heard Peter explain the NEU’s campaign to restrict schools to the most vulnerable children and children of key workers until it’s safe to open them further. He answered lots of questions and members said they felt reassured that their instincts to keep their children home was the right thing to do. We shared the NEU petition and template letter for members to write to their MP’s, councillors and head teachers before 28 May when the government is to make another announcement on schools. We encouraged members to join a Covid19 action group, People before Profit meeting this tuesday 26 May for teachers, parents and concerned members of the public. Our branch is clear that we will support any parent who keeps their children home and needs their ‘care plan’ to continue. Our management subsequently announced that care plans will continue for the foreseeable future.

There is still a lot to do. We have to ensure that our offices don’t reopen until our health and safety is assured with proper risk assessments and social distancing . But our buildings are relatively small so most of us will have to work from home for months ahead with all the problems that can cause. We have asked for written assurances that every staff member will be equally safe because we know that black and ethnic minority people have been disproportionately affected by Covid19. So we need to know what measures are going to be in place to ensure that none of our colleagues is at risk. We also want our cleaning colleagues and agency staff directly employed by our employer on the same terms and conditions as the rest of us and we need to work out how we are going to achieve this.

What we have achieved has not been easy, particularly when our HR dept rewrote all sorts of policies and assumed they could be “approved” without proper consultation in the middle of this crisis. But because the members have been so active we have been able to get proper consultation back on track.

Our union branch is stronger, better organised and larger than it was at the beginning of this crisis. So if anything good can come out of this horrible virus it will be that our PCS members have shown an extraordinary tenacity and determination to support each other through the worst time in our working lives that most of us have ever faced.