United action across our movement more vital than ever

This article was first published in the Morning Star https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/f/unity-action-across-our-movement-more-vital-ever

THE Covid pandemic exposed all the insecurity that working people face under capitalism.

Tory incompetence and indifference caused tens of thousands of avoidable deaths, while billions of pounds in contracts were awarded to enrich their families, friends and big business backers for services that did not deliver.

It was the trade unions, in education, transport, the civil and public services and elsewhere who demanded, and fought for, safe working conditions for members and service users.

And despite the almost total absence of any political opposition to the government’s chaotic handling of the crisis, it was the unions who won concessions on financial support for workers and benefit claimants.

Working people could see who was really on their side when things got tough, and this has reflected in membership growth in many unions.

As with the 2008 banking crisis, the Tories want us to pick up the bill for the failure of their profit before people system.

They want to steal back the universal credit uplift, driving millions deeper into poverty, and after years of systematic cuts and privatisation in healthcare provision, they want to raise National Insurance to pay for social care, placing further financial burdens on the lowest paid.

Attacks on workers’ conditions and rights, whether in the public and private sector, will intensify — cuts, privatisation, low wages, dismantling of social security and outsourcing of the NHS, zero-hours contracts, fire and rehire and the rest.

The trade union movement must unite as never before to meet this onslaught.

Workers have shown that they are prepared to fight back. Our members at DVLA Swansea have taken months of industrial action to secure the most basic demand imaginable — the right to a safe workplace.

An agreement was reached, but was shredded by Tory ministers who want to set an example to workers everywhere by forcing their own staff to keep quiet and work in unsafe conditions.

Our members will not accept this and we will continue this struggle until they are satisfied going to work does not mean unnecessary exposure to infection.

Our members’ resolve has been strengthened by the tremendous solidarity they have been shown from across the movement.

When we are strong, united and determined we can defeat the Tories. Building unity in action across our movement must be our priority.

Unions should not be competitors, but comrades working together to build the widest possible campaigns, including, when required, industrial action, to defend our wages, conditions and services.

Let’s take one example, our National Health Service is being torn apart by cuts and privatisation. That cannot just be the concern of health service unions — the entire movement must unite in a co-ordinated campaign to defend our most precious asset.

Attacks on the social security system, on education, local authorities and so many other services stem from the same source — the government and the profiteers.

My union has consistently argued at the TUC that fighting separately has allowed the Tories to divide and isolate. This must end now. A united, co-ordinated response to all these attacks is now a necessity.

The trade union movement must be fearless in offering our members, and all workers, a genuine alternative, based on the needs of the millions, not the profiteering of a tiny elite.

For example, climate change presents an existential threat to humanity which capitalism is incapable of resolving.

We can only begin to resolve this crisis by demanding the public ownership of utilities, by effective planning and massive investment in climate jobs.

Westminster politicians have learned nothing from the Afghanistan debacle, our movement must be implacably opposed to imperialist warmongering.

No force in society is better placed to oppose the Tories than the trade union movement.

We must prioritise building workplace strength in our individual unions, maximise unity across the movement and reach out to the millions of unorganised workers, while building support in our communities and working in solidarity with social movements like Black Lives Matter and the People’s Assembly.

All this and more will be discussed at the People’s Assembly pre-TUC rally on Sunday September 12 which I urge you to tune in to. The meeting can be viewed here https://fb.watch/7ZSFtI4dO-/

Leading trade unionists and social movement campaigners will set out what must be done to build opposition to the Tories and why we must build an alternative — a socialist alternative.

Fran Heathcote, PCS President

Left Unity congratulates Sharon Graham

PCS Left Unity congratulates Sharon Graham on her election as first female General Secretary of Unite.

We know that the period ahead is going to be incredibly tough and look forward to working with Unite comrades, under your leadership, to join up our campaigns and struggles wherever possible.

Strong unions are needed now like never before, and we recognise that we need to build as much solidarity as possible. Our members have many issues in common with yours, and we look forward to developing a coordinated approach with Unite, and other left-led unions, to build the biggest fightback possible. That coordination and solidarity is what will get us through the period ahead, and your election gives real hope and confidence to activists across the movement.

In Solidarity. 

DWP Left Unity GEC leadership agree strategy for building campaigns

The DWP Group Executive Committee (GEC) of PCS met on 21st and 22nd July to debate the critical issues facing our members, including the disgraceful and insulting pay award from the employer, the ongoing dispute in Jobcentres, and the risks to our members following the post-19th July lifting of restrictions.

GEC rejects pay offer

Following the government’s announcement of a pay freeze across the civil service and related bodies, PCS rightly called out this callous, ideologically driven move to make workers pay for the pandemic.

Our members in DWP, as elsewhere across the public sector, have delivered throughout this crisis, keeping the benefits system afloat. PCS members have ensured much needed financial assistance was given to those most in need, including to millions who had never previously had to rely on benefits, whilst also ensuring the delivery of other vital services.

Our members have not been immune to the effects of Covid-19 themselves; as has happened throughout society, many have been taken ill or worse, seen loved ones suffer, or lose their jobs. Despite this DWP workers have been at the forefront of the response to the pandemic, stepping up time and time again, ensuring the most vulnerable in society received support, at great risk to themselves and their families.

The warm words of praise that came from politicians and the public alike were welcome, but warm words do not pay bills or feed the family.

Whilst having been too often seen as the enemy due to the harshness of the benefits system, the hard work and the support provided by our members to those in financial difficulty had begun to change the negative narrative, going some way to repairing DWP’s reputation. This being the case, government had an opportunity, and a duty, to deliver more than warm words to our workers – they could have given due recognition to the magnificent work of our members, and public servants in general, by rewarding all with a proper pay rise as a thank you for their efforts, whilst giving the economy a much needed boost.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, they have chosen another path and allowed their ideological loathing of the public sector to target workers, including our members, to foot the bill for the pandemic.

The Left Unity leadership of PCS have a proven track record of taking on this abhorrent government, and only narrowly been prevented from taking industrial action on pay twice by the Tories anti-Trade Union legislation.

This GEC will not let this latest, disgraceful pay award go unchallenged and has agreed to continue our campaign with members in every workplace, in line with the GEC motion passed at last month’s group conference, outlining the group’s opposition to any offer linked to the pay freeze and supporting the national union’s demands. Now, following the recent publication of the imposed 2021 pay award, the GEC is fully committed to working with branches to build the confidence of members to get over that 50% hurdle imposed by anti-union laws in any future ballot.

The vast majority of our members can see the harsh reality, that they will receive no increase at all in their pay this year, with only the lowest paid in the department – those earning £24k or less – getting a paltry £250. In truth, this is a real terms pay cut for all of our members, with inflation forecast to rise.

Jobcentre dispute goes on as lifting of restrictions poses new threat

Following the recent consultative ballot, which once again delivered an overwhelming ‘yes’ vote for industrial action amongst Jobcentre members, the executive had already tasked the Organising Sub-Committee with reviewing the ballot data and producing a report to last week’s GEC to consider the next steps. In the meantime, the union has also received an increasing number of enquiries from concerned members outside of the Jobcentre network as to what the recent announcements about lifting restrictions from 19th July in England, and in the coming weeks for Scotland and Wales, will mean for them. Many have stated openly that they fear being forced back into the workplace before it is safe.

The Group leadership have continued to demand that DWP reduce the amount of face-to-face activity across our Jobcentres, with our members seeing in person only those customers who cannot be dealt with remotely, and that the employer honours the commitment they had previously given regarding work coach empowerment – with work coaches having the autonomy to decide how best to interview customers. Equally, due to the changing picture across the rest of society, recognising the risk that lifting restrictions could result in a return to the workplace for many of our members, the GEC has reiterated our further demand that there should be no mass return to offices until the pandemic is under control, and both infection and mortality rates have significantly decreased for a sustained period.

Right now, the trajectory for both is upwards and this, alongside the lifting of important safety measures across society, places our members at greater risk.

The GEC leadership have already made clear to members that they will be supported if they remove themselves from an unsafe working environment using Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, and we will continue to work with branches to identify where there is a collective mood to take action over threats to safety.

The Left Unity led GEC have been at the forefront of prioritising our members safety since the beginning of the pandemic, and we have been in dispute due to the risks faced by our members in Jobcentres since last August. The latest government announcements create the very real possibility that the concerns faced by our members in Jobcentres will now be extended to other directorates, and we have agreed to consult members across the whole group about the threat these developments pose to safety, building on our existing campaign.

Further details will be announced by the GEC in the coming days and weeks.

Campaigns to escalate

As part of this overarching picture, the GEC has agreed a strategy that will place an emphasis on working with branches to build our campaigning from the workplace up. The socialist leadership of our group has always understood that it is critical for that grass roots agitation to take place if we are to be successful in our campaigning, and in any industrial strategy we produce. It should, therefore, be welcomed that the GEC have overwhelmingly agreed both a branch organising plan and a template branch campaign plan, that can be central to our agitational work. Alongside the Sectoral Pay Group Campaign Plan also agreed at the GEC last week, they provide branches and the group with a template to be used across our various campaigns.

If used properly by engaged branches, both plans can be instrumental in building branch and members’ confidence in our ability to win our demands. While generic enough to be used by branches in any local campaigns, they should also prove a valuable resource in our ongoing safety and pay campaigns.

Campaign to win

The Left Unity led GEC have repeatedly argued the importance of membership engagement and the need for us as a group to respond collectively. We have committed to working with every tier of PCS to build our campaigns and to ensure that members have the confidence that we can be successful in achieving our demands.

It is that approach that has served us well throughout the pandemic, has delivered thousands of new staff into DWP, has seen the majority of members be able to work from home despite resistance from operations management, has seen us re-negotiate safeguards and HR policies at each key stage of the crisis, removed the threat of 8pm working in Jobcentres from the table, and delivered the initial rollback to escalation of face to face activity.

The key strategies on organising and campaigning, and the linked plans agreed at last week’s GEC will put us in a strong position to up the ante when, strategically, the time is right.

Sectarianism cannot be allowed to derail our membership campaigns

The GEC has in the last 6 weeks built on existing policy, and the new Left Unity led GEC agreed a number of recommendations at last week’s first full meeting that will help to implement these policies.

Despite these positive steps, and the need to unify our membership to move forward in our campaigning against an irresponsible employer, one which is hellbent on implementing the hostile and draconian policies of this Tory government, we have seen the Socialist Party dominated Broad Left Network (BLN) continue to sow division.

At a time when we must maximise unity, BLN are producing material that bears no resemblance to reality, with unnecessary and unjustified criticism of the LU leadership being the main feature, refusing to acknowledge that everything being put forward by them as ‘additional demands’, was a rehash of existing union policy, proposed by Left Unity and previously agreed by last year’s GEC.

Of course there is no mention of the Group Organising Plan, Branch Campaign Plan or Sectoral Pay Group Campaign Plan – all proposed by the LU leadership and agreed at last week’s GEC – in the BLN material. Just the false narrative that this leadership wants to do nothing to support our members. We should all be shocked and saddened that such important decisions have been omitted from an article purporting to be about a meeting of the DWP Group Executive, but sadly this is all too commonplace, symptomatic of the political degeneration of some.

It must be baffling to many members as to why the BLN faction continue to produce article after article, focusing their opposition and vitriol towards our union leadership, at both national and DWP group level, rather than the real enemy – the Tory government.

Left Unity have a proud tradition of being an open, democratic, socialist organisation, one that welcomes debate and embraces the diverse opinions that members have on a variety of matters. It is this healthy debate that saw PCS become unrecognisable from its predecessor unions, Left Unity having defeated a rabid, undemocratic right-wing leadership, transforming PCS into one of the most progressive and socialist trade unions in our movement.

This was only made possible by welcoming debate and the airing of differences, whilst ultimately understanding who our real enemy is – the successive right-wing governments who impose horrendous conditions on our members and invoke oppressive policies across society.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreement and alternative strategies, but we all have a responsibility to ensure they are based on legitimate, not manufactured, differences.

Left Unity call for unity!

Now is not the time for disingenuous and destructive actions, it is the time to put aside any political, or sectarian, differences and collectively work in the best traditions of our movement, to build a campaign on pay that can win for members, while ensuring we maximise the pressure on DWP to keep our members safe.

The desire by some to bring down Left Unity, and the current leadership, must not be placed above our members’ needs. Winning for our members must be our ultimate goal.

Left Unity, including the GEC leadership, are totally committed to a united approach and call on others to join us in building a positive campaign, to work with us in the best interests of our members.

Martin Cavanagh

DWP Group President (in a personal capacity)

PCS Left Unity wishes all of our members a fraternal, successful conference

PCS Left Unity wishes all of our members a fraternal, successful conference. I think we all recognise that it’s not quite like being in Brighton, and we cannot replicate the buzz and excitement of a physical conference, but what we can do is pull together to ensure the best, most successful conference possible, with as much participation amongst reps as possible.Whilst none of us chose the pandemic, what matters is what we have chosen to do about it, and PCS members have worked very hard on behalf of their members to keep them safe.
Let’s make the conference a successful one, and do all that we can to debate motions and agree policy to put PCS in the strongest position possible to deal with all of the attacks we face, and take our campaigns forward in the future, in the most joined up, coordinated way.In Solidarity 
The PCS Left Unity National Committee

Fighting for a 2021-22 pay rise at the IOPC

Most of us in the public sector haven’t had a real pay rise in the last decade. In our organisation, the Independent Office for Police Conduct pay has stagnated for years. Only a very few staff got a slightly better deal last year and we had to fight for that and the smaller raise the rest of us got. The vast majority of members desperately need a pay rise this year because rents and bills are soaring. At the start of the year they said pay needed to be our branch priority but some members are not confident about putting the argument forward in a time of austerity and pandemic. So the branch committee decided to hold a BIG PAY DEBATE. It was a great success.

120 members came to our Big Pay Debate this week where a panel of three members made the case for fighting for pay. Our treasurer led off on why we deserve a pay rise and why the government can afford it and one of our reps did some myth busting. Our 23 year old organiser talked about strikes and campaigning action and how they can recruit young people to the union because they see the point of joining.

The discussion got quite feisty with a couple of members saying they felt well paid and we should focus on younger people but others said we all need more money. This was backed up with comments about rising rent, council tax and energy bills. There was a discussion about whether the NHS should get a pay rise before us. One member said no-one’s ever heard of us and it won’t make any difference. But quite a few people argued hard for fighting for pay and linking up with other unions.

Two weeks previously we had a guest speaker from the NHS pay campaign. They said, “if we care about the services we provide, we have to fight for its funding and part of that is fighting for pay”. So we talked about that too. There were new members who asked about how strikes work and others talked about their experience of going on strike ─ good and bad. We talked about the lessons DVLA strikers had learnt in their campaign about building their branch and getting members involved. We also agreed to invite a DVLA speaker to our next meeting in two weeks’ time.

We have drafted a letter for us all to send to our MP’s to ask for support for public sector pay and we are looking to set up meetings where we can find several staff in the same constituency.

We are now thinking of other ideas for this pay campaign and members want a working group to coordinate our plans to fight for the real pay rise we all need.

Sarah Ensor

IOPC Branch Secretary

Justice for George Floyd

Artwork Zita Holbourne

One year ago, in the middle of an already traumatic year due to the pandemic, millions of people around the world, witnessed the horrific murder of George Floyd, with a global impact – played out on our screens in real time it was painful to watch and traumatising and for some it was too unbearable to watch. Personally, it took me several weeks before I felt able to watch it. It led to global protests by the Black Lives Matter movement who were campaigning not just for justice for George Floyd but for an end to the racism and related justice we face in every aspect of life, including here in the UK.

As the co-founder and National Chair of BARAC UK, over the years I have sadly found myself helping to organise countless protests, marches, vigils and solidarity events in response to deaths at the hands of the State both sides of the Atlantic because sadly the horrific murder of George Floyd was not the first or the last killing of a black person by the police.

The PCS National Black Members Committee has supported the annual United Family and Friends Campaign annual March against deaths in custody for several years and both PCS and BARAC UK have supported several family Justice campaigns over the years, organising meetings and doing fund raising initiatives and passing motions to offer practical solidarity. I have acted as the trade union liaison officer for some of these campaigns, such as the Sarah Reed campaign for justice.

The protests which took place during the summer of last year across the UK were in response to the murder of George Floyd but also protesting the legacies of enslavement and colonialism, everyday racism and micro aggressions, systemic and institutional racism. The toppling of the Colston statue triggered a refreshed but not new debate on decolonisation. I have long since been campaigning for decolonisation including supporting the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, campaigns for road names to change, a successful campaign to change the name of the Plantation bar before it officially opened. But the legacies of colonialism are not just present in statues and symbols but policies and cultures which allow racism to thrive. I co-led the negotiations on behalf of PCS with the Cabinet Office on the issue of Black Lives Matter and decolonisation and raised concerns that unless these legacies are addressed then the institutional racism we face today will not go away.

Zita Holbourne

But it’s not just about how we are treated at work but in wider society that reduces life chances, as a daughter of the Windrush Generation I have experienced first hand how those legacies led to the so called hostile environment including the Windrush Scandal and as a leading campaigner on these issues recognised the importance of the campaign for justice being a trade union issue and worked with others to ensure it was. Having warned of what was to come back in 2012 and written about it in The Guardian in 2016.

Over the past year I have been part of a global pan African George Floyd justice group. Art I produced in tribute and remembrance and in solidarity calling for justice for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter have been featured in exhibitions in the UK and in the USA, featured at commemorations on Martin Luther King Day in the USA.

https://www.pablocenter.org/visual-arts/virtual-exhibits/black-lives-matter/

For the past nine years I have been the curator of the Roots Culture Identity art exhibition, established as part of the TUC Stephen Lawrence task group recommendations and this year the exhibition went global and virtual and is on the themes of BLM and the impacts of coronavirus and can be viewed here : https://sway.office.com/RHan1XP2EbeevcTS?ref=Link

In PCS we organised events to discuss the impacts including a facebook live event on why Black Lives Matter is a trade union matter. Like me, the killing of George Floyd has impacted deeply on many people’s lives over the past year and we watched the trial on edge and in pain hoping that justice would be served. When the jury went out it was an anxious 24 hours for me where I hoped, wishes and prayed for the right result. I shed tears and shouted not with joy but with relief when Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts. There was no joy in this result – because George Floyd is still dead, the pain of losing a loved one is still there for his family and the trauma of what we witnessed is still there for all of us. Of several thousand deadly police shootings in the US since 2005 only 140 officers have been charged and only 7 convicted.

Sadly, while the jury reached its verdict a 16-year-old black girl child Ma’Khia Bryant was shot dead by police in Ohio on 21st of April. The same week as the verdict the funeral of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old young black man shot dead during a traffic stop and before that a 13-year-old boy child, Adam Toledo was killed by police.

Zita Holbourne

Here in the UK we started the year with Mohamud Mohammed Hassan dying after being held in a police cell overnight in Wales. Mohamud encountered as many police offices in one night as there are weeks in a year, but they failed in their duty of care when he reported feeling unwell – he entered the police station well and healthy, he left battered and bruised and hours later he was dead. I was commissioned to write a poem for the campaign which was made into an animated film to raise awareness of the campaign.

Sometimes we can feel quite helpless in the face of trauma and injustice . As a multi disciplinary artist I create in order to respond, raise awareness and heal. Solidarity no matter how small an act you may feel able to provide, does make a difference and our collective response can be powerful in effecting awareness and change.

The verdict in the Chauvin trial was the one, we wanted to see, needed to see and means that Chauvin will be punished for his horrific crimes – but we should be under no illusion that it will stop police brutality and disproportionate stop and search and racial profiling of black people in the USA or here in the UK.

In the UK like the USA black people are overrepresented in the prison system and receive harsher sentences than their white counter parts. The police and crime bill disproportionately impacts on black communities in addition to trade unions and is of concern for all of us that organise and participate in protests, vigils, rallies and marches for justice, human rights and race equality. It is crucial that we submit evidence re the bill and support the #killthebill campaign as it is part of the same system of brutality and systemic racism which has led to so many black people dying at the hands of the State.

It is crucial that we continue to mobilise and organise against oppressive regimes and systemic racism and fight for a better future for ourselves and generations coming through. We deserve race equality in our lifetime, we stand on the shoulders of the generations before us including those invited here as part of the ‘British Empire’ who fought back against No Blacks No Irish No Dogs signs and actions, against police brutality and harassment such as Mangrove and who then experienced the Windrush scandal.

Zita Holbourne

International Solidarity and standing up to Racism and Injustice is a fundamental part of what it means to be a trade unionist be it in support of Palestine , Black Lives Matter or the Windrush Generation , our struggles are connected.

Today the One Year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd I will be speaking at and doing some spoken word at the United for Black Lives 1 year anniversary event on Instagram Live. https://www.instagram.com/p/COtOP-aH2dT/?utm_medium=copy_link

On Wednesday from 6.30pm I will be speaking st the PCS Facebook Live to mark the 1 year anniversary.

https://www.pcs.org.uk/news/facebook-live-event-to-commemorate-murder-of-george-floyd

Zita Holbourne

National Vice President PCS

A great election result, now let’s focus on continuing to build PCS

Positive Campaigning

Thank you to everyone who voted to elect a Democracy Alliance National Executive Committee. The fantastic result last week, which saw the election of the biggest Democracy Alliance majority in years, coupled with excellent results for Left Unity in the biggest groups, was a testament to the hard work carried out over the last period, alongside a positive campaign, in contrast to the negative campaigning and videos of some of our opponents.

Members have obviously responded well to that, and returned an excellent result for Left Unity members and supporters.

As always, the turnout could be better, and the review that PCS is undertaking will obviously include a focus on how we can increase participation, but the result is a vindication of all the hard work our comrades have put into defending members and keeping them safe, and the campaigning around issues that has taken place.

Refreshing the NEC

Electing 14 new members to the National Executive, and having a strong, enthusiastic team of activists from across the union, allows us to focus on the big challenges ahead, without unnecessary distractions, and to continue to build PCS from a position of strength.

It is important that the incoming NEC work together to provide the strong, determined leadership that our members need and deserve.

Our priority over the past 12 months or more, has been to do everything we possibly could to keep our members safe throughout the pandemic. We have fought as never before because, doing everything possible was, in these circumstances, quite literally a matter of life and death.

This leadership knew PCS had to shift its approach in response to the pandemic and the lockdown. In adopting a digital approach at top speed, and with little margin for error, we managed to develop communications with members and activists to an unprecedented level of engagement. And that communication has been two-way – listening to members’ fears, concerns and needs and then responding with strategies focused on the requirements and demands appropriate to each individual area and workplaces.

A Campaigning Union

Our Democracy Alliance NEC, as it has done in the twenty-years it has led PCS, backed every campaign, backed every call for action and backed every group of members fighting back.

Our standing within the trade union movement is at an all-time high, as evidenced in the support and solidarity for our disputes in both DVLA and the DWP from across the movement. PCS are widely recognised as being at the forefront of campaigning on our members’ issues.

Campaigning, like Equality, is at the very heart of our union. More members, more reps, more advocates, a fightback on pay, the successful defence of the CSCS in the courts, and a campaign that is growing on pensions.

We heard at our recent election rally from speakers in two of our key campaigns, who told us what a difference these campaigns have made to their members and their branches.

How they have led to a victory in OCS, and a changed culture amongst members at DVLA Swansea, in our ongoing campaign there. And that is the reality check that’s needed.

This leadership does not organise the defence of our members interests on the basis of abstract “theories” – particularly from “critics” with little or no experience of leading campaigns themselves, or from meaningless slogans that amount to nothing and translate into mere words, not actions.

We organise on the basis of long experience, leading fightbacks against what has seemed like never-ending attacks from a succession of governments, determined to destroy the Civil Service as a matter of ideology. We don’t always win in the face of such an assault – but we always fight to win.

At the centre of our approach is that we take members with us. We don’t lecture them about what they should do or think, as has been seen recently in the theoretical assertion from a losing presidential candidate, that members delivering 8 days of strike action so far are ‘too timid’ or ‘their demands aren’t bold enough’. We listen to members and their reps, we work with them. We decide jointly what needs to be done and we stand with them through thick and thin, in victory, or when there are setbacks.

What we will never do is lie to them or pretend there are easy options. We have absolute loyalty to our members and will defend them always. We will never mislead them and take them for granted, nor will we ever view them as nothing more than a stepping-stone to winning positions, influence or power. We have built PCS into a democratic, member-led union, and we fight with all our strength to keep it that way.

This weekend has seen demonstrations in defence of Palestine and over the next week, there will be events to commemorate the racist murder of George Floyd. It is important that PCS is at the forefront of these important campaigns and that we continue to fight for a better, fairer society.

A Democratic Virtual Conference

We, like the rest of the trade union movement, have had to move to a virtual conference, something that has been challenged and rubbished by some at every stage because ‘It’s not like Brighton’, but we are attempting to hold the most democratic process in the movement, maximising engagement from more reps and members, on a level we could never pull off if ADC was in Brighton, and taking forward bold policies on all of our key issues. Ensuring that we build a union that adapts to the changes in circumstances, but is strong, well organised and fit for the future.

Early indications are that attendance from many branches, some who haven’t sent anyone to ADC for years, will be increased massively. Feedback from those who have attended special virtual conference training sessions, is that reps and activists are excited about the opportunity to be part of something that they couldn’t necessarily have attended if it had been physical. Some branches report registering upwards of 30 delegates.

Working together we can make this event a success, and cut across the negativity that is being generated, so please study the motions, put forward speakers in the debates, and encourage as many reps as possible to be delegates. Let’s work together to make it a success.

Tough times ahead

The period ahead is going to be really tough, there’s no doubt about that. In fact, it is likely to be the toughest period we have ever faced.

Johnson’s Tory government will insist the cost of the pandemic must be borne, not by the millionaires and billionaires to whom he has been channelling countless billions of our public money in the form of government contracts, but by us, public sector workers.

Their main target will once again be the public sector, with the Civil Service at the top of their agenda. Austerity has never ended, or even been paused – It continues full throttle, however they want to spin or re-brand it.

This Tory agenda of continued Austerity is one that must be challenged on every front – Pay, Pensions, Jobs, Conditions. We have elected a leadership in this union that is not just experienced but committed to working for members.

Committed to fighting to defend what we have, but also committed to fighting for what we need. An end to privatisation and outsourcing, campaigning for fair and equitable pay, decent pensions, good terms and conditions, proper staffing and resources and fully trained staff to deliver the vital services into our communities, and so much more. None of which can be attempted, let alone achieved, on the basis of division.

The world of work is changed forever, and PCS needs to be at the forefront of the campaign to defend our members’ interests in all of that.

The newly elected NEC reflect the real diversity of PCS. Workers, immersed in representing their members, and members’ issues, from across the whole gamut of PCS membership.

Left Unity has members’ interests at its heart, we work as a team and deliver on our promises. We have a history of working in cooperation with reps and branches, something that we pledge to continue.

Yes, we face tremendous challenges. Johnson has an 80-seat majority, our country is being looted and our services are under unremitting assault.

We need to hold onto the belief though that, in fighting to build the greatest possible unity in our own union, and across the movement, we can challenge and defeat those who are making the lives of our members and class a misery. That is the reason many of us got involved in the first place, and in the face of all sorts of distractions, we shouldn’t forget that.

Building a stronger, more united PCS

Thanks to everyone for your hard work in the recent period, at branch, group and national level. Showing what can be achieved when activists campaign together.

That must remain our goal, the biggest, most coordinated fightback, strengthening and building PCS, and focusing on issues that unite us, not creating, or promoting, division.

We want all activists to be involved in our campaigns. So, if you have ideas, please get involved and be part of the conversation to take PCS forward in the strongest, most united way.

We hope Left Unity members are finding the new website, and focus on communications, helpful. The Left Unity National Committee have worked hard to ensure that, following a difficult period, our communications and materials, are helpful and timely. If you have ideas about comms, again, we want to hear from you.

Developing virtual technology gives us the opportunity to engage better and allows more people to participate, recognising it also has limitations. Left Unity areas are encouraged to meet regularly, not just at election time, to discuss how we can build campaigns at a local level, and we thank all convenors for the role that you’ve played in that.

Thanks for everything that you do, both in PCS and within Left Unity. Let’s work together to build the biggest strongest and most united campaigns possible. The recent election result allows us to focus on that, without distraction. Let’s build on that with renewed enthusiasm.

Fran Heathcote – PCS President and Left Unity Organiser

On behalf of the Left Unity National Committee

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DWP Safety Dispute – Management being Reckless and Irresponsible

Not the time for ‘busy job centres’

The decision by DWP to reintroduce mandatory face-to-face interviews in Jobcentres from 12 April 2021 in England and Wales, and from 26 April 2021 in Scotland, has been met with disbelief by many Work Coaches. The claim of a “Slow and Steady” approach of returning to face-to-face activity, that DWP repeatedly made to the union in discussions, lies in tatters as we now see a sprint, with DWP instructing our members to return to their Jobcentres and conduct mandatory face-to-face interviews with all 18-24-year old claimants. While the number of face-to-face interviews differs around the country, with some Work Coaches to carry out five and others up to fifteen per day, the direction the department is going in is clear to everyone…they want business as usual as soon as possible.

Despite PCS members already taking part in a consultative ballot over their safety, this latest DWP decision to introduce mandatory face-to-face interviews has been made without proper consultation with PCS. In fact, the only discussion on this development was in the afternoon of the day Work Coaches were told to come back to their office. At that meeting, PCS negotiators robustly challenged senior DWP managers and repeatedly demanded that they pause what they are doing and take a step back to consider the potential consequences of their actions. The point was forcibly made that Jobcentres around the country are still closing on a daily basis due to “Covid-19 related issues” – in fact, Wigan Jobcentre closed recently for a circuit break after 14 members of staff tested positive for the virus. This has resulted in the Health and Safety Executive visiting that office.

Furthermore, the return to face-to-face activity has gone ahead without PCS agreeing the Jobcentre Customer Facing Risk Assessment (JCFRA). Additionally, many Work Coaches have reported that they have been asked to carry out face-to-face interviews despite not having completed the Keeping Safe 1 and 2 mandatory training. Further Jobcentres have closed in areas where there has been a worrying increase in positive cases due to the Indian variant. PCS have been inundated with calls from concerned members in places such a Blackburn, Bolton and Glasgow with the Indian variant seeing a 70% increase in positive cases over the past few days. DWP’s actions are provocative, not just to the union negotiators, but to our membership.

Incredibly, the department continue to say Jobcentres are “Covid secure” as all the necessary steps have been taken to assure this. This is plainly nonsense, the pandemic hasn’t gone anywhere and the majority of our members and the public have not yet received their first vaccination, let alone both. The very fact Jobcentres are still closing proves our point they are not “Covid secure”. The members at Wigan Jobcentre and at others were members have tested positive would also dispute the department’s claims.

In addition to the return to face-to-face interviews in Jobcentres, PCS have also been pressing the employer on Work Coach empowerment and the use of Video Calling. As a result of a strong mandate, where almost 80% of those who voted in a consultative ballot last August said they would take strike action, DWP agreed important concessions. One of those was Work Coach empowerment. This granted our members the autonomy to decide how they interacted with the claimant, by phone, digitally or face-to-face. This important concession was well received by Work Coaches and prevented many PCS branches from requesting to be included in a statutory ballot last Autumn.

As a result of this agreement Work Coaches have only been seeing the most vulnerable claimants face to face, however now, with the department conceding that they are not getting the outcomes they want from the government’s Kickstart initiative, Work Coaches are now expected to carry out mandatory face to face interviews for 18-24-year olds, with them now saying that Trust, Empower, Deliver means that Work Coaches should meet the needs of the claimant with these interviews lasting a bit longer if need be. You cannot see this as anything other than DWP renaging on the agreement as, put simply, you can have no autonomy if the ask is mandatory.

PCS members who are Work Coaches are rightly angry about this, and to further fan the flames, management have now advised PCS that Video Calling is no longer voluntary and have removed any mention of this from the guidance.

PCS negotiators have strongly made the case that Video Calling is not safe for members and the union have issued a number of bulletins advising Work Coaches not to participate. The very fact that the department have admitted that they cannot mitigate against the risks of screen shots and unauthorised recording taking place backs the union’s position on this.

Threat to society

In the same way the department’s decisions increase the risk to our members in Jobcentres, including facilties and security staff, it must be remembered that the implications reach much further. Social interaction must be seen as the biggest single contributing factor to increases in infection rates throughout the pandemic. It must therefore logically follow that by asking workers and benefit claimants to travel to our offices, interact and mix with others while they attend, and then travel back, not only increases the risk within our workplaces, but to the public transport they will use and the families and communities they return to.

It is also clear that the number of claimants not making their unnecessary appointments, raises the spectre of conditionality and sanctions once more. The union pushed hard at the beginning of the pandemic to have all Labour Market (LM) activity removed from the system, and did reach agreement for an initial suspension of conditionality and sanctions, and a subsequent low rate of LM activity.

The union has now received reports from members that they are once more coming under pressure from managers to refer claimants who “fail to attend” their appointment to a decision maker about their benefit claim. Left Unity and PCS have a longstanding opposition to the sanctions regime and we have to call out this move, by both government and DWP, to ramp up this pernicious activity in the midst of a global pandemic, for what is – morally bankrupt and destructive.

To potentially force the public, including millions that have never used the benefits system before, to effectively choose between staying safe or becoming destitute cannot get any lower and is as far removed from the actions of a civilised government and society as you could get. The most vulnerable, that have needed our help and will continue to do so until we have a full recovery from this pandemic, cannot and should not be left to pay the price for this government’s mishandling of the economy during the crisis, anymore than our members should with their pay freeze.

Members must vote YES to send a clear message to DWP

In light of these latest developments, the PCS DWP Group have extended the consultative ballot on the issue of safety in Jobcentres; the ballot now closing at noon on Wednesday 2 June 2021.

This gives the union’s members an ideal opportunity to tell DWP that they are not happy with the rush to business as usual and the threats to their safety, and they will not accept it. A big YES vote in this ballot, telling the department and government, that members are prepared to take strike action to protect themselves, their families and the public, will not only give PCS negotiators a clear and decisive mandate it will also give confidence to our members in other groups and the wider movement that we can make a stand and protect ourselves when employers play Russian Roulette with our health, with our lives.

A wider campaign

In addition to the ballot we must maximise our political and activist campaigning. A number of MPs have already written to the Secretary of State seeking answers to the issues covered in this article and an Early Day Motion has been tabled in Parliament, both following PCS intervention, while our members have been completing an e-action generating responses to from the Permanent Secretary.

The union must, and will, build on this and work alongside claimant organisations – such as DPAC, Unite Community and Unemployed Workers Combine – to highlight the reality about to be faced by millions and the risk DWP’s actions are bringing to communities.

PCS members have provided an excellent service throughout the pandemic, ensuring they were there for the most vulnerable in society, prioritising payments and support when it’s been needed the most. There is no reason why this cannot continue until vaccine has been fully rolled out and we have seen a sustained period of low infection and deaths.

PCS are urging all Jobcentre staff to vote yes in the consultative ballot and send the strongest message possible to the Government and DWP, but if they don’t listen we must be prepared to take action to defend ourselves and those we provide vital services to.

Martin Cavanagh and Ian Pope