Friday, April 18, 2014
PCS - transfer engagements with care...
Having spent my evening between different leftwing fringe meetings at the Conference of the National Union of Teachers, my mind is on the state of our movement.
Hence my interest in the link above, which reports upon the possibility of UNITE taking on PCS with no change to the (less democratic) structures of UNITE and no ("UNISONesque") compromise on Labour Party affiliation.
It seems to me that our trade union movement is at a crossroads (or possibly a "T-junction", I don't drive so am easily confused by road layout). We either respond to the current crisis by accelerating our struggles, or we find ways to retreat and retrench.
Just as UNISON Health Conference this week agreed to ballot for industrial action, so it is clear that the NUT will tomorrow agree to call further action in their current dispute (the only issue being how much action and when). It is equally clear that the local government unions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will embark upon a ballot for national action.
Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will be cynical about the motivation of trade union leaders - but should not allow such cynicism to distract from support for the coordination of strike action on the widest scale possible. It is through such a fighting response to the crisis affecting our members that we can rebuild our movement.
I have the very greatest respect for the leadership of PCS, who have led their members in more strike action than any other union - not just under this Government but under New Labour (which seemed to have a pathological hostility to civil servants and their trade union). Mark Serwotka is the outstanding trade union General Secretary of his generation.
However, I cannot see the suggestion that PCS would surrender it's lay democracy and political tradition in order to be swallowed by UNITE as anything other than an expression of exhaustion and despair. Apart from anything else, if PCS members wanted to "transfer their engagements" there is an alternative which has annual Conferences and a dual political fund structure!
In a period of decline, defensive mergers between trade unions are an unavoidable reality. No UNISON member can lecture PCS activists on the question of leading a struggle, and I do not seek to do so.
I can't help feeling though that a "transfer of engagements" of PCS members into UNITE will leave us with a weaker and less democratic trade union movement - albeit I accept that it has been the internal politics of UNISON which have for years prevented the obvious, beneficial merger between two unions whose members have so much in common. However, no fight has ever been fought with rank and file members of UNISON and PCS in favour of the larger, stronger public service union we could be (or have been) together.
I remain encouraged by my experience over recent days of speaking with delegates to the Conferences of UNISON's Health Service Group and of the National Union of Teachers. All trade unionists should turn outwards to the necessary struggles against the Government and employers - and should be cautious about a focus on internal questions (whether they are restricting democracy in UNISON or abandoning it in PCS).
And friends in UNISON need to reflect upon why no other union (since BAOT) ever wants to consider merging with us...
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.