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10 March 2021

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PCS leadership failures lead to concession bargaining on pay

PCS members on strike 8.4.19, photo London Socialist Party

PCS members on strike 8.4.19, photo London Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge)

Dave Semple, PCS national executive committee member (personal capacity)

The HM Revenue and Customs group is the second largest in the PCS. Its Left Unity leadership has just balloted members on a three-year pay deal. This deal, while giving a 13.75% pay increase, means a significant worsening of conditions for many members. Unsurprisingly, in the absence of any lead to the contrary - given the union recommended a 'yes' vote and lack of all the information available - members voted overwhelmingly to accept the deal.

Funding your own pay rise - or concession bargaining - should not be an approach associated with left-led unions such as PCS and its anti-pay freeze public stance. Yet general secretary Mark Serwotka told the union's February national executive that he had informed the Cabinet Office that, even in the context of a pay freeze, deals could still be done, and exampled the current HMRC pay deal - which he supported.

PCS policy is opposed to pay caps and pay freezes, is opposed to trading conditions for pay and is for an immediate pay increase of 10% that starts to make up for the 20% loss in real pay since 2010. Demands that need to be backed up with the necessary campaign and action.

In late 2017, the union carried out a non-statutory consultative ballot, which secured huge membership support for the union's pay demands and strike action. A statutory ballot which was delayed until mid-2018, did secure majority support for strike action but failed to get the 50% turnout required by the anti-union laws.

Socialist Party members called for a full debate to determine the way forward and improve prospects for achieving a 'yes' vote in any future ballot - including demands beyond pay and disaggregated ballots within a national framework.

The Left Unity leadership said if we simply organised more effectively next time then we would beat the threshold. But 2019 was a rerun of 2018, and with a similar result.

A 10% claim was tabled in February 2020, shockingly almost immediately withdrawn by the leadership - a gesture towards national unity over the Covid-19 pandemic. They asked instead for an inflation-proof increase. The Cabinet Office thanked Mark Serwotka for his "constructive approach" and imposed a 1% to 2.5% pay limit.

Faced with this humiliation, the Left Unity leadership reinstated the original 10% claim and launched a petition! This abject approach in 2020 led directly to the abandonment of any national campaign. Left Unity's flawed approach has led to the collapse of successive national pay campaigns and to concession bargaining.

The Broad Left Network, a PCS, socialist, rank-and-file group in which Socialist Party members are active, opposed the divisive "fund your own pay rise" deal in HMRC and nationally, and has consistently argued for a campaign on pay, linked with other key issues such as pensions, to build support amongst the membership to help win a statutory ballot.

The fight for decent pay with no strings attached must continue. A fresh approach with a change of leadership is needed to achieve our demands - support the Broad Left Network candidates in the 2021 PCS elections.

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