‘UNITED ACTION IN EVERY SENSE’ – call by PCS leader Serwotka

PCS delegation on last October’s TUC demonstration in London
PCS delegation on last October’s TUC demonstration in London

‘WE need to fight like never before,’ Public and Commercial Services (PCS) leader Mark Serwotka told the union annual conference on Wednesday.

Tory Government cuts are threatening a further 100,000 job losses in the civil service.

‘We need to commit ourselves to opposing the cuts, the closures of the offices, the privatisations and the further attacks we are expecting on pensions and in public sector pay,’ Serwotka said.

The PCS union represents civil servants in Whitehall and around the UK in job centres, tax offices, the courts and immigration.

Serwotka urged trade unions to join forces to head off attacks from the new Tory government.

Serwotka said members should oppose spending cuts and the expected attacks on pensions and public sector pay.

Trade Unions coordinated industrial action in 2011 over public sector pensions. But Serwotka said that unity didn’t last long enough. He urged other unions ‘to step up to the plate’.

‘We need this time to not just call for united coordinated action across the trade union movement but it needs to be united in every sense,’ he said.

‘Common demands, common negotiations and common industrial action strategies.’

Serwotka said that the message from the election was not that the Conservatives won but that Labour lost by refusing to advocate anti-austerity politics.

He criticised government plans to attempt to ban the right to strike by changing strike ballot rules.

‘They want to change the balloting laws to stop us from going on strike,’ he said.

In total, around 90,000 jobs were cut across the civil service during the last parliament. The PCS has seen numbers drop due to changes in how it collects subscriptions from members.

Several government departments including the Home Office, HMRC and DWP have ended the so-called ‘check-off’ system which automatically deducted union subscriptions directly from salaries. That has led to lapsed memberships as the union attempts to re-recruit people to pay by direct debit.

Serwotka warned that the union was still on course to lose ‘thousands and thousands’ of members. That’s hit the union’s finances forcing it to save £6m this year. He told the conference: ‘We need to be determined and inspired, and believe we can win.’

Serwotka in his keynote address to delegates in Brighton said on the threatened changes to balloting legislation: ‘If the Tories wanted more people to vote they would introduce voting by phone, internet and in workplaces.

‘People have a fundamental right to withdraw their labour but the fact is the Tories don’t want us to strike because they don’t want us to oppose the attacks they’re going to unleash.’

The decision to change the Highways Agency and Ordnance Survey into GoCo’s is a halfway house to privatisation, PCS conference was warned.

Graham Woodhouse of DfT North West branch said in proposing motion A23 that members should stand up to any similar changes if they are proposed. A GoCo is a government-owned company and so means transferring agencies out of the civil service.

Graham said that new staff and people being promoted are being given different terms and conditions since changing to a GoCo. He said: ‘Don’t believe they are a compromise. They are a halfway house to privatisation.’

The GoCo was being discussed in a motion agreeing to note with regret the decision by the government to turn the Highways Agency and Ordnance Survey into a GoCo. It asks for conference to instruct the NEC to campaign for the return back to the civil service.

Jawid Iqbal of DfT West Midlands branch seconded the motion, which was carried, saying: ‘This is about being asked to pay for the roads we’ve already paid for in car tax, petrol and VAT. It is attacking the motorist and selling off public assets.’

Later in the conference PCS agreed to act to stop Forestry Commission break-up. Delegates from the Forestry Commission asked PCS conference for support to prevent their work being privatised in England.

They fear government plans to transfer 800 staff into a new public corporation will mean they will no longer be civil servants.

Proposing motion A22, Malcolm Crosby of the South Scotland Forestry Commission branch told the union’s annual conference on Wednesday afternoon that although the plans are not yet clear, they feel the threat is ‘insidious’.

He said: ‘None of the detail is yet clear, but what is clear is that it will break away from the rest of the Forestry Commission and its destination is to have a wholly commercial remit – gone will be those areas the public value so much, recreational facilities and the social aspects of our work. Then of course, they can more easily sell it off.’

Malcolm also pointed out that the spread of diseases such as Ash dieback and larch disease which have spread across the UK show that treating Scotland and England as different cases is ‘nonsense’.

Conference agreed to pass the motion asking the NEC to support Forestry Commission and to use all available resources to prevent its break-up. Meanwhile, the minister for charities has been urged by Unite the union, to reverse the ‘savage’ cuts, estimated at £3.3 billion, to the community and voluntary sector implemented by the last government.

Unite called on the minister for civil society Rob Wilson to consider the damage inflicted on the sector since 2010 and to create ‘a genuine partnership that will see charities and community organisations regain their identity and flourish again’.

Unite will be writing to organisations across the sector with a view to creating a new consensus on how to protect and strengthen the sector. To kick-off the debate Unite has launched a strategy document: A strong voluntary and community sector – the foundation for a thriving society.

The key issues for Unite are the restoration of the sector’s funding and rebuilding the independence of the not-for-profit organisations, freed from government interference.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) – the umbrella body for the 160,000 charities in England and Wales – estimates that £3.3 billion has been lost in public sector funding to the community and voluntary sector over the spending review period 2010/11 – 2015/16.

Unite national officer for the sector Sally Kosky said: ‘What has happened to the voluntary sector over the last five years is that there has been a vice-like squeeze with a savage reduction in funding, coupled with increased political meddling.

‘There needs to be a fundamental rethink by the new government in its attitude to the sector – and this would mean a reversal of the funding cuts and a loosening of the government’s corset of political controls.

‘We need a commitment to rebuild the identity and independence of community and voluntary organisations under pressure from increased political interference and co-option into public service delivery that takes them away from their founding purpose and ethos.

‘Unite members working in the sector are clear that there is an urgent need for a new direction.’