PCS conference

The largest civil service union, the PCS, holds its annual delegate conference from May 22-24 in Brighton. This will be the 20th anniversary of the creation of PCS in 1998.

We will have the results of the national executive committee elections by then, with, as for the last 18 years, the expected clear victory of the ‘Democracy Alliance’ electoral pact between two factions - PCS Left Unity (dominated by the Socialist Party in England and Wales, with the Socialist Workers Party also involved); and the ‘PCS Democrats’ - a tiny grouping that seems to be rightwing Labour, if at all political.

Originally this electoral pact was justified by the very real danger that the right could regain control, as they had totally controlled its forerunner, the Civil and Public Services Association. But today that danger no longer exists, so today the alliance operates to keep out the third faction, the Independent Left - dominated by Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. In 2017 IL stood 16 candidates for 30 NEC places (and won one seat), but only 12 in 2018. Last year they were only around 1,600 votes adrift of winning four vice-president seats and 3,000 behind defeating the long-running incumbent president, Janice Godrich.

IL’s main charge is that, although it is the government that is primarily responsible for job cuts, office closures, attacks on our pay, pensions and redundancy terms, the NEC could have provided much stronger leadership and strike action. IL will, of course, provide the ‘correct leadership’ to transform the situation, but, even were it to win all 12 NEC places it is contesting, that would be far short of a majority. Odd how such a critical faction did not stand against general secretary Mark Serwotka though - he has been re-elected unopposed.

I left PCS Left Unity when they adopted an electoral pact with such a vague name as ‘Democracy Alliance’, hiding their leftwing orientation, but I’m not supporting IL either. The main issue is not lack of leadership: it is wider membership apathy and low combativity across the movement. There has been no united action of the public-sector unions over the 1% pay cap that was actually agreed at the September TUC congress in 2017. PCS cannot win alone. Most offices have non-unionised agency staff and many members regard strike action as a day off - certainly not to be spent on a picket line or at a rally. Plus civil servants do not have the public support the teachers, nurses, firefighters get.

The first debate will be over what type of industrial action we should take over pay and not for the first time I am in opposition to Mark Serwotka. He will tour all the departmental conferences that meet immediately prior to the main delegate conference, arguing for his strategy. He will then use his 15-minute address to further back it up and then will get five minutes to move his motion (with a right of reply). I will get just three minutes to argue against his strategy and to mention my alternative motion!

The NEC motion is worded to mean anything to anybody, as in 2017. Mark is likely to argue that ‘nothing is ruled out’, giving the impression the NEC will consider targeted action of a few large and powerful workplaces with a levy of members to supplement strike pay, plus a rolling programme - department by department, a day here, a day there - building up to more sustained action. Last time we had such an open-ended policy, action was quietly dropped and no increase in pay was won.

While the IL may well criticise Mark and the NEC for not delivering last year, it will again support the open-ended strategy. But my motion calls for united action across the public sector over pay - as the TUC agreed in September 2017. I recall the enthusiasm of so many members of all the unions involved in the November 2011 one-day strike against attacks on public-sector pensions - 2.4 million workers came out in the largest action since 1926. Non-members were almost queuing up to join PCS to be part of the multi-union strike (and I suspect it was the same for the other unions). We had the largest picket line I can recall and held a large march through Manchester city centre. But readers may recall that the largest, Labour-affiliated unions sold out within days, leaving PCS high and dry.

Readers will also know that industrial action ballots now have to have 50% of members voting, with at least 40% of the total membership voting for action, so PCS held a consultative ballot last November to test whether we could meet the new Tory-imposed thresholds. The NEC allowed members to vote by telephone, email or postal vote (a statutory ballot can only be by postal ballot) and got 48.8% turnout (79.2% were for industrial action). A narrow fail on both counts then.

My branch achieved a 52.22% turnout, but unlike the NEC I’d asked my members what their preferences were for industrial action - 95% were for united action across the public sector (surprisingly 60% would still support action if we end up on our own). My motion therefore is to only ballot over united strike action, ideally called for the same day - we want effective, united action. The opposition to this will be: ‘We cannot wait for other unions to decide to act together and do nothing if this is not delivered’. But it is clear PCS cannot win against this government on our own with the limited action members are prepared to take.

The NEC is also proposing a rule change, to include two reserved seats for members within the LGBT category and two more for those with a disability (undefined). It also seeks a reserved seat for one young member aged 30 or under. PCS rules already allow for two BME members to be elected to the NEC via reserved seats if no BME candidates poll enough in their own right. PCS (and even CPSA before it) never actually needed reserved seats and the NEC - under right or left control - has always had at least two BME members - there has never been a need for reserved seats.

Given the toxicity surrounding the transgender issue, it will be interesting to see if any lesbians or gays oppose being lumped in with transgenders if the whole artificially created category sees trans get both seats or if we see a trans woman argue they should be able to stand as a woman. This may be why the NEC is not going for reserved seats for women, who are an underrepresented majority in PCS, taking up only a third of the current NEC’s 30 places for ordinary members. However, the NEC is also seeking support for a consultation of branches on ensuring a future NEC must have 50% women candidates. Why does the NEC need to consult branches on increasing the number of women on the NEC, but not on having reserved seats solely on the basis of being LGBT, disabled or young?

The NEC already has BME, LGBT and disabled members. The reality is that you will not get on the NEC if you are not in a faction, so all this increased visible diversity only applies to faction members. The inner circle will choose which BME, young, disabled or LGBT loyalist can be a candidate. So all this is cynical window dressing.

As we have seen, there has been a closing down of disagreement through accusations of ‘hate speech’, including on the left, and a consequent redefining of racism to mean anyone opposed to open borders and Islamophobia to mean anyone opposed to Islamic extremism. Anti-Semitism is applied to anyone condemning the state of Israel and its actions. And we now have a new one - ‘transphobic’, applied to anyone who dares question whether a man with male genitalia can simply say they are, and be legally regarded as, a woman. I think most delegates will be too frightened to argue against the motion on this.

Talking about open borders, there is an NEC motion on workers’ rights if we leave the European Union. As with last year, it seeks, underhandedly, to have a policy of open borders by opposing the control of migrant numbers from Europe, calling for “the promotion of the benefits of migration” to be explained (no downsides at all then?) and for “freedom of movement”. As with last year, no delegate who is in SPEW will argue their actual policy of opposition to freedom of movement and to open borders. It will have to be me again.

And now a subject dear to many writers of the Weekly Worker - that of the relationship between PCS and the Labour Party. I note the continual calls by such writers that PCS should affiliate. Well, in 2016 we agreed a membership consultation, which revealed that most branches do not want PCS to affiliate, so there were no motions in 2017 calling for this - though there was one allowing branches, with NEC permission, to campaign for particular Labour candidates that support PCS policies (about 90 were supported by individual branches - for any difference that made).

In 2018 there is a motion calling for another branch consultation, this time aimed at identifying/securing “the means by which we can increase our support for a campaign to get a Corbyn and McDonnell-led UK Labour government elected”. Quite a move for the SPEW-dominated NEC, but not actual affiliation!

My view on affiliation remains unchanged - I am still opposed. If all the super-unions with all their tens of millions of pounds in donations, plus the largest Labour membership in decades, have not pulled the party left, a union the size of PCS will make no extra impact. In fact PCS will be told to butt out and not risk costing Labour an election by demanding ‘unrealistic’ policies. The back-tracking by Corbyn, the anti-democratic coup in Momentum, the continual overwhelming hostility of the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the leadership’s failure to support deselection of these traitors convinces me that PCS will make no difference.

In my area the local Labour Party is anti-Corbyn, so why waste my time being a lone voice subjected to outright hostility? Corbyn and McDonnell urged councillors to implement Tory budget cuts and Labour conference, under Corbyn, made it party policy that councillors who vote against austerity cuts will be expelled. I march against cuts - whoever makes them.

I will not therefore mislead my members into having illusions in Labour, nor support PCS affiliation. It is clear to me that PCS members of the Labour Party will put electoralism above industrial action if Labour forms the next government and betrays its pledges - as do practically all Labour-affiliated unions currently.

Dave Vincent

Deeply offensive

I have read and noted the responses from messrs Goldstein and Donovan (Letters, April 5) to my own letter (March 29).

It is funny, but in response to my (somewhat illiberal, I admit) call for the ending of the publication of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi writings from the said messieurs in a communist paper, the response is simply to call me an anti-Semite, Nazi and, going one further, a holocaust-denier. It is clear there is no discussion to be had with these individuals. The editor and the readership will be pleased I am just requesting space for this one response.

I had been thinking of writing for some months, as I have been increasingly concerned over the deliberately borderline anti-Semitism contained in the various contributions of Greenstein, Donovan and Downing in the Weekly Worker. ‘Borderline’, in that the ‘clever’ trick of such writers is to hint, imply and occasionally deliberately stray over the line, when expressing their anti-human views, but to leave some ambiguity and wiggle room for a ‘retreat’, when openly challenged.

Greenstein and Donovan simply can’t help themselves. In the very same April 5 issue, Greenstein again equates Israel to Nazi Germany and the fascist states of the 1930s. Casting my eyes to the March 1 issue, we again find Donovan complaining the editor is “denying there is anything Jewish about Zionism”. I thought the left was critical of Zionism because it has led to the oppression of the Palestinians, not because it was Jewish?

1. Greenstein is affronted that I am unaware of his own factional tussle to get rid of Donovan and Downing from Labour Against the Witchhunt. Of course I was aware of it, but this is about shades of nuance. Donavan and Downing are often openly anti-Jewish. In some contrast, Greenstein likes to use the words Zionism, Jewish, racism, Nazism alongside each other and hopes people get the message.

I really couldn’t care less about shades of nuance between such individuals, complaining whose anti-Semitism is worse than the other. Some would prefer them to fight and destroy each other; I am happier to call them all out.

2. I am accused of being a Zionist and (by definition?) a Nazi. (So, Zionism = Jewishness = Nazism!) What I suggested was I thought the term ‘Zionism’ is now too intertwined with Jewishness as to provide a critique of the policies of the state of Israel and its governments. Zionism includes support for the establishment of the state of Israel and for the occupation of Palestine.

As Israel happens to be a Jewish state, we need to develop a critique of the policies of Israel whilst being very clear this is not an attack on its Jewishness or of its people. Anti-Zionism is now too blunt an instrument. It is now generally accepted that attacking people as ‘Zios’ or Zionists is far too close to attacking them for basic Jewishness. It is clear Greenstein/Donovan/Downing are unprepared to make that distinction, which I think proves my argument. It does not make me a pro-Zionist.

3. Greenstein, in perhaps only the second time I have seen this in the Weekly Worker, states openly he is for the destruction of the state of Israel. Now this is revealing and explicit. He ‘wiggles’ by saying that, of course, the existing Jewish/Israeli population “should be able to remain” and be part of a new Arab state, but how do you deliver “destruction” of a state without causing the most massive trauma, dislocation and loss of life among the Israeli population? I asked him previously (March 29) how he envisages this “destruction” coming about. No response.

What is the role of Israeli working class in all of this? Greenstein in yet another appalling article states: “The desire for racial purity, and with it domination, is what ties Israel’s Jewish working class to its ruling class” (‘Racist by definition’, March 15). So Greenstein takes a profoundly unMarxist position (which is fine, but again, why in the Weekly Worker?), writing off the Israeli working class (and reminding us, again, it is Jewish).

I have stated on the record (Morning Star Letters, January 18 2017), my view that: establishing the state of Israel was a mistake of enormous historic proportions; that no state has the ‘right’ to exist; but we must recognise the reality of the state of Israel, an established Israeli nation and an Israeli people divided, as elsewhere, by class - we can’t turn back time; that Lenin was generally not in favour of breaking up existing states and often made the point that capitalism and imperialism can create the basis for its own supersession.

4. Greenstein claims he attacks Israel on the basis of being a settler state and not its Jewishness. This is sly, as well as untrue. Given Israel is the only Jewish state in the world, and I am not aware of what other states Greenstein/Donovan/Downing advocate for “destruction”, one has the right to suspect Jewishness is part of what G/D/D find so objectionable about Israel.

As I said in my March 29 letter, Greenstein’s articles and letters continuously refer to the Jewish nature of the Israeli state. If this is not a factor in its inherent awfulness, why keep referring to it? I have counted and he makes far more references to ‘Jewishness’ than ‘settler state’.

5. Donovan finds one line in a letter I wrote 10 years ago (October 16 2008) and claims this is evidence of my denial of the holocaust (!) and yet in the immediately following paragraph admits all I was saying (and correctly) was that that six million did not die in the gas chambers. I am pleased and impressed Donovan provided a reference to that letter which enables any reader to read my letter and find that it was in fact the complete opposite of holocaust-denial, that I excoriated (as best I could) the Nazi regime as part of a debate and its industrialised mass murder of millions of opponents and undesirables.

6. Stalinism: I am pleased Donovan referred to another letter of mine (September 15 2008) - it was a pleasure rereading it. In it I take the history of the USSR as a whole - good, bad and indifferent. All top leaders (Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko and Gorbachev) - and, more importantly, their respective policies - had pluses and minuses, but overall the balance sheet is clearly positive: an extraordinary creation and development of a genuinely world-power socialist society.

By the 1970s, when I came into contact with it, the USSR was a stable, self-reliant, confident, multinational state with a highly educated and cultured population, and a society which put at the forefront the need to ensure everyone had access to decent, very low-cost housing and free, high-quality education and healthcare.

The majority of the people of the Russian Federation today were born, housed and educated in the socialist USSR and that shows and still comes through strongly. Big Russian cities, including and especially Moscow, continue to show enormous civic pride, there are deliberately huge open green spaces and parks throughout the urban areas (the ‘countryside into the cities’), with flowers, shrubs and gardens carefully tended by large workforces.

The collapse in 1991 was a complete tragedy, and the restoration and evolution of capitalism continues to erode the achievements of socialism. Describing the Soviet Union as an “abortion”, an “ectopic” social formation, a “freak society”, as Jack Conrad and Hillel Ticktin do, is deeply offensive, wrong and one wonders why the use of gynaecological metaphors? Yes, of course, the failure to implement deep structural reforms in the state, economy and society (set out in scientific detail in the 1961 Communist Party of the Soviet Union programme), led to stagnation, conservatism, separation between the party and the people, and a gradual hollowing out of working people’s stake and commitment to that society, bureaucratisation and a slowing down in the economy.

When Gorbachev assumed the leadership in 1985, his ‘reform’ programme was underdeveloped, lacked clear strategic focus and direction, and was too little, too late. A stagnating economy was dismantled and broken down, but nothing established in its place.

Andrew Northall

Genuine fight

The right are forging ahead with their agenda: now it’s Marc Wadsworth, and on the horizon are Jackie Walker and Ken Livingstone. They have had a few mishaps - Moshé Machover and Glyn Secker, for instance - but they clearly feel that they have the bit between their teeth.

But a piece on the Jewish Voice for Labour website a while back caught my eye, with the claim that this campaign against Corbyn supporters is actually hampering any fight against anti-Semitism. We know that this fight is not what the rightwing campaign is about, but I was wondering whether one of your writers, or readers, might give us some history of the real fight, or rather fights - after all the battle of Cable Street was neither the first nor the last of a long and continuing struggle.

Clearly, if a Labour Party member came out with an anti-Semitic remark, or indeed a racist or misogynist one, you wouldn’t necessarily react with ‘Expel her!’ or ‘Kill him!’ Along with a rebuttal, the first notion, I think, would be to explore further. Was this from family background - something their granny said once - or from school or some nonsense off the internet? Do they really believe it? Do they have any idea of what their comment means? Have they any notion of the history? A summary dismissal is redolent of Clinton’s strategic position regarding ‘deplorables’ - agreement or civil war! People can be talked round, they can change their minds. Sometimes it can take a while, but you can usually tell if you’re wasting your time.

I’m reminded of an article in The Guardian weekend magazine many years ago. A young chap was a member of the National Front, British National Party or some such, but he worked with a black bloke. The latter was always friendly, always smiled at him, was always ready to talk. In the end the chap recognised his errors and went under cover for Searchlight.

The right’s fake attack on anti-Semitism might be interpreted as a strategy to drive people to rightwing groups - if they are really politically interested. A strategy for a genuine and explicit fight against anti-Semitism might help open up a second front against the fakers and I’m sure that you have correspondents who can provide some content to this suggestion.

Jim Cook


I realise the adoption of this symbolism is rather predictable, even to the point of stale, but, when it comes to ‘bringing the Labour Party into disrepute’, surely its own hierarchy are the Alice through the looking glass-inspired culprits, rather than any string of firmly leftwing as well as demonstrably anti-racist members.

I refer, of course, to those good folk suspended whilst being ‘investigated’ by internal mechanisms, their membership often revoked, some then to be reinstated in an all but random manner. When put together in a balanced mind, this entire scenario musters either the atmosphere of the Mad Hatter’s tea party, with the White Queen ranting ‘Off with their head!’, something straight out of a Franz Kafka novel or otherwise those demonic Moscow trials under Stalin.

As for Corbynist Labour’s stale and tired and faded, deeply misguided pursuit of a parliamentary, ‘gradualist’ attempt at creating socialism, a plague on them - that’s what I say. After all is said and done, the only possible outcome will be utter disgrace, in terms of the heinously wasted opportunity for drawing vibrant new layers of into the orbit of truly leftwing politics. No, demoralisation, disorientation and despair will prove to be Corbynist Labour’s legacy - all of that from a so-called social democratic heritage, which readily supported the imperialist atrociousness of two 20th century world wars alongside an ongoing defence of ‘national interests’.

Although only doing so obliquely, and no doubt not representative of his own opinion in this matter, in his letter last week your correspondent, comrade Moshé Machover, conveyed these things to perfection. As tragic as it may be to realise, Corbyn’s socialism will promptly evaporate as and when facing the howling winds of capitalism. Indeed, given the call by Diane Abbott for Amber Rudd to “do the honourable thing” in the Windrush affair, as well as the party’s brand new expulsion of leftwing anti-racist Marc Wadsworth, some might point out how that river-like process already is beginning to gather significant - not to say downright impressive - speed!



Bruno Kretzschmar


Jeremy Corbyn has given us some cause for disappointment. He has appointed his enemies to front-bench and other positions. He permitted a free vote on Syria. He whipped an abstention on Trident. He has accepted some of the government’s claims about Salisbury and Douma. He has acted against the social and ethnic cleansing of Labour Haringey, but not to secure justice for the 472 teaching assistants in Labour Durham.

Corbyn has met the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council without having waited for the local election results to establish whether or not they spoke for anyone very much at all. He has failed to prevent the Labour Party from suspending or expelling distinguished Jewish activists for purported anti-Semitism. And now Labour has expelled Marc Wadsworth, the man who introduced Doreen and Neville Lawrence to Nelson Mandela. Some 50 white MPs marched through the streets to demand Wadsworth’s expulsion, in a scene reminiscent of a lynching. Yet they all remain members of the Labour Party, as does Tony Blair of Iraq infamy.

We yearn for Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. But we reserve the right to pursue that electoral objective outside the Labour Party.

David Lindsay
Prospective parliamentary candidate, North West Durham