Chris Baugh: not the unity candidate

Chris Baugh set for re-election

Left Unity has agreed its candidate for assistant general secretary, reports Dave Vincent

Since my article on the Public and Commercial Services union last week, PCS Left Unity have had another membership vote to select its official candidate for the post of PCS assistant general secretary - a ‘senior national officer’ position filled every five years, for which an election is due very soon. The post is a combination of national treasurer and deputy general secretary.

The original contest within the LU faction featured two members of the Socialist Party - Janice Godrich, long-serving PCS national president, who surprisingly gave up that post to challenge the current AGS incumbent, Chris Baugh (who has held that position since 2004).

PCS Left Unity groups together socialists such as the SP and Socialist Workers Party - and now Socialist View (see below). The Socialist Party had decided to back Chris, but Janice broke the SP line to declare her opposing candidature to secure Left Unity backing, which she narrowly won in an internal LU election - but almost immediately stood down due to health problems. Janice had only stood in the first place after PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka came out publicly against Chris Baugh.

Socialist View is a very new PCS faction, recently formed to support Janice against Chris. It now seems to have the support of a majority of SP members (also defying their party’s line) - its own Left Unity slate for the national executive got through, defeating the one put forward by the SP (elections for the NEC will be held in April/May). Fran Heathcote was chosen as the LU candidate for national president, defeating Marion Lloyd, leader of the Chris4AGS campaign.

Given Janice’s ill health, Socialist View found an unelected full-time officer (since 2005), Stella Dennis, to stand, necessitating another LU members’ ballot for the AGS nomination. When the results came in, it was announced that Chris Baugh had won the official LU backing. Marion Lloyd is now appealing for unity within LU, following all these divisions.

This means everyone uniting around the SV LU slate for NEC, but SV supporters also backing Chris for AGS. (This will also avoid any mass expulsions of SP members who broke the party line.) But I would go further - there is now no principled basis for Socialist View to continue as a faction. Each side has won something and lost something, and Left Unity members have voted and decided on candidates from each side following a very divisive campaign.

The fact that Chris apparently has a different strategy on the PCS pay claim from SV can and should be settled by PCS conference in May - by union activists. There is no basis for SV to continue as a faction on a changing tactical question.

Mark Serwotka, having said he would support any LU candidate except Chris, cannot now do so! However, Lynn Henderson - non-Left Unity, unelected PCS full-timer for 14 years, who had earlier claimed she had the support of Mark - is still standing for AGS. Lynn is PCS national officer for Scotland and Ireland, as well as being president of the Scottish TUC.

Then there is the PCS faction, Independent Left, which - after campaigning for more women to stand for the NEC and as full-timers - is standing ... a man: John Moloney (who will now be standing against a woman, of course). John promises to take only the average executive officer pay and not the £90,000 AGS salary.

So, despite Marion Lloyd’s appeal, in a left-led union we will have at least three socialist candidates vying for the AGS post (the nomination process is now open to branches). All candidates will need a minimum of 15 branch nominations - a position clearly aimed at deterring mavericks (or rightwingers).

In her statement of January 26, following the announcement of the LU AGS candidate, Lynn Henderson is playing the woman’s card for all it is worth. Lynn has previously mentioned supporting the ‘Move Over, Brother’ campaign. Why is this acceptable? I am sure Lynn would not support someone mounting a ‘Move Over, Black (or Gay, or Disabled) Brother’ campaign. Surely a better, more positive slogan would have been ‘Step Up, Sister’? Had another sister - Stella Dennis, for example - been chosen by LU members, would Lynn have withdrawn her candidature to avoid splitting the ‘sisters’ vote and allowing a man in, or would she have still stood as Mark’s ‘preferred candidate’ - and stood to benefit still further from Mark’s male patronage?

One middle-aged, white brother Lynn has never asked to ‘move over’ is Mark Serwotka himself. Why not? Becoming PCS’s first ever female general secretary would surely be a far better breakthrough for women than winning the AGS post.

Lynn also makes great play of being the only candidate to support the 2018 PCS national pay strategy of aggregated ballots of all (or the largest) departments across the civil service, rather than, as Chris Baugh is alleged to back, disaggregated departmental ballots rather than risk losing one national civil service-wide ballot, after which the membership of no individual department would be able to take industrial action, even if 50% of its members voted to do so.

Lynn conveniently makes no reference to the NEC’s consultation of members and branches, which has just ended (presumably the result will be announced at the February 2 NEC meeting). This actually asked if they preferred a single national ballot or separate departmental ones! This consultation - and events between now and May 2019 - may well see the PCS national pay strategy change, and it is for conference to decide policy, which means that Lynn should not be pushing the 2018 position in 2019.

Reserved seats

Continuing to play the women card, Lynn also declares her support for another consultation the NEC has been conducting, concerning a motion carried at the 2018 PCS annual delegate conference (ADC). This was the NEC’s proposal to consult branches over whether the 2019 ADC should endorse a rule change to reserve 50% of NEC seats for women.

In the 1980s there was some case, in some unions, for having reserved seats, because there were more union members, more activists; and 100% facility time acted as a force to potentially corrupt some lay officials into not encouraging new activists (whatever their diverse demographics), for fear that they might be opposed and defeated, forcing them to return to the shop floor. Secretive left groups in some corrupt unions used their bloc vote to choose an NEC of fellow-travellers. But now it is 2019, with ‘one member, one vote’ applying to all union NEC elections by law.

In PCS, with the attacks on facility time, the effect of job cuts and the various voluntary redundancy packages (which tempt many experienced activists to leave without planning who will succeed them), I suspect practically every branch will have executive vacancies and a shortage of officers. Many branches do not send delegates to ADC or even their group conference any longer (attendees have to use up their annual leave, as facility time has been removed by the Tories). In every branch, whether you are black, gay, disabled, young, female or whatever, you are likely to be able to walk onto your local branch executive committee or become a branch delegate to conference - the door is wide open.

The union already has reserved seats for two BAME members, even though election results from day one since the creation of PCS in 1999 showed they were not needed. Even the NEC of the forerunner of PCS, the Civil and Public Service Association, under the control of the right, always had two to three BAME members. Then in 2018 the NEC proposed a motion to the ADC to reserve seats for two LGBT members and one young member - despite, once again, no evidence ever being cited to show that either group had any difficulty getting elected.

Strangely the biggest case of underrepresentation is only now being dealt with - that of women, who comprise 60% of the PCS membership. Hypocritically, addressing this has been delayed for yet another year through a consultation. What is more, whilst the other groups will have reserved seats according to their proportionality, the 50% NEC proposal for women would still see them underrepresented.

However, as with BAME places on the NEC, we have had a female president right back to the days of the rightwing-controlled CPSA and ever since the creation of PCS in 1999. In 2018 we elected three women to the four deputy and vice-president positions (it could have been all four, had the ‘PCS Democracy Alliance’ pact not stopped a female Independent Left candidate from getting on). If female PCS members want more women on the NEC, they have the majority vote, so there should be no reserved seats.

The real reason for this delay in establishing reserved seats for women is that the PCS Democracy Alliance pact has had enough trouble finding the current 10 female NEC members, let alone standing 18. And what will happen if candidates cannot be found? Do we have unfilled NEC places, while perhaps experienced and capable men might be excluded? What if the 60% of female PCS members decide they prefer the male candidates standing? Tough, NEC political correctness will soon tell women they can’t have what they want.

In reality, right now the only candidates able to get on the NEC, whether BAME, LGBT, young member or women, are those on the PCS Democracy Alliance slate. Not on the slate? Then you must be the wrong kind of BAME, LGBT …

There has never been any evidential basis for having any reserved seats on the PCS NEC. Lynn knows this, but is playing the diversity game for an election ever fewer members (including fewer women) bother voting in. The 2018 NEC elections saw the worst ever membership turnout (7.5%) in this left-dominated union for at least 16 years.

Reserved seats carry the insulting implication that PCS members are prejudiced against BAME, LGBT, young members - or, in the case of women, that perhaps the largest group in PCS are prejudiced against themselves! It is an idea of the 1980s for those unions that needed them. PCS never has and still does not.

Returning to the AGS election, the fact remains that the opposition to Chris Baugh was started and is driven by Mark Serwotka’s stated, open desire that anyone but Baugh should be elected. I say again: it is unacceptable for a general secretary to so publicly interfere in the election of another senior officer and for so-called socialists to back him in this.

Socialist View should now disband and follow the lead of LU members - they want SV candidates on the Democracy Alliance slate and they want Chris Baugh for AGS. (We will soon see whether female PCS members want a female AGS rather than a male one, while they are still allowed that choice - before someone proposes reserved seats for senior officers next.) The supposed massive tactical differences over fighting the pay cap is now for the PCS ADC to decide in May. There is nothing now justifying continuing to split Left Unity by keeping Socialist View going, especially now that Marion Lloyd has urged unity.

I still back Chris Baugh, who has seen PCS through the crisis of the removal of check-off (union subscriptions were no longer automatically deducted from members’ pay), who helped bring the PCS left together to defeat the right wing, who organised land registry members to successfully defeat privatisation proposals, who made superb speeches to PCS conferences - before becoming an elected(important that) senior full-rime officer in 2004.