Push for anticuts candidates

PCS executive candidate Dave Vincent explains the main issues in the union's elections

Members of the Public and Commercial Services union have received their ballot papers for the national executive elections which close on May 5. As Weekly Worker readers will know, PCS is not affiliated to the Labour Party and this makes a difference to left politics within it.

Once again there are four factions contesting for the NEC. Currently in control is the electoral pact (originally claimed to be temporary, but now in force for years) between Left Unity and the PCS Democrats under the mild, non-threatening (and deliberately not left-sounding) name of ‘Democracy Alliance’.

Left Unity, as the largest by far faction in the union, is controlled by the Socialist Party in England and Wales, but is also supported by the Socialist Workers Party, Communist Party of Britain, Scottish Socialist Party, Solidarity and independent socialists. It is harder to accurately define the PCS Democrats - they have a Liberal Democrat councillor and Labour Party members amongst their small grouping and they make no political comments.

Apart from the two factions of the Democracy Alliance there is the Independent Left, a small breakaway from Left Unity; and on the right we have ‘4themembers’ - previously the National Moderate Group, when Barry Reamsbottom was PCS general secretary.

It was originally argued that the electoral alliance between Left Unity and PCS Democrats was the only way the right could be defeated and the latter was indeed voted out. But now this argument is used annually, even though ‘4tm’ has only three out of 41 NEC members, since its candidates are usually runners-up - sometimes very close - behind the DA.

What, this year, are the factions’ main campaigning points, as contained in their election statements?

The DA states that, under its leadership, the union has stopped thousands of compulsory redundancies, halted planned privatisations (that should read ‘some’), cemented unity with others unions, including Unison and built a strong, influential, democratic PCS. Then it lists a number of issues we need to keep campaigning on - fair pay, defence of pensions and jobs against the government’s attacks. While DA candidates had their own individualised election statements, mostly they were parochial and economistic, save two (one from an SWP comrade), who mentioned wider issues, including the revolutions in the Arab world.

The Independent Left all submitted near identical election statements. Their main thrust was to object to constant NEC spin, which claims victories which at best are only partial. They also demand the election of all full-time officers (with pay to be brought more in line with that of most members), and insist we need much more industrial action (not just a day here, a day there), including selective strikes (the NEC seems to be against any mention of this tactic) and that PCS should go it alone if other unions will not come on board. IL also make the point that thousands of jobs are being lost by ‘natural wastage’ and voluntary redundancy, and the NEC is not doing anything about it.

Bar the odd individual comment here and there, all IL statements are concerned purely with civil service issues and none mentioned anything happening outside the UK. Last year the IL made great play on the fact it was standing more female candidates than DA, including for president. This year, however, its presidential candidate is John Moloney.

The rightwing 4tm set out its usual stall: PCS is controlled by left extremists wasting money on causes with no relevance for ordinary members (the favourite target being support for Cuba and Venezuela), they are too strike-happy, they are using PCS to further the aims of the hard left ... Of course, 4tm claims to support the use of industrial action - but only as a last resort. It paints a picture of successful negotiations with the government, if only PCS members were to elect a sensible and reasonable NEC.

Quite amazingly 4tm attacks the stated PCS intention of standing anti-cuts candidates in future elections. Why amazingly? Because none of the DA or IL candidates - not even president Janice Godrich - mention this anywhere in their own election statements.

Rob Bryson of 4tm is standing again after coming extremely close last year to defeating SP assistant general secretary Chris Baugh (although he did lose heavily to Mark Serwotka in the general secretary election). Although typically 4tm candidates get only 12 branch nominations (compared to around 20 for the IL and something like 135 for the DA), they are usually not too far behind in the vote. Which suggests that after 10 years of an SP-controlled NEC and a constantly proclaimed campaigning union the vast majority of our members have not been radicalised. A large section remains passive.

I am contesting again myself as an independent socialist and am the only one to mention support for standing anti-cuts candidates and to state that public sector unity is not attained because of the attitude of those unions affiliated to the Labour Party.

If you want a prediction, I think there will be the usual low turnout, DA will win most seats on the NEC, 4tm will end up with the usual handful, the IL will not get any and I may not come bottom!

Returning to the question of anti-cuts candidates, the NEC has run two consultation exercises to get the views of branches. As a 4tm candidate points out, only 150 out of 800 branches bothered stating a view and of those two thirds were in favour. We have not been told by the NEC the reasons given by the 50 or so that were against. They could be significant. Could it be that Labour supporters among branch officers do not want PCS contesting? Could it be fear that our candidates will end up all being SP members?

I was surprised Mark Serwotka said nothing about this at the March 26 TUC demonstration in London, nor during his appearance on BBC1’s Question time on March 31. Is he being leaned on by the leaders of the bigger unions - those affiliated to the Labour Party? Is the SP getting cold feet about the idea? Support for the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party or the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is not exactly growing in PCS.

This whole question brings me to James Turley’s polemic against my anti-Labour Party article, which I enjoyed (at last someone has responded and I will reply!). As well as apparently “misreading the situation” and indulging in “self-serving sectarianism” (Eddie Ford), I see I am now an ‘incoherent abstentionist’ (April 14). So that’s settled that argument then!

But seriously, no Weekly Worker writer has dealt with my support for unions like PCS standing their own anti-cuts candidates. This is not a proposal for a Labour Party mark two or a halfway house. Nor, of course, is it for a Marxist party or indeed any party. But only giving voters the choice between the coalition and the Labour Party does not test whether people voting Labour are doing so as a clear move to the left or just to get the coalition out (how soon it has been forgotten why Labour lost).

Again unanswered was my question of the politics of those leaving Labour and those joining now - this matters. One leaving and one joining is not an equal exchange if those leaving are socialists and trade union activists and those joining are from the 71% who think they are middle class! How can Labour be ‘pulled to the left’ if those joining have no intention of making that happen? Less sniffy dismissal and patronising put-downs and more analysis, comrades - and replies to my questions, please. I feel Weekly Worker writers are dismissing the questions raised by ordinary people coming together and deciding to stand their own anti-cuts candidates out of hand.

What ideas might such people have or arrive at? Isn’t the whole exercise better than just having to choose between machine politicians? Isn’t ordinary people exercising democratic control and accountability, taking power back to communities, looking for an alternative, better than the current stitch-up? Won’t the experience of such involvement open more people to an alternative, ground more people in debate and tactics, than telling them to vote Labour again?