For many years, until 1991, I was an official both locally and nationally of the civil service union, the CPSA. I packed it all in because the ultra left were taking control. My vision of working for and serving members was very different from that of the politically charged hard left. I got out before I was kicked out. Seven years later, CPSA merged with with the Public, Tax and Commerce Union to become PCS. Two years after that a charismatic revolutionary socialist from the valleys called Mark Serwotka became general secretary. 19 years on, Serwotka is still general secretary, presiding over a trade union in which the only political opposition to the hard left comes from the hard left. And as a union, it has never been weaker.
Today, a large envelope arrived for my partner, who still remains a member of PCS, with documents for the annual election of the union’s executive committee, as well as the election addresses. I have worked my way through the election addresses and they could have been written any time in the last 30 years. In fact, given that so many of the candidates who were active when I stood down in 1991 are still standing in the 2019 election, I am in no doubt that most election addresses will literally be unchanged from three decades ago.
In 1991, there was still the opportunity for members of CPSA to elect candidates with different political stances. The far left was strong, there was a soft left faction and a moderate group. Now, the choice is meaningless. Ordinary civil servants who are hardly noted for their political militancy have the choice of voting for people who make Jeremy Corbyn look like someone on the left of the Tory Party or those who are even further out on the extremes.
There is also an election for the role of Assistant General Secretary which is being contested by three members of the hard left. I would not vote for any of them had I still been a PCS member, particularly the one who would, if elected, accept less than the going rate for the job. The rate for the job, negotiated by a trade union, is £80k per annum, plus £10k in pension top ups. This is a very generous salary but the point is this: if you are willing to work for less than the going rate in any organisation, that makes you a scab in my eyes. Campaign for a pay cut if you want, but don’t be a scab, comrade.
Serwotka says that it is “vitally important that you vote in these elections”. You have to laugh. PCS members are not stupid and 92.5% of them declined to participate in last year’s farcical elections between competing Trots and Tankies. Democracy is surely about choice and a choice which is between the hard left and the even harder left is surely not a choice at all. He adds, “Voting will strengthen the union as we face the challenges of the next five years.” To take that statement to its logical conclusion, the fact that only 7.5% voted last year would appear to confirm that PCS is a union in desperate trouble.
As general secretary since 2000, Serwotka has presided over disastrous cuts to pay, worsening pay and conditions and slashed staffing levels. He and the comrades are asking for more time for more of the same. My advice to PCS members is simple: don’t bother to vote. It only encourages the comrades. And instead look around for a different trade union to join, one that exists in order to serve its members and not far left sects.