pcs: vote for moloney – but independent rank and file action is the key

by Chris Kane

National elections are underway in the civil service trade union PCS.  In a twist of history an independent left candidate of rank and filist politics is standing against Hugh Lanning, for Deputy General Secretary.   In 2000 the same Hugh Lanning was the candidate defeated by the then independent left candidate Mark Serwotka for General Secretary.   Then the Trotskyist Socialist Party backed Lanning against Serwotka, demanding a re-count when he won!   Today, the Socialist Party are again backing Lanning.

Hugh Lanning is painted as some kind of left candidate who stands up for workers – in reality he is a fake-left rightwing bureaucrat who should have been dumped when the old CPSA moderate group were defeated.  The current hierarchy of the PCS – for all the militant language has failed to match the bosses’ offensive in the civil service with an effective strategy.  Some of the leadership are simply politically bankrupt, careerist opportunists or both.  Aloof and out of touch they are more at home with on a committee or with management than amongst the members.  Much of the responsibility for what has gone wrong in PCS in the years since Serwotka’s victory has been the failure to build an effective rank and file movement and the bureaucratic antics of the Socialist Party, who have little resemblance even to their Socialist Party comrades outside of the Civil Service.   

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Happier times: six years ago John Moloney (right) and Mark Serwotka were on the same side, at the time of the latter’s election. Now Serwotka is supporting his old rival Lanning against his former ally!

Like most union leaders they no doubt started out as sincere socialists, even Marxists (poor Marx!), no doubt many still are.  But their practice and professed principles are at odds with each other.  The record is one of people who have been worn down by the harsh realities of class struggle and have become disillusioned.  They appear to have abandoned the radicalism of their youth for the middle age comforts of the union hierarchy.  This decline from proclaimed militant principles to bureaucratic paralysis has got steadily worse with every defeat and every sell out.  The disgraceful refusal to back the POA and RMT call for a strike for the Trade Union Freedom Bill at the TUC conference 2008 was symptomatic of this revolutionary rust.

The old traditional left leadership in the PCS has failed. It is a unprincipled lash up of Trotskyists and ex-Stalinist drop outs from the old Communist Party, some of whom are of management grades who, as opposed to rising through the ranks with the rest of the bosses, have rose to the top on the back of the workers through the union machinery.  THERE SHOULD BE NO ROOM IN A LEFT LEADERSHIP FOR THOSE WHOSE ONLY PRINCIPLE IS TO PROMOTE THEIR OWN SELF INTEREST.

Lanning was defeated by Serwotka for the General Secretary post in 2000 by Serwotka, who said, “Hugh Lanning has been in a position of leadership at a time when our jobs have come under unprecedented attack and our pay has declined compared to other sectors.”  Instead of transforming PCS with the memberships’ involvement, the traditional left who became the new leadership in the period after Serwotka’s victory integrated Lanning and his ilk back into the hierarchy.   Now the PCS View can bemoan as it did  in  February 2008:

“There’s not enough [pay], i’ts unfairly distributed, and, worse still, for many of us, the situation is getting worse.”

It is a damning record of the current leadership, of which Lanning is an integral part. The rest of 2008 did not see any improvement – on the contrary it saw a national leadership pulling out of the national pay campaign as fast as it could while below inflation pay settlements were still being imposed across the civil service.

The time for a change in PCS is long overdue. That’s why The Commune says vote for John Moloney against Hugh Lanning. Moloney has a record as a fighting trade unionist  for some 24 years. He:

  • has played a central role in delivering some of the best AA, AO and EO pay rates in the civil service, and in a bargaining unit that does not have much industrial muscle;
  • is heavily involved in the DfT PCS campaign for Departmental pay;
  • was a lead negotiator in the union team that won 30 days annual leave for all DETR staff irrespective of length of service – some 10/11 years later most PCS members are still waiting for the same entitlement;
  • was a key figure in the team that delivered the only Whitehall Staff Handbook that showed which clauses (most) were incorporated into individual contracts of employment – a practice that has spread from DETR to a number of Transport and DCLG bargaining units and which hinders management’s attempts to act arbitrarily;
  • played the key role in establishing the idea that annual reports had to be equality proofed and PRP challenged if based on statistically significant differences in the award of box marks to different categories of staff;
  • played a critical role in developing the key legal case that established the Crown as the employer of civil servants rather than departments and executive agencies;
  • is playing a critical role in the key PCS legal test case v DfT, which will determine whether a Department has to carry out a Departmental wide, cross bargaining unit, equality audit as part of its gender duty;
  • has ensured for some 5 years that all DfT (C) members have received an electronic bulletin every 7/8 days setting out what is happening in their part of the department.

John Moloney’s record is one of achievement, of creative and imaginative campaigning and negotiating.    Moloney is standing on a platform which includes:

The big majority of PCS members are on modest incomes. Yet – Mr. Lanning earns over £60,000 a year. Moloney pledges if elected he will not accept more than £25,000 a year (which will be a pay rise for him) and the rest of the DGS salary will be handed back to PCS to spend on campaigning for members jobs and living standards.

The so-called national pay agreement did not put one penny in the pocket of a single member in 2008 and the national leadership has not gained one material pay benefit in all their years of running the union.   Moloney is for national action, targeted action, selective action, imaginative political and legal campaigning.


  • for a coherent approach to PCS’s organisation of private sector members, for the movement of resources to an area facing incredible difficulties;
  • for greater legal, advisory and other assistance to lay reps dealing with a staggering level of personal cases;
  • for the annual election of full time officers;
  • for full time officers’ to be paid the average workers salary;
  • for a more vibrant political challenge to the government and business policies that threaten PCS members and the services they deliver.

Moloney as a socialist has opposed the war in Iraq and is against an attack on Iran, while he supports the ideas of workers’ self-management. Many of these are ideas which communists endorse as part of an overall perspective of the much needed re-composition of the labour movement as a whole.  A victory for Moloney would be a major step forward in PCS. But the lesson of the Serwotka victory should not be forgotten – the need to build a rank and file movement that can transform the union, not just the leaders.

4 thoughts on “pcs: vote for moloney – but independent rank and file action is the key

  1. Wouldnt it be better just to run unions without leaders?

    Leave ‘locals’ self-orgainsed with the top of the tree replaced by scrutiny by unpaid members on a rotational basis. Make the leadership from the rank and file and not from the paid union employees?


  2. I think so, yes – if I understand what you’re saying right. But that doesn’t necessarily mean abstaining from elections in every case.


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