where next for the unions?

by Steve Ryan

Recent events covered by The Commune such as the wild cat strikes and Visteon would indicate a surge in militancy amongst workers. However, look a bit deeper and there are real problems emerging in the trade union movement.

Both the wild cats and Visteon took the unions by surprise, but more telling was the lack of concrete support given by the union leaders and general union movement.

Also, as we sink into the deepest recession since the 30s the reaction of the TUC was to produce a booklet on how to spread your debts and write CVs! Continue reading “where next for the unions?”

update on 30th march forum

We are pleased to announce an addition to the line-up of speakers for The Commune’s 30th March London forum on “what unions do we have, and what unions do we need?”.

Fabien Liberski is the Convenor and Health & Safety Officer in Southwark Council, and was victimised by his employer with the collusion of UNISON bureaucrats.

He will be speaking alongside Alberto Einstein Durango, a cleaner activist involved in disputes at Schroders and Willis in the City of London, in the face of resistance by the Unite union; and John Moloney, a PCS activist in the Department for Work and Pensions.

The meeting is from 7pm on Monday 30th March at the Lucas Arms, near King’s Cross. Email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com for more info, and see here for a map.

30th march london forum: what unions do we have, and what do we need?

The next of The Commune’s ‘uncaptive minds‘ forums on “capitalism and the working class today” is on the subject of “what unions do we have, and what do we need?

The meeting, taking place at the Lucas Arms near London’s King’s Cross from 7pm on Monday 30th, will be looking at the decomposition of the official labour movement in recent decades; the signs of revival of class struggle and the new forms of activism taking place among the casual workforce;  and the dynamics of rank and file and bureaucracy, and how we can empower self-organisation.

The speakers leading off the discussion will be John Moloney, a PCS activist in the Department for Work and Pensions; Fabien Liberski, Convenor and Health & Safety Officer in Southwark Council, who was victimised by his employer with the collusion of UNISON bureaucrats; and Alberto Einstein Durango, a cleaner activist who played an important role in the victory of cleaners at Schroders in the City of London and is now helping with the Mitie/Willis campaign in the face of resistance by the Unite union.

All are welcome to come and take part in the debate. Email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com to register your interest or to find out more information. A map appears below.

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.    Continue reading “pcs: vote for moloney – but independent rank and file action is the key”

report: conference on working-class political representation

by Chris Kane

About 120 people attended Saturday’s conference, which was called by the RMT rail union.  It was much smaller than a similar event held a few years ago and unfortunately clashed with the anti-war march and the Socialist Workers Party conference.  The event itself was not built widely with a clear agenda or purpose.  The contrast between the vibrant militant youth of the anti-war mobilisations and this conference could not have been greater: it was veterans of the left, mostly over forty, male and white.   But there was an open and extensive debate and plenty of time was allowed for contributions from the floor.

RMT leader Bob Crow opened the event by responding to criticism by a 90 year old communist who said that “this is just a talking shop”. Crow defended it on the basis that “there is a need to talk to break down the barriers of the past”.  He said that if New Labour were to found itself as a political party today there would hardly be a “trade union which would affiliate”.  It was in his view a thoroughly capitalist party and could not be reclaimed: he praised John McDonnell MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP, and pointed out that when they are gone, there will be no similar people to replace them. Continue reading “report: conference on working-class political representation”

civil service pay dispute – defeat or victory?

by Steve Ryan, Wrexham PCS

Public and Commercial Services union members were surprised at the sudden calling off of the planned strike on 10th November. The strike was pulled at the very last minute on the Friday before the 10th, leaving activists frantically trying to contact members. The National Executive Committee claimed the cancellation was due to a “major breakthrough” in the dispute.

Surprise turned to bafflement and in many areas anger when the “breakthrough” turned out to be a letter from O’Donnell – head of the civil service – rather than the hard cash members were expecting!

The NEC claim the letter is significant in that it confirms there is no 2% cap in pay negotiations and allows for efficiency savings to be “recycled” into pay. No other union has been given this concession. NEC were also adamant that the campaign continues , that there will be further talks and that action will not be ruled out if the letter proves to be a con.

The early signs are not good. A close examination of the letter shows that the 2% will only NOT apply in very special circumstances. No claim settled or imposed for 2008 is to be reopened. It also appear to bind the PCS to tacit acceptance of the efficiencies. It is unclear where the efficiencies to be released for pay will come from. NEC claim that reducing use of consultants would go some way towards this but as pay negotiations are still delegated many departments will be offering savings made from job losses and office closures-totally unacceptable for any union let alone a “left” union like PCS.

The first big test was in HMRC, where there is an unsettled dispute. Straight away the letter failed as pay offer for 2008 was quietly imposed, without any protest from the Group executive. Again there are promises of open talks for 2009/10 . Members however cannot pay the bills on promises!

Indeed the HMRC experience indicates that the campaign may be a defeat. Members expected action or a significant pay increase – in the event they have neither. This has led to further anger with the union.

The key will be whether  the dispute is allowed to wither away. Activists must now pressure the NEC to ensure that

> There are no further below inflation settlements -flat rate rises for those who lose by % rises

> That all departments open the books to members to identify the savings

> No savings from job losses to be used for pay -instead mount a national campaign against job losses and actualisation

> End performance related pay

> Progressions to rate for the job to be paid separately as elsewhere in the public sector

These demands would need to be backed up by coordinated and innovative industrial action beyond the one day strikes – members’ confidence will also need to be rebuilt.

Politically there also needs to be an open and frank debate about where the allegedly most left wing union in the TUC is heading. The preparatory ground for a Rank and File is already there.

changes to line-up for monday’s forum

PCS activist Christine Hulme has been added to the platform for Monday‘s ‘uncaptive minds’ forum on the 1970s class struggle. She will be leading off the discussion alongside John McDonnell MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP and RMT activist Steve Hedley.

Unfortunately, Joe Marino will now be unable to attend, for health reasons.

The meeting begins at 6:30pm on Monday 8th December. The venue is in central London – email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com or phone 07595 245494 to find out more details.

pcs leadership calls off action over pay

by Steve Ryan, Wrexham PCS

As predicted in the commune the “Left” PCS union has now called off its planned industrial action over pay.

Whilst details are sketchy it seems that the NEC is claiming victory even though they appear not to have achieved any of their aims, most significantly an above-inflation pay rise for all and the de-coupling of progression costs from pay.

Any gains seem to have come from “recyclables”, which, ironically, predominantly stem from job cuts and office closures!

This is a real setback. PCS had a major opportunity to take on the government over the economy and force real concessions at this time of crisis. And it comes hard and fast after the failure of the “Left” NUT to call action. Members were again led to the top of the hill and then left there. This could, and will, be seen as a defeat if not capitulation by what is purportedly one of the most left wing unions. It will send signals to reactionary and conservative forces – but mostly to workers that gains cannot be won.

The answer in PCS is to begin the ardous task of building a rank and file to challenge the leadership and hold them to account – or by-pass them! This in turn should reach out across all unions to build a strong bottom-up organisation that is not just an electoral machine but is genuinely based on fighting for the interests of workers everywhere. There should be total opposition to all job losses, closures and pay freezes, make the bosses pay. Where possible threatened factories, offices etc. should be occupied under workers’ self-management.

issue 1 of the commune published

We are pleased to announce the publication of the first issue of our newspaper The Commune. You can order a printed copy (£1 per copy + postage and packing) by emailing uncaptiveminds@gmail.com or writing to The Commune, 2nd Floor, 145-157 St John Street, London EC1V 4PY.

click here for pdf, or see individual articles below

nationalisation is no answer for our class! – Editorial part one

the dual crisis of labour and capital – Editorial part two

civil service dispute on ice? – by Steve Ryan, Wrexham PCS

report of pro-choice demo 20th october

are we really fighting in unison? – by James Caspell, Lambeth UNISON

the crisis of capitalism – interview with Andrew Kliman, author of Reclaiming Marx’s Capital

henry paulson’s bureaucratic collectivist fantasy – by Ernie Haberkern

william morris: against ‘state socialism’ – by Terry Liddle

for institutions of workplace democracy – by Gregor Gall, Professor of Industrial Relations, University of Hertfordshire

the class struggle in iran – by David Broder

platform of the international communists