Socialist View – where next for PCS Left Unity?

Saturday 1st December saw PCS Left Unity members from across the country gather in Manchester for LU’s annual national conference.


The Mechanics Institute provided an historic backdrop – 150 years after the first TUC Congress took place in the same venue – to what many will see as a defining moment for PCS Left Unity and within the union itself.


Debate on a number of key issues facing the union’s members was held, ranging from Domestic Violence to Universal Credit and Brexit to the Gender Recognition Act, but the two stand out, and most contentious, debates were without doubt on the National Pay Campaign and the Left Unity elections.


Left Unity elections – clear mandate given to the Socialist View platform


With the start delayed due to major travel disruption a number of “non-contentious” issues were debated, before the LU National Secretary’s report was delivered.


The LU election results, which had been confirmed the previous weekend in the scrutineers “Interim Report”, had seen success for all of the candidates supported by Socialist View. These included clear margins of victory for both Janice Godrich and Fran Heathcote for the posts of AGS and National President. The results also confirmed significant wins for SV candidates seeking the LU nomination in the National Vice Presidents category and for Left Unity National Chair.


In each case the Socialist Party’s candidates were clearly defeated, although in spirit of unifying LU in next year’s elections Socialist View had ensured sufficient spaces for incumbent SP comrades to remain on the slate.


Rather than accept the outcome of the elections, as had been publicly stated would be the case, the Socialist Party and other supporters of Chris Baugh spent much of the build up to the conference publicly challenging the validity of the results and the scrutineers report. This despite one of the scrutineers being a longstanding SP member.


To be clear their contention was in response to both scrutineers agreeing to disallow a number of votes as they had contravened the LU election regulations, laid down by the LU National Committee and the Chair, Marion Lloyd.


Incredibly it was Marion Lloyd herself who was the first to post an article, not within LU but on a factional website, challenging the decision to discount votes which had breached the rules she had jointly drafted.


Due to the unprecedented level of misinformation and co-ordination of complaints, the Secretary, Gordon Rowntree, placed a recommendation before conference that would allow some of the votes to be included. This in no way challenged the integrity or decisions of the scrutineers, but rather was aimed at removing these spurious objections and to show, even with these votes added, no material difference would have been made to the key results.


Unfortunately, supporters of the incumbent AGS were still dissatisfied and tried to force through an emergency motion on to the agenda paper, aided by the outgoing chair Marion Lloyd, to count votes, including those that could not be verified and, incredibly, some that hadn’t been received.


An often heated two and a half hour debate followed which resulted in two-thirds of conference agreeing to the Secretary’s proposal and the declared result showed overwhelming support for all SV candidates in a clear endorsement of the platform on which they stood.


Comrades should be in no doubt to acquiesce to this attempt to subvert democracy would have been fundamentally wrong. The SP continue to argue that it’s unfair to discount votes due to “minor clerical error” but this side show must be countered. The non-receipt of votes or votes received with no way of identifying the sender aren’t merely clerical errors. They are invalid and to include them would have gone against the most basic principles of union democracy.


Sad news


Unfortunately, on Sunday 2nd December, in the same message that declared the outcome of the elections to Left Unity members, it was announced that Janice Godrich had withdrawn her candidacy for AGS on health grounds.


This was greeted by sadness and concern in equal measure by Janice’s supporters in this election. Without doubt the positive campaign which Janice had ran and the dignity she had shown throughout the election period had resonated with Left Unity members. This was reflected not just in Janice’s own defeat of Chris Baugh for the AGS nomination, but in the overwhelming endorsement of all other SV candidates.


Obviously all of us who have supported Janice’s campaign wish her a speedy recovery from her current ill health and pass on our solidarity and best wishes to her.


Defeated candidates and strategy


The attention has understandably turned to what Left Unity will now do following Janice’s withdrawal.


The Socialist Party have unfortunately already demanded that Chris now be allowed to take the LU nomination for AGS.


While the LUNC will need to decide a way forward, Socialist View are clear that supporting a candidate whose methods and strategy have just been defeated, following a lengthy campaign and much debate, would create a significant problem for Left Unity and would be a huge error of judgement.


Chris has played his part in the history of both Left Unity and the union itself, and no one will wish to wipe that from the record, but he has become an increasingly divisive figure, and the policy and record on which he stood in this election has been overwhelmingly rejected by LU members.


It is equally true to say that many of those who supported Chris, adopting the same platform, have also been defeated in these elections. That cannot just be ignored or overlooked.


Socialist View are unequivocal in our commitment to continue our campaign based on policies debated and agreed by the NEC, PCS ADC and Left Unity conference.


National Pay Campaign – a clear strategy


The differences, between SV and Chris and his supporters, on policy, strategy and in the methods we use, are increasingly evident. No more so than in the case of the National Pay Campaign.


The debate that took place at last week’s LU Conference was as keenly contested as the debate on the elections. The reality though is that the conference overwhelmingly endorsed the strategy supported by the majority on the current PCS NEC and GS, Mark Serwotka. A strategy that involves uniting behind central demands on pay, opposing ongoing pay restraint at source, and building our organisational capability, while consulting widely, for a further statutory ballot in the Spring.


Chris and his supporters, who got behind a motion calling for a special pay conference and consultation based on disaggregated ballots, with each employer group adding it’s own demands to the central ones on pay, were again defeated by two-thirds. This strategy was not defeated merely on grounds of electoral allegiance, as some would have you believe, but by the majority of delegates understanding that the strategy proposed by Chris and his supporters is divisive and effectively an abandonment of the national pay campaign.


You would think this would be the end of this debate as LU has set clear policy in which to unite moving forward. Indeed in the recent SP article claiming we should all now unite behind Chris, it argues “His selection would allow Left Unity to move forward into the elections and ensure the union is able to best prepare for next year’s pay battle.”


This week’s events though have exposed the real division that still exists. Despite public proclamations of “unity moving forward” and us being “the best left-wing” in the movement, we have seen clear evidence that Chris and his supporters have no intention of following LU policy or working to win on pay based on the agreed strategy.


First, Chris’ supporters took to social media claiming they “really called them (SV) out on pay” and “fundamentally…our political and industrial intervention over the next period will not only expose their (SV) lack of any strategy to win but more importantly win more to the programme we have collectively developed through the chris4ags ags campaign”.


A more blatant declaration of co-ordinated opposition to existing LU policy was hard to imagine…until this week’s NEC meeting.


A meeting which again overwhelming endorsed the policy of a campaign based on national, common demands on pay, and building towards a statutory ballot, was subjected to calls from both the AGS and one supporter, to work towards a disaggregated ballot with each group defining its own demands based on what is “popular” with the membership.


While there is no problem with debating different tactics Chris Baugh’s refusal to accept the agreed policy and strategy of the union and Left Unity, goes way beyond the boundaries of legitimate debate and discussion. It is now a source of deep and irreconcilable division.


By Chris, and his supporters, continuing to promote a strategy that would effectively split groups and bargaining units in to separate trade disputes with their employer, it shows their determination to push ahead with a failed, industrially conservative policy which has already been rejected within LU, at ADC and by the NEC.


Incredibly, this week their strategy was argued for despite them having already heard clear legal advice from an eminent QC, put before the NEC, that confirmed to create a national dispute we must have common demands across each and every employer group.


The strategy of separate core demands cannot be the basis of a unified campaign, but equally a disaggregated ballot with core demands on pay also has its weaknesses and risks division, with smaller employer groups particularly at risk of being sidelined and at the mercy of a hostile employer.


While there is no question that members are angry over many issues other than pay, we must not use that anger to undermine or abandon the national pay campaign. Instead we should be using our members justifiable concerns over issues such as staffing, office closures and attacks on T&C’s to bolster the pay campaign and win any new statutory ballot. If we achieve that as a national union our other group demands are far more achievable, although we would must also continue to campaign for our demands on these and other issues at group and branch level.


Supporters of Socialist View have consistently argued by adding demands, specific to any group of members, we would divide our union, and effectively abandon our national pay campaign.


This view has now been endorsed by LU national conference, while simultaneously rejecting the industrially conservative strategy espoused by our detractors, which ultimately shows a lack of confidence in the union and our members’ ability to win.


PCS have a unique opportunity to campaign for our core demands on pay and push for a return to national pay bargaining, but that opportunity can only be taken if we put pressure on central government and the Treasury, and not by speaking across the table to individual employers on members pay.


We must unite the left


We are entering a crucial period for our union and our members.


In a time of unparalleled uncertainty, one thing is crystal clear…our union needs a campaign that can win for our members, and Left Unity must be driving that campaign.


The strategy we have championed, the one endorsed by union conference, the NEC and now LU conference, can deliver that winning campaign, but only if we are united behind it.


Equally, Left Unity can only continue to be a leading organisation on the left of our movement if we reject unnecessary division.


We urge the new LUNC to write and ask Chris Baugh to step aside, in the interests of unifying and strengthening the left, not endorse his nomination as AGS candidate.


We can then all move on and achieve the victory our members need and deserve.