PCS conference report: With friends like these

PCS conference report: With friends like these

Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) Conference 2016 in Brighton was exciting. Delegates seemed to have more of a spring in their step this year, for various reasons. But I think a lot of the spring was due to the fact that Jeremy Corbyn, a real socialist, had been elected leader of the Labour Party some six months prior. Added to that was the fact that John McDonnell , a well respected MP and friend of the PCS, had been appointed as the Shadow Chancellor.

There were a few controversial motions submitted to conference this year. One of them was a motion calling for the union to affiliate to the Labour Party. The PCS union is dominated by the Socialist Party, Socialist Workers’ Party, and their Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. There was no real prospect of carrying this motion. One reason was the cost of affiliation was something to the tune of £600,000. Other reasons put forward in opposition were various arguments stating that the Labour Party is right wing (even with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell at the helm).

So maybe the cheaper option of my branch’s motion calling for PCS to affiliate to Momentum (1) would be more attractive. The cost of this affiliation would only be £600. We’ll see.

Several Momentum members and supporters in PCS organised a Momentum fringe meeting at Friends Meeting House in Brighton. Around 100 delegates attended. The speakers were our General Secretary Mark Serwotka, who had recently joined the Labour Party, and FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack.  The FBU had recently re-affiliated to the Labour Party. If any two speakers can pack a room, it’s these two.

The meeting was chaired by yours truly. This was our opportunity to state the case for affiliation. Mark and Matt did that very decisively. Problem is though, the NEC were not supporting the motion to affiliate to Momentum and, due largely to the opposition of the SP and SWP on the NEC, were opposing it. Some opponents even spouted the nonsense that John McDonnell disapproved of Momentum as it was damaging him. Hold on to that rubbish for a bit, I’ll get back to it later.

When the floor of the meeting opened for questions and comments it seemed to be split 50:50. I was more interested in the opposition arguments, as I was moving the affiliation motion the next day.

The Socialist Party and SWP arguments against the motion were not what I would call progressive politics and, in my opinion, lacked any type of political vision. They ranged from, “You are all just loyalists” (on repeat), to mutterings of “I am not allowed to join Momentum as I am a member of a different political party”. One complaint came from someone in a different party saying he’d been ejected from a Momentum meeting and was not allowed to attend further meetings. If I’m honest, which I am, sometimes too honest, I’d have asked him to leave as well. Surely, if you want to participate in Momentum you can’t do that if you’re supporting candidates against Labour.

Matt Wrack’s closing statement referred to this being in a battle for democracy and that you have to be in that battle to achieve victory. Mark’s closing statements referred to comrades standing back and waiting for Jeremy and John to fail and questioned what then would be their strategy. It’s worth noting that in all the opposition arguments not one contained a strategy for a socialist party to achieve winning a General Election and entering Government. Maybe we’d hear the real opposition arguments at Conference.

I have to say the funniest thing I heard at conference was that Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership of the Labour Party because of the campaign led by TUSC. Well done, TUSC. Anyway, back to reality.

Jeremy Corbyn attended PCS Conference. This was significant because he is the first Leader of the Labour Party to ever attend. He received a standing ovation. Later, John McDonnell also attended. This was less significant as he attends every year but as the PCS President rightly pointed out, he is the first Shadow Chancellor to ever attend. In his speech he stated that they had established Momentum. (remember the nonsense I spoke about earlier). John also received a standing ovation.

Moving Motion A45

My speech concluded: “Conference we now have a Socialist Political platform that some of us have been waiting decades for; some of us for a lifetime. It is time to put aside the regressive noise; that’s just a distraction; the excuses of why we can’t win. How do we know if we don’t try? We cannot stay stuck in the past and be consumed by the battles of yesteryear. Momentum gets criticism from the left for not calling for a mass de-selection of right wing MP’s. To do that now would destablise the party. The first rule of politics is ‘Firm Up Your Base’. And we’ll firm it up quicker if the PCS joins in.

“The PCS should no longer stay on the sidelines. And as Mark has said, we decide now on whether we stand on the right side of history. Or you can decide whether we stay on the periphery and watch a revolution pass us by. The possibilities for Momentum are endless. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have never left us. They need our help.  Help us by supporting this motion.

And now for the real opposition arguments…
‘Labour lost in Scotland and what about the SNP?’
‘I’m a member of TUSC that has stood against the Labour Party and I have been expelled from Momentum.’
More about the SNP
‘This is a lay member led Union, we are independent.’
Please note: they all pledged their support for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
There was a card vote and the result was 34,260 in favour with 90,677 against, so the motion was lost.
Significantly, over a quarter of branches supported the motion. In my opinion, the motion could possibly have passed if the NEC had not opposed it and spoken against it. Still, this is a fantastic opportunity for the newly-formed PCS Momentum Group.

But the hard truth is that Mark Serwotka was right. The opponents of the motion are standing back and waiting for us to fail. When Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership it changed everything. Unfortunately, some parties on the Left seem shell-shocked by developments.

We are changing the political landscape. Some on the Left are fighting to exist and be relevant. We, in the Labour Party, are fighting to win so our objectives are different. And I do believe we’re going to win.

 


  1. Motion A45: “Conference welcomes the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. We further welcome his appointment of John McDonnell as shadow chancellor. Jeremy and John have been key supporters of PCS in Parliament and we wish them well.
    Conference notes that the campaign that elected Jeremy Corbyn as leader has become what is now known as Momentum. This organisation set up in October 2015 now has over 100 local groups, an elected national committee and links with key trade unions.
    Conference notes the aims of Momentum are to strengthen support for Jeremy Corbyn and his anti austerity agenda, by increasing participation and engagement at a local, regional and national level.
    The key policies it is campaigning for include:
    . Redistribute wealth and power from the few to the many
    . Put people and planet before profit and narrow corporate interests
    . Support workers and their Trade Unions defending the interests of their members, families and communities
    . Target growth not austerity, invest to create jobs and reverse privatisation of railways, the energy sector and public services
    . End discrimination based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or age.
    . Conference notes that this is an historic opportunity for the trade union movement and that we now have a leadership of the Labour Party committed to working with us, not against us. We believe that by working with Momentum we can raise key issues facing PCS members with an organisation that will be very influential within the Labour Party. Therefore conference agrees to affiliate to Momentum at the cost of £600 which is the affiliation rate for Trade Unions of over 100,000 members.”

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