Conference confirms – no elections in 2015

On Tuesday 19 May, delegates at PCS Conference debated and voted on two motions concerning the suspension of national union elections. The National Executive Committee motion ratifying that decision was carried.

Any analysis of that debate and vote which doesn’t immediately claim complete vindication of the NEC will be accused of making excuses for the losing side. Our previous post looking at the hurdles to winning the debate has already been accused of getting those excuses in early. But such is factionalism.

The fact is that the NEC is drawn from a coalition of two political factions, the significantly larger one being Left Unity, and that LU is organised precisely for two things – getting its candidates elected and getting its positions passed at Conference. Clearly, it is long practiced and quite effective at the manoeuvres necessary for that task.

On top of that the NEC itself has an ability to communicate with all union members that no minority grouping can hope to emulate. We include LU in that category, by the way – despite being supported by a wide section of the activist layer, it is a minority in the membership at large. Albeit the largest such minority.

NEC speakers at AGMs and/or Mandate Meetings of course put forward justification for the NEC decision. How could they not? This would have reached more members than even LU’s organising efforts, given how widely guest speakers are used.

Again, this is not to excuse the loss at Conference but to recognise how it came about. Union democracy is rooted in robust debate at all levels of the union from the workplace right up to Conference, and where only one side of the debate is voiced, that is clearly the side which will win.

This is the shortcoming that the opposition campaign couldn’t overcome.

The campaign meeting earlier in the year was well attended and positive. Those in opposition succeeded in passing motions condemning the NEC’s decision in more branches than where motions in support of the NEC were passed. A good third of delegates came with mandates to support the reinstatement of elections.

But there were more PCS branches where the organised opposition lacked members than where we had them. This is something we were unable to address, lacking the NEC’s ability to simply send a briefing to every single union branch setting out our position, and something which any future campaign would have to look at addressing.

Finally, the six month gap between the decision and Conference will undoubtedly have cooled anger in many quarters. Especially in recognition of the fact that regardless of our position on elections we were all working hard to secure the union’s future and continue representing members (even if certain NEC loyalists wearing tinfoil hats insisted we were all state agents obsessed with wrecking the union for the Tories). Sometimes decisions do have to be taken quickly – but what route do we have to redress them equally quickly if they’re bad ones? Time has a way of turning anger into apathy.

At any rate, as promised, Conference has decided. The elections of 2015 are gone and we will see elections resume next year. The NEC (any NEC) has a precedent to suspend business as usual if it can argue to its own number that the union faces an emergency or crisis.

Regardless of what you think of this decision and this NEC, that’s something all members need to watch out for in the future.

Good luck to everyone as we all return to the shop floor and the battles ahead.


“Conference will decide”

The common diversion from any debate about the suspension of elections is that “Conference will decide” and so there’s no point getting tangled up in the matter until then. But with the Standing Orders Committee report now online that big debate is finally in sight.

But what immediately strikes you, reading the motions in the opening general debate of Conference, is that the debate has been reduced to a purely theoretical question. Motion A1 asks that we endorse the NEC decision, while motion A2 asks that we censure it. But both accept that the suspension has happened and elections won’t be back until 2016, while laying out near identical actions to take the union forward. The reinstatement of this year’s elections isn’t even on the table.

Sure, motions A4 to A6 all call for the reinstatement of elections this year, but they’re not part of the general debate and won’t be heard if motion A1 passes. This leaves supporters of reinstatement with an uphill struggle – because even if we succeed to censure the NEC by getting A2 passed over A1, we then have to have a whole extra fight to get elections reinstated in the current year, leaving the door open for the NEC to take a censure (which means nothing in tangible terms) but still get exactly what they want.

The bizarre ordering of the Finance section (including the existence of motion A3 which will only be heard at all in the highly unlikely event that both A1 and A2 fall) not only gives the NEC a greater chance of getting its way even if a slap on the wrist results, but allows the subject of elections – in potentially being debated not once but up to five times due to the fellings and order of debate – to filibuster all other questions of finance.

It is also worth noting that while a branch is left to move its motion only once at the time in the agenda when it is up for discussion, the NEC faces no such restraints. Mark Serwotka and Janice Godrich each have guest speaker slots in the Group Conferences. When National Conference opens Godrich will make the President’s Address, Serwotka will present the Annual Report and Chris Baugh will present the Finance Report.

These are necessary formalities, of course, but we should be under no illusions that they won’t also be additional moving speeches for motion A1.

If the Unite debate last year is any indication, the NEC will also give itself a second speaker to make a right of reply to motion A2. In a general debate between motions that all come from branches, this simply doesn’t happen. Branches mandated by members will not get away with putting two speakers up in the same debate, and rightly so given time constraints, but in our member-led union the NEC is a law unto itself and its right to stack the debate in a bid to ensure that it is only instructed to do what it already wants to do anything goes.

This doesn’t make winning the debate impossible, as the defeat of the NEC motion on Unite last year shows. It just means that we can’t take anything for granted. More branches put motions to Conference condemning the suspension of elections than supporting it. The task now is to make sure that is reflected in the general debate and in the vote.

The NEC stands for its own self-preservation, while we stand for democratic decision making as a principle rather than a convenience to be cast aside in a crisis. Which side wins will say an awful lot about where our union goes in the future.

Campaign meeting report

Reposted from the other PCS Democracy blog:

This Saturday the campaign held its first meeting at the Mechanics Institute in Manchester.

Over 40 activists were in attendance from over 20 branches.

The meeting was chaired by Annette Wright from Manchester and Salford branch and introduced by John Moloney from DfT London and South East. John spoke for 10 minutes giving a background to the reasons for the campaign, an audio recording of which you can find below (apologies for the quality).

After much discussion and debate the meeting voted to endorse the following positions:

  • To endorse the statement on this blog and continue to encourage branches to debate and pass it.
  • To endorse the statement initiated by those NEC members who voted against the decision.
  • To use our union’s structures to overturn this decision and to refuse – on a matter of principle – to use the certification officer or the law and encourage others to behave in the same way.
  • To write a crib sheet of FAQ’s about the NEC decision. Including alternatives to the suspension of elections.
  • To establish a web discussion forum so branches and activists can keep in touch and share information in the period between now and the end of AGM season.
  • To publisise this model motion for branches to submit to this year’s Annual conference through AGM’s
  • That a group of 5 activists from the North West would act as a temporary secretariat for the campaign.

We continue to encourage branches to support the statement to get involved.

PCS leadership condemns transparency on election decision

This blog has today gotten a mention from the National Executive Committee, who seem unhappy with our publishing of the NEC paper which informed their decision to suspend elections.

In an update which offers very little new information but reiterates the points made before Christmas, they state:

Following the notification to branches of the NEC decisions, a private and confidential report which had been provided to the NEC was obtained by an anonymous PCS rep or reps and published on the internet alongside criticism of the decisions. The report contained highly sensitive information about the sign up to DD campaign.

It is any rep’s absolute right within our union to criticise NEC decisions publicly and to seek to challenge them through our democratic processes. The recent decisions of the NEC will be held to account at ADC in May. However, it is an act of gross irresponsibility to publish information that will aid the government in its attack on the union. To present the Cabinet Office with internal data on our sign up campaign is severely damaging. It is an unjustifiable act and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

We are big enough to take the reprimand on the chin without shedding any tears.

Though given that the sign up rates for Direct Debit are shared with branches on a regular basis, not confidentially but to inform and motivate the drive to sign people up, members might be forgiven for thinking that the NEC are more concerned about keeping their dealings hidden from those on whose behalf they’re supposed to be acting.

At any rate all members concerned about the suspension of elections are encouraged to move support for this statement in their branch and attend the campaign meeting in the Manchester Mechanics Institute at 1pm on Saturday 17 January.

Read the NEC briefing document here and how their decision breaches the union’s rules here.

PCS branches call for campaign meeting

This site has been launched in reaction to the decision of the PCS NEC to suspend NEC and Group elections for up to 12 months. As the statement makes clear below ‘The sole purpose of this campaign is for NEC and GEC elections to be held to be held at the usual time or if that does not happen then they must be held as soon as possible and for the union’s constitution, as presently drafted, regarding elections to be followed’. This campaign is not factional.

The two undersigned branches call on other branches to support the following statement and send delegate(s) to a campaign meeting in Manchester on the 17th of January:


The decision by the emergency NEC in late December 2014 to suspend NEC and group elections was wrong.

  • We will work together in a campaign to seek to get that decision overturned and for NEC and group elections to be held at the usual time. If that does not happen then they must be held as soon as possible.
  • We will agree motions or a motion for the ADC that will achieve elections as soon as possible after the conference.
  • We will seek to get as many branches as possible to agree this statement.
  • We will use social media (be it a blog, Facebook page etc.) to gather support for our campaign in the union and in the wider labour movement
  • We accept and respect that each branch will have differing views on who to support in elections. The sole purpose of this campaign is for NEC and GEC elections to be held to be held at the usual time or if that does not happen then they must be held as soon as possible.


R&C Bootle St Johns House Branch 
DWP East London Branch 

Please add your branches or your individual support by filling-out the ‘Support the campaign’ box below. Please note by doing so your name or that of your branch will then appear on this site.

There will be a campaign meeting on Saturday the 17th of January in Manchester. This will run from 13:00 – 17:00 at the Mechanics Institute on Princess Street. Map here.


This post will serve as a round up of all of the coverage and debate over the PCS suspension of elections. It will be updated (semi-)regularly and comments are welcome if I’ve missed any pieces off. Hat-tip to Employment Writes for pointing us in the direction of some pieces we might otherwise have missed. Latest update 02/03/15.

Whilst this blog exists to promote the reinstatement of elections, it doesn’t take any particular ideological or factional line and so links posted do not necessarily mean an endorsement of the politics therein.

If we’ve missed any links out, please mention them in the comments.

The union announced its decision under the headline Government steps up political attack on PCS. It has then reiterated the importance of the decision in an update titled Fighting the union-busters, had the General Secretary justify the decision in a video, and provided a further update due to changes in some financial matters.

Only the Socialist Party (whose members include the union’s president, vice president and assistant general secretary) and the PCS Left Unity Faction (which is the dominant partner in the coalition which holds every seat on the NEC) have written in support of the decision. For the Socialist Party, PCS VP John McInally has also berated opponents of the decision as opportunist sectarians, while for Left Unity Kevin McHugh has detailed the background to the decision.

The PCS Independent Left have been particularly prolific (reverse chronological order) in opposition:

PCS Your Voice have released a statement on why they oppose the suspension.

The Way I See Things blog links the move to the possible merger with Unite.

The Socialist Worker’s Party points out that its members on the NEC opposed the move, reproducing their statement, and reports briefly on attempts to overturn the decision.

Howard Fuller’s blog has three pieces on the matter (reverse chronological order):

The PFLCPSA website covers the issue in its Christmas edition.

PCS Bootle Taxes Branch reports on their executive’s opposition to the decision (ratified by members at their AGM) and also offers a very informative report of a briefing by Mark Serwotka regarding the union’s financial situation and the elections. They have also published Serwotka’s reply to correspondence from the branch.

PCS DWP Leicestershire Branch argues that whether the decision was right or wrong, the real fight is with the Tories.

PCS DCLG National Branch has written to the national president.

A motion to reinstate elections unfortunately fell at the PCS R&C Glasgow & Clyde AGM.

Employment Writes gives us three pieces:

Socialist Resistance gives us their two cents on the matter.

Jon Rogers, a Unison NEC member characterises PCS’ decision as “An Early Xmas present for the Tories” and comments that “The General Secretary himself is not above the Rule Book.”

A Tumblr called Its Spirit Cries In The Wilderness covers the issue from an anarcho-syndicalist perspective.

Worker’s Power argue that the PCS ‘left’ ditches democracy.

Jon Bigger, a former PCS rep in the Home Office, references his own MA involving research into PCS when discussing the union’s democracy.

The Communist Party of Great Britain writes that Building the Union is no lottery. takes a wider view in Government Union Busting and PCS response.

Labour Uncut links the matter to the Unite merger.

The Alliance For Workers’ Liberty has responded to the original Socialist Party piece on this and to John McInally’s attack on them.

Union news outlet USI reports on the matter without editorial comment, as does Herald Scotland.


This site has been set up in response to the decision of the PCS National Executive Committee to suspend elections in 2015.

The decision was justified on the grounds of cost saving and attacks on the union by the Tory-led government. But many union members believe that these arguments don’t hold water. The government is attacking us, but by surrendering any aspect of our democracy the leadership are on a slippery slope. The right to choose who runs the union every year is a red line which mustn’t be crossed.

The fight is now on to resist this attack on democrac and reverse the NEC decision. There will be more updates in due course so stay tuned!