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.