On the eve of STUC congress, it is worth remembering what the Tories in government have done to undermine trade unionism amongst their own employees. Below is my article that appears in the Congress programme.
In its dying days, the UK coalition desperately spews out anti-union bile against the trade union representing the government’s own workers. Ian Lavery MP, former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, describes the Tories’ attack on the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) as the most serious since the 1980s. Personally coordinated by Cabinet Office secretary Francis Maude, the Tories aim to bankrupt our union through withdrawal of check-off subscriptions deducted at source from members’ wages. This is all part of the unremitting determination to take back gains won by the working class through generations of struggle, including the National Health Service and the welfare state. They want to remove trade union and human rights and to institutionalise inequality.
Maude and the Tories are attacking PCS for concrete reasons. Our union has dared to stand up against the erosion of our members pay, pensions and jobs. And for advocating an alternative to ruinous austerity economics, rich-club tax favours and disgraceful welfare misery for which history will mark this government.
Attacks on jobs, conditions and services all stem from the same ideological source and class interest, and will only be defeated by the joint, coordinated industrial might of our movement acting together.
Only the trade union movement challenges the political consensus that there is no alternative – only austerity-lite or austerity-max.
PCS may be the target today but this attack is part of a wider anti-democratic strategy to eliminate effective, campaigning trade unionism. The Tories want free rein to plunder and destroy the public sector.
The UK government refuses to negotiate at national level while implementing a clear national cuts strategy. They won’t negotiate national agreements but try to diminish or rip up those that already exist by driving through disadvantageous conditions wherever they can and remove bargaining rights on a piecemeal basis. Trade union facility time has been slashed in an attempt to weaken the union’s ability to defend and represent members.
Although PCS is an efficiently organised and administered union, it will take a tremendous effort to sign over all current members to direct debit. We learn from other unions who faced withdrawal of check-off that it can take upwards of three years to recover subs-paying membership levels. It is clear that the Tories’ intention is to seek to exploit potential lower union density levels in the short term as a pretext to denying union recognition altogether. Alongside their threats to further tighten anti-union laws, this attack is part of a plan to effectively outlaw industrial action.
We expect better, however, from a Scottish Government prepared to commission the Working Together Report with the STUC and to set up a Fair Work Convention. That the Scottish Government hasn’t cut facility time for PCS reps nor removed check off is positive. However we remain vigilant against an austerity pay policy and any attempt by either Ministers or employers in this sector to undercut long held trade union agreements, partnerships or principles.