PCS was created in 1998 from the merger of the Civil and Public Services Association (CPSA) and the Public Services, Tax and Commerce Union (PTC). PCS was quick to make its mark.
We recruited more than 40,000 members in the first five years. We gained a growing reputation as a campaigning, organising union, unafraid to fight our members’ corner, whatever the size of the challenge.
The late 1990s was a time of upheaval for many of us.
The Private Finance Initiative was everywhere. It was a harbinger of sell offs and sell outs and, for some, the beginning of the end of life in the public sector.
A campaign to protect the Child Support Agency’s local office network was gathering momentum; coastguards in Tyne Tees were making a stand to save their local base and, in the Met police, members were petitioning Home Secretary Jack Straw over plans to outsource support jobs.
But as the attacks grew so did our resolve. In the new Jobcentre plus workers barely had time to welcome in the new millennium before they were forced to defend themselves against proposals to remove safety screens which would leave staff vulnerable to attack. It was one of our first major showdowns with the government – but it wouldn’t be the last.
Indeed, fighting to protect our members’ jobs in the face of unprecedented attacks by all three main political parties would form a major plank of our work in the years to come.
Lobbying MPs, collecting names on petitions and supporting industrial action were just a few of the ways PCS members and activists pulled out the stops to defend their futures.
Working alongside us, our new parliamentary groups of MPs, MSPs and Welsh Assembly members proved invaluable in getting our voices heard in government.
And then, in 2004, we passed an important symbolic milestone with the announcement of our 300,000th member Julie Ogden. Julie had recently started as an administrative assistant in the Department for Work and Pensions’ Derne Valley debt centre.
There had been a lot changes to adjust to, she agreed, but it had helped knowing her union was there for her.
Julie was among thousands of us affected by government plans announced that summer to axe 100,000 civil service jobs and move 20,000 more out of London and the southeast.
It was ‘an efficiency drive’, the then chancellor, Gordon Brown, assured the country. For PCS it sounded like a declaration of war.
Alongside threats to jobs and services came secondary assaults on our pensions and sick pay – and two of our biggest successes.
Thirteen trade unions joined in the campaign to protect public sector pensions.
And so it was with the threat of strike action ringing in their ears that the government was forced to make a U-turn on the compulsory raising of the public sector pension age to 65. The campaign to protect sick pay ended similarly, in victory.
We may have been one of the fastest growing unions in the country but ensuring we were a stronger, more effective union was about more than just size.
Developing the resources available to our reps and young members – our next generation of activists – became a top priority, as did introducing a better regional presence and new union education courses.
At the same time, pushing ahead on our equality agenda and supporting wider social and economic campaigns meant our goals could be as varied as our members’ concerns.
By 2006, PCS was securing an average of 1,000 mentions a month in the media, developing new resources for a growing army of representatives, including the launch of a new magazine, Activate, and producing nearly 20 different magazines for members.
Meanwhile, the agreement of a new political fund had opened up our parliamentary work even further and allowed us to launch a major campaign to challenge local election candidates on our issues and concerns.
Barely into double figures we have seen off threats to our pensions and sick pay, won a £50 million equal pay settlement for workers in the Prison Service, held three national strikes to defend our members’ pay and conditions and still the list goes on, and will go on.
It has been a record ten years of campaigning and some spectacular wins but it doesn’t end here. The fight for fairer pay – or, at the very least, pay rises that keep pace with inflation – is going from strength to strength.