Some of the most affecting speeches of this year’s conference were presented in the debate on domestic violence on Friday morning.
Moving motion A133 instructing the NEC to develop a national domestic abuse policy Mark Hibell R&C North West England asked a direct question: “Would you recognise domestic violence? A lot of us would struggle with issues of confidence in knowing how to recognise the signs. In my department we have just two sentences on it in our health and safety guide yet the statistics are staggering with police called to a domestic violence incident every minute of every day.”
A delegate spoke movingly about his experience: “My partner thought he had the right to physically abuse me which resulted in my mental health being affected,” he said. “He would turn the situation around and make me feel it was my fault. This is symptomatic of every person who has been subjected to domestic violence or abuse – you find yourself making excuses for your partner’s vile actions.”
Another spoke of a colleague who had: “a shotgun held to her head, was raped and stripped of her dignity” by her ex-partner.
The motion was unanimously carried.
Continuing the debate on pensions Colin Butler of the Defence Sector Group, Salisbury Plain branch, moved motion A148.
The motion focused to the government’s dubious claim that staff earning under £15,000 per annum would not pay increased pensions contribution rates.
“This Tory tax, be stealth, is aimed at the low paid, mostly part time staff,” he said. “The lie is that those earning under that figure will pay no pension contribution increases. It will hit our members earning under £15,000 a year, whose full time equivalent pay rate is £15,000 a year or more. It is just not fair and impacts on our most vulnerable members.”
Seconding, Clara Harmer from R&C East Midlands branch said, “The majority of part-time workers are women or disabled workers. Many of these are not part-time by choice but by necessity. The pension contributions are a pay cut for all of us but a greater pay cut for our part time members. Help us end this discrimination.”
The motion instructing the NEC to challenge the government’s claim in the courts on the grounds that this is indirect discrimination was carried.
Following this Chip Hamer from the English & UK Sports Councils branch moved motion A149 which referenced a motion passed at ADC 2009 calling for extra help for members in the private sector in the form of a specialist pensions’ advisor.
“I jumped at that point and asked for the motion to be remitted because it didn’t expressly include those members in the public sector who are outside the civil service pension scheme,” he said. “But I spoke to members of the NEC that this was merely a technical omission and it will be covered so I withdrew that call from remittance. But since then I haven’t seen much in the way of substance in the progress of that motion from three years ago.”
“Although we have an excellent campaign around pensions, those members who are outside the civil service pension scheme do not really see the kind of information that we need,” he said. “There is excellent information around the pensions’ calculator that is absolutely no use to people in the local government pension scheme.”
Conference moved the motion requesting the NEC to make a formal statement about progress in fulfilling the intentions of Motion A91 and improve information for public sector workers not in the civil service pension scheme.
The environment received a passionate response from Clara Palliard of the National Museums Liverpool branch, moving motion A145.
The motion confirmed the commitment of the union to fighting climate change besides focusing on a number of specific issues.
“The cause of the destruction of the environment is the same that causes the exploitation of the working class, the same that causes our pensions to be sold down the river, the same that puts our pensioners in fuel poverty – brutal capitalism,” she said. “Besides promoting the Alternative we also need to promote The One Million Climate Jobs campaign – a consistent public investment in new jobs that will reduce CO2 emissions by 75 per cent.”
Focusing on the motion’s detail, including a commitment to investigate current protocols for waste management, Clara said her own research had revealed some curious facts.
“Management told us they recycled 82 per cent of waste but I don’t even do that even since I’ve started composting,” she said. “Actually, out of that 82 per cent, 66 per cent was recycled through energy from waste. I didn’t know what that meant so I did the research and in fact, far from recycling, we were burning 66 percent of our waste! Never mind the CO2 emissions and the toxic gas emitted.”
Seconding the motion Gerry McMahon of the DWP Glasgow branch said, “We are delighted that there is a section on the agenda to discuss the environment because this issue is equally as important as motions on pay, privatisation and pensions. PCS already has an excellent record on the environment but this motion is all about stepping up our work.”
The motion was carried.
PCS currently has no policy on the sex trade – something which Motion A27 aims to rectify in part.
Moving the motion Julian Wilson of MOJ RCJ/PRFD branch said, “All this motion is calling for is for our union to have a voice and a debate on sex workers; to develop a policy rather than setting it here. Many other unions already have established policies on this yet ours does not. This seems a strange omission for what is rightly a campaigning union.”
“More women – and more men – will be driven into forms of sex work. Cuts to housing benefit and restrictions on job seekers allowance make this inevitable. There are also regular reports from students at university being forced into forms of sex work in order to survive. Limiting the harm done to sex workers must be the only rational object of any policy that the NEC eventually comes up with.”
Seconding the motion Pete Cogbill of DWP Cornwall said: “To the members in my branch this was the most hotly debated motion of the AGM. As the motion states conference recognises that views vary widely about the sex trade. What my branch did not want to do is to actually start the debate at this conference on the rights and/or wrongs of the sex trade. What we do want to do is to ensure that PCS has an agreed policy on the sex trade.”
“Our city union GMB has already begun the work of organising sex workers and they’ve experienced the case of Hackney strip club workers who have had to unite with their bosses to fight legislation against their work places,” said Gillian Young from NATS Heathrow in support of the motion. “What kind of trade union movement are we when we leave workers to seek solidarity with the bosses that exploit them ruthlessly instead of giving them solidarity ourselves?”
The motion was carried.
The stand against fascism was brought into sharp focus by the case of rep Phil Dickens.
Under motion A602 calling for the NEC to use the full force of the law to protect members from fascist attacks, Mark Lancaster from the R&C South East Essex branch told conference about a particularly nasty branch of the English Defence League called The North West Infidels.
“On May 10 they visited a picket outside the Bootle Taxes Revenue and Customs branch to attack PCS rep, Phil Dickens, who is a leading light in the fight against fascism on the streets of Merseyside,” he said. “When they discovered that Phil had gone home they carried out an attack anyway on a picket line consisting of seven women and one man. Having missed their man they decided on a different tactic and set up a Facebook page the next day. I will not repeat their filthy lies but what they said put our comrade’s personal safety at severe risk.”
Following more than 1,000 complaints to Facebook the page was finally removed.
“The rise of the far right is a plague across the country,” said Wendy Turner of R&C East Midlands branch seconding the motion. “They offer nothing to us in any way and exist only to peddle hate and anger towards anyone that doesn’t fit into their fascist view of the world. We must do everything we can to halt the neo-Nazis taking a firm hold on the country.”
To loud applause Phil Dickens then took to the platform.
“The response from PCS members has been brilliant,” he said. “Whilst it’s important that we continue to offer this kind of legal defence when these horrible attacks happen we also need to ensure that we are organised to physically defend ourselves and our movement. Please support this motion and the organised fight against fascism which we have to lead as workers and as a union.”
The motion was unanimously carried.
General secretary, Mark Serwotka, moved the penultimate motion of conference – seeking to explore the further development of relations between PCS and Unite (A72).
“The NEC believes this is central to our strategy to ensure the union uses all tools at its disposal to fight the government, to fight austerity and to link up with other unions who share our overall vision,” he said. “The joint working agreement signed with Unite at last year’s ADC has been very successful and directly lead to a situation where they are the only major union in the UK supporting us in the pensions dispute and our call against austerity. Even this week it was one of only two other unions who supported our call that the TUC should demand a re-opening of talks on pensions.”
Tomorrow, he said, will see further co-operation with the launch of the independent think tank, the Centre for Labour and Social Studies – jointly set up by PCS and Unite – to counter the neo-liberal tide and ensure that socialist and labour movement ideas are part of the national debate.
But he was quick to scotch rumours of secret discussions regarding a merger between the unions.
“Were any discussions to take place it would only be because this conference, our members and activists, gave us a democratic mandate to purse that objective,” he said. Therefore, this motion is not about merger but about getting closer in our working relationship. It’s about asking, ‘Can we go further than the agreement we signed?’ and ‘Will we be stronger if we get closer to campaign together in our communities?’”
Roz Lunn of the Land Registry Birkenhead branch, seconded the motion and said, “The key to defending members is building the maximum possible unity with other unions. Understandably, some delegates might be nervous about working more closely with Unite as they don’t have the same levels of democracy as PCS. But we are in the fight of our lives, in extremely difficult circumstances, and we need to accept that we may need to work in different ways, but only where this supports our union’s democracy and campaigning agenda.”
The motion was carried.
An electrifying speech by Lawrence Dunne in support of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign brought conference to its feet in support of the final motion at this year’s ADC.
Motion A120 urged the continued fight for justice that is still being waged by the victims of the Hillsborough disaster and their families.
“The 15th April 1989 is one of the darkest days in the history of football and the city of Liverpool,” said Lawrence of the Home Office Criminal Records Bureau branch. “Ninety six ordinary men, women and children went to watch an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield and never returned home to tell the tale. Hundreds of others were injured physically and psychologically by the harrowing events that took place on that day. Twenty three years on the families and friends of those who died and were injured continue to fight for the truth about what happened on that day. They continue to fight through the lies, the cover-ups and the smears to get to the bottom of why a happy day turned into a living nightmare for so many.”
An official inquest into the deaths of Hillsborough recorded an “astonishing” verdict of accidental death, ignoring the findings of the Taylor report and much of the evidence which told of a different story. Since then the Hillsborough families have fought a battle to have somebody held accountable for the death and injury of their loved ones.
“Hillsborough is a genuine human tragedy which nobody has been held accountable for and which nobody has said sorry for,” he said. “The Hillsborough Justice Campaign was established in 1998 to help re-energise the fight for justice and the truth of what really happened. It is run by families of the dead, survivors of the disaster and ordinary people who want to do their bit to help. I believe that by supporting the motion conference can help PCS build on its proud reputation for helping ordinary working class people in their pursuit of justice when the establishment has failed them.”
The motion was seconded by Ian Bartholomew of DWP Sheffield who said, “As someone from a branch in the city where the disaster took place I want to show our solidarity with the victims of that disaster. The victims and their families deserve the truth and they demand justice.”
The motion was unanimously carried to loud applause.