2 July 2012
In speeches to group and national conferences in Brighton, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka set out a strategy for continuing – jointly with other unions – the campaign against the government's ongoing assaults on the public sector.
"The challenges we as a union face are without precedent. The government’s austerity package and the cuts they mean for our members, their families and their communities are completely unprecedented in Britain. Therefore we have to step up to the plate, to continue what we have done brilliantly over the years, which is to effectively say, we are the real opposition to what the government is doing, and we want to build that opposition to their austerity programme," he said.
Mark lambasted the government for cutting £28.5 billion off the welfare budget and slashing corporation tax from 24% to 20% while unemployment is at its highest level for 18 years.
He questioned why the government was saying there is no money when the UK's richest corporations are sitting on £754 billion – half the country's annual income – which they are not prepared to invest.
He praised the “incredible work” by reps and members in the past year but said that more must be done and more unions must come together to rebuild the coalition against the cuts and defeat the government, as part of a sustained campaign.
• Watch and share Mark's conference address.
• Read more conference news
Austerity isn't working, there is an alternative is the powerful message to the government in a new pamphlet launched at conference.
Mark Serwotka was joined on the panel for the launch at a fringe meeting in Brighton by best-selling author Owen Jones and distinguished academic Ann Pettifor.
Ann Pettifor welcomed the pamphlet's publication and called for people not to be led by the government’s wrong thinking on economics.
She pointed out that our pay cuts are hurting the big businesses as our ability to spend dents the economy further. “It is the bankruptcy of the banks that we should all be talking about,” she said.
The pamphlet argues that the economic growth the government promised has not materialised and unemployment, inequality and the tax gap are getting worse, with:
Mark told the meeting that the "the answer is not to worship at the altar of markets – people should run countries, not financiers”. Owen Jones commended the publication and told delegates that the union is right to argue that the government is leading the country down the wrong path with its slash and burn approach to public services.
The key message of the pamphlet is for people to see the growing resistance to austerity here and abroad as an opportunity to force the financial sector to act in the public interest, become publicly owned and controlled and raise revenues to pay back the debt. This would enable the government to invest in new council housing, jobs in renewable energy and businesses and ideas.
• Read and share the pamphlet: pcs.org.uk/alternative2
• Work with other local trade unions and community groups
• Lobby your local politicians against cuts and attacks on jobs and conditions
• Support protests, strikes, occupations and direct action against the cuts.
Unions are increasingly looking at community organising to campaign against the cuts and a fringe meeting during conference looked at how direct action groups like UK Uncut and Disabled People Against Cuts can work more closely with unions such as PCS and Unite.
The meeting heard how resistance is springing up everywhere from parks to high streets and in many different forms from picnics to protests. Unite has introduced community membership for groups across society including the unemployed and students to build on work done with trades councils and anti-cuts alliances and look to respond more rapidly to organise to protest against the cuts and highlight inequality.
PCS parliamentary group chair John McDonnell said the trade union movement had a history of direct action but described the new wave of such campaigning as "phenomenal".
"It's important that we learn from the direct action campaigns how we can contribute," he said. "The government is absolutely terrified that the union movement links up with the direct action campaigns."
Ellie O'Hagan, who works with Unite on community projects and is a UK Uncut activist, explained how trade unions and direct action groups can learn from each other.
"When UK Uncut was starting off we borrowed from the direct action tactics in the environmental movement to stop businesses trading," she said. "What makes UK Uncut so different is it is novel and unusual. It's very instant and flexible. But obviously that has its disadvantages because we don't have the same resources or structures as PCS.
"Unite community membership costs the unemployed 50p a week to join. It helps to transfer trade unions to a hub within the community; organising communities to work collectively together."
Adam Lotun, of campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said organisations like PCS could be an "umbrella" to bring together many different anti-cuts groups.
"We are seeing how people with disabilities are beginning to be affected by the cuts and are making their voices heard,” he said. "We have chained ourselves together to block off Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square. We can utilise the blanket coverage that PCS has to do lightning and direct action."
Reps attending conference for the first time shared their thoughts.
Alice Roberts, a learning officer on the Tate branch executive committee based at Tate Liverpool admired the passion involved in many of the debates.
“Conferences allows people who work in diverse areas to congregate and share a large array of workplace and broader political and social concerns. There's not many opportunities, for example, for culture sector people and tax officers to do this,” she said.
She found particularly interesting motions concerning social issues such as international austerity and those about sweatshop labour, Hillsborough, and domestic violence.
Bethany Coyle, a rep at the new Museum of Liverpool, said it was uplifting to meet other reps dedicated to defending members against the cuts.
“It’s difficult to imagine that other workplaces are suffering the same devastating blows to public services, especially the cultural and arts sector on par to that in the north west region but unfortunately it is epidemic,“ she said. “I enjoyed seeing a democratic union in action. What I found most interesting at group and annual conferences is that even the most esoteric motion has a for and against - motions must be thrashed out so that PCS can implement transparent policies and legislation.”
Read and share the annual report - pcs.org.uk/annualreport
Doreen Lawrence who campaigned for 19 years for justice following the racist murder of her son Stephen spoke to Activate after she gave an emotional and inspiring speech to PCS annual conference in Brighton where delegates gave her a standing ovation. Doreen gave a scathing assessment of the government's austerity measures, particularly in making cuts to legal aid and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
"This government do not have race on the agenda. Cuts always affect the poorest more, and the black community falls into that category," she said.
"I despair really at what our future is going to be like, for my children and grandchildren. This government have no sense of reality because they don’t live in the real world."
The work of PCS and other trade unions to support the campaign for justice and fight racism was praised by the honorary president of Unite Against Fascism - uaf.org.uk