We have reported in many articles the inexorable shift to the left that has been taking place in the British trade unions. Last year's move to the left in the AEEU (engineering workers) general secretary elections has probably been the most striking episode in this general process. Equally significant was the change in the TGWU (transport workers) where again the left took the position of general secretary. The latest development among the civil servants is another striking example of how deep the process is.
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Confirming the volcanic shift taking place in the British trade unions, the left have won a stunning victory in the elections for the leadership of the civil service union PCS. This is an amazing result. What a turn around!
The joint Left Unity/PCS Democrats list for the NEC overwhelmingly defeated the rightwing 'Moderate/Independent' slate. The political balance on the new NEC is Left Unity 25, PCS Democrats 9, Inland Revenue Members First 5, and Moderates 4. The previous balance on the NEC was: Moderates 24, Left Unity 13, IR Membership First 7, and others 2. This clearly shows the tremendous shift to the left following the victory of Mark Sewotka as general secretary.
Left Unity member Janice Godrich was re-elected as President in the first ever-straight fight for that position, with a decisive 23,000 to 15,000 majority over her rightwing opponent. Three Left Unity members and a PCS Democrat won all the deputy president/vice president positions. The so-called Moderates were reduced to a rump in the 'General' constituency, coming bottom of the poll. They took only the four places left vacant by the fact that Democracy candidates standing for the presidential, deputy and vice presidential posts had also stood for constituency places. In the 'Taxation Constituency', Left Unity members also topped the poll, and the joint Democrats list won 5 seats. The IR Membership First faction disguised themselves as 'Independents' and managed to scrape 5 seats.
The election took place after a number of changes introduced by the former rightwing, which reduced the numbers on the NEC and gave it a different structure. They hoped this would benefit the right, but no manoeuvre could block the mood for change.
This result represents a tremendous advance for the left of the union. Left Unity has managed to win an absolute majority, even without the support of the 'centrist' PCS Democrats. It should therefore carry out its own left programme and not be side tracked by 'moderates' in whatever form. This victory represents also a major challenge for the left, which now has to show in practice the benefits of a left leadership within the union. We have to use this important opportunity to take the union forward and address the problems of our members.
The days of Reamsbottom and the rightwing are at an end. The result reflects
the mood of bitterness within the union against the continuing attacks of the
government. This is a generalised mood across the trade unions. As we have
argued, this mood will inevitably reflect itself in the Labour Party, and is a
confirmation that even right-dominated unions and workers' organisations can be
changed. It is a red letter day for PCS members!
By Rachael Heemskerk,
PCS president, DWP Essex, (personal capacity).
July 4, 2003.