The Rank & File Network is a forum for activists who believe that PCS needs to reconnect with its members in order to build a strong, effective, genuinely member-led union. Ours is a new initiative whose aim is to argue for a different way of organising in the workplace, to put those ideas into practice, and to eventually transform the union.
THE UNION WE NEED
...is built from the ground up
The union isn't its executive bodies nor its bureaucracy of paid staff. It is the workers who make up its membership. The way we organise should reflect that, and empower members to lead from the shop floor.
PCS has strong, effective branches, but it equally has branches which struggle to stay afloat or which don't function. We need a systematic effort to build a strong, dynamic union presence in all workplaces.
Doing that means linking up workers across workplaces to share time, resources and experience. It means turning the mass of the membership, the rank and file, into a movement equipped with the tools and confidence to take on the employer.
...encourages new activists
The primary task of a workplace organiser is to build more organisers and the way to do this is to constantly replace ourselves. Gatekeeping has no place in the trade union movement, and we should discourage anyone from clinging to a position in perpetuity - especially if their intent is to block others from coming forward.
We need to share our expertise so that nobody can claim a knowledge monopoly, build open networks so that information isn't hoarded by the 'old boys club', and ask people to do things that are difficult. We need to help others break out and step up. It’s a sign of respect to ask people to do difficult things.
The task that we have as reps is to build working class leaders everywhere we go. We are constantly looking for opportunities to teach others what we know so that they could do what we do without us.
...takes direct action in the workplace
Direct action is nothing more than workers using our own collective strength to resolve an issue, by exerting pressure on management to give us what we want. The most obvious form of this is the strike, but even at a local level direct action can be effective.
We may be able to resolve issues with a quiet word here or a personal case there, but where we can collectivise these issues and win it in a visible, collective way we don’t just win that issue: we show other workers that being in a union works, and we shift the balance of power in the workplace. We believe that this should be the default, and this is how we move from the union being a third party which provides representation and support to being the workers, as a collective, acting for themselves.
...is transparent and accountable in negotiations
Accountability for union reps shouldn’t end with being elected. The progress of negotiations should be reported to members at all stages, so that members' views can shape the talks, and any potential deal put to a vote of all those affected. Members should be able to recall those reps that they feel have acted against their democratic wishes.
Decisions on how the union addresses issues should be taken by the members affected by those issues. Wherever possible, we should organise workplace meetings to allow members to discuss the matter at hand and take a collective decision on the way forward, instead of it happening behind closed doors and instructions being handed down from above.
...puts real equality at the heart of its bargaining agenda
The struggle for equality is central to what a trade union should be. Networks wherein activists from the various equality strands can build links and share experiences are an important part of this, but they aren't the sum total of what it means to fight for equality.
Inequality is built into the working practices of the civil service and its outsourced areas. The gender, race and disability pay gap is only a part of this, with a range of policies such as sick absence putting some groups at a disadvantage, and many workplaces having two-tier contractual arrangements. Nor is our union immune from inequality, with older white males dominating the senior activist layer.
We need to ensure all our equality networks, forums and committees are autonomous and able to set their own policy positions. At the same time, we should be organising in the workplace around equality issues and ensuring that they drive our bargaining agenda at every level.
...systematically organises outsourced workers
Outsourcing is a tool to divide the working class. Civil servants and facilities management workers like cleaners and security guards may have different employers, but we have the same workplace and the same interests.
PCS needs to commit to organising all workers on the government estate together. This means developing a proper strategy to organise outsourced workers, recognising the power that they hold to bring the workplace to a standstill and that, ultimately, they deserve equality with civil servants - including being brought in-house!