On the 6th February PSC will hold its Annual General Meeting. Socialist Action/CL’s response to our letter expressing concern at the lack of democracy in PSC has been to put forward constitutional proposals which, if passed, will all but destroy PSC’s democracy. There will be an annual conference, but its powers will be limited. It will certainly not be sovereign, even theoretically.
The Trade Union Action Committee, whose membership is unknown and is not open to ordinary PSC trade union activists or members, at present sends 2 delegates to PSC Executive. Constitutional amendment 5, which has clearly been instigated by the Executive, suggests that the representation of TUAC be doubled to 4! As these places are Bernard Regan’s gift, this will mean that a fifth of the EC (4/20) will be ‘elected’ by another member of the EC.
Constitutional amendment 4, by the same 2 individuals, suggests that organisations, i.e. trade unions with 500,000 members should be entitled to 7 votes at the Annual Conference (an increase from 3). So the GMB, which tried to amend the FBU motion to the TUC Congress to substitute ‘regret’ for ‘condemn’, in reference to the statement of Histadrut supporting the attack on Gaza, will be entitled to exercise 7 votes at a meeting of a body which is pro-Palestinian.
PSC has provision in Clause 6 of the existing Constitution for 5 regional representatives to be elected. This clause has never been operated and when Northern Network tried to so earlier this year, bureaucratic obstacles were put in its way by the EC. This is totally understandable from the point of view of SA.
If you are a small group trying to control a larger group, then you don’t want the Executive Committee to be diluted by people that you can’t control or indeed what you may perceive as alternative centres of power. So the two movers speak express their ‘concern regarding the proposal for a formal regional structure of PSC is that it would divert local energy away from contributing to actions co-ordinated through a national campaign.’
Clearly devolution hasn’t yet made an appearance in PSC but in fact no machinery or bureaucracy is proposed. The idea of a diversion from national campaigns is laughable. This is a feeble excuse for keeping all power in the hands of the Executive.
The establishment of regions would not only enable branches to co-ordinate campaigns more effectively but would enable individuals not in any branch to participate. Indeed the only ones who talk of bureaucracy or a diversion of energy is the Executive with their proposals for a ‘devolved administration’ i.e. the policing of the regions.
The real reason for this amendment becomes clear when reading Constitutional Amendment 3 from the Executive. They propose a new Point 9.6 of the Constitution. It is proposed that the election of regional representatives takes place not in the regions but at a London AGM.
The reasoning is quite obvious. It is to ensure that SA can more effectively mobilise votes, in London, behind their preferred regional candidates. Because they do not trust the membership, they cannot allow the elections to take place in the Regions. It is as simple as that.
What we have is an Executive that has run out of ideas except to exhort the membership to more routine activity. Rallies with Ken Livingstone and George Galloway are the main way of organising students rather than building with all forces in the student movement who genuinely support the Palestinians. Coupled with resolutions that lie in the filing cabinets of trade union general secretaries, an annual march and lobby of Parliament, this is the EC’s preferred annual cycle of activity.
Routine activity ends up as little more than the Executive congratulating itself on another ‘successful’ year. It means going through the motions whilst in practice mounting no effective political challenge to the British government’s support of Israel. Political initiatives are to be frowned upon but they are not easy to control.
Yet none of these routines makes the slightest difference or impact as far as the Palestinians are concerned. The one thing which has been shown to rattle the Zionists and Israel is Boycott. Because it hits the settler state where it hurts most and in Israel’s case, it also hits its image and political support.
The Academic Boycott set off a wave of activity in Britain, yet the EC initially opposed such a tactic and has had an uneasy relationship with Bricup. The relation of PSC Executive with its own Boycott Committee, which has in practice led to the setting up last year at the gathering at Wooller Youth Hostel of the Boycotting Network, is similar.
On trade unions the EC and Bernard Regan prefer to ally with an assortment of minor trade union bureaucrats, headed by Hugh Lanning of PCS, rather than develop an ongoing network of activists. Cosy chats between trade union friends – past and current – might seem a short-cut to success but what it means is allowing the Trade Union leaders to dictate to, and even control with SA, PSC’s work in the unions.
Union leaders spend much of their time dampening down strikes and struggles. They are innately conservative creatures. Their support for international struggles is strictly limited and ideas like Boycott are not well received.
Trade unions in this country are now very weak, having lost half their members in the past 30 years. PSC Executive are, in effect, suggesting we model ourselves on organisations which themselves are controlled by Executives which deplore independent activity by their members. To allow union leaderships, even the more left ones, to tie our hands, is to weaken our campaigning abilities.
The purpose of work in the unions is to get them to support us and to show solidarity, not to enable them to take us over. Autonomy is a principle worth fighting for yet it is being surrendered by a sect in order that they can retain their own power. Motion 2, from Kevin Courtney (NUT) and John McGee (FBU) gives a flavour of this. It talks about supporting a Boycott only where ‘where trade union members should not put their own jobs at risk by refusing to deal with such products’.
This must be the first time that cowardice has been enshrined as a principle! Should South African dockers who blacklisted ships to Israel or Greek workers who embargoed arms shipments first have asked their employer to promise not to dismiss them? If we follow this road there will never be a successful boycott. Indeed there would never have been trade unions either!!
The job of trade unions is to fight the employers and state if necessary not to ask for promises of immunity. It is our strength which guarantees that. What this means is passing resolutions that are never intended to be put into practice. It is mere posturing and hype.
That is why PSC Executive and Bernard Regan have opposed getting the unions to cut links with Histadrut. Cutting links with Histadrut is one of the few things unions can actually do themselves. They have the power to cut those links and in the daysbefore UNISON came into existence, its forerunner NALGO did boycott Histadrut.
The TUC’s foreign policy has historically been outsourced from the Foreign Office and even their staff in some cases were rumoured to be FO secondments. Cutting links with Histadrut would run counter to British foreign policy, itself something they would hesitate long and hard about doing.
Instead the TUC has always treated Histadrut like any other trade union, despite the fact that it was a settler union which, from its formation, opposed even the employment of Arabs (‘Jewish Labour’). By refusing to call for a break in links with Histadrut PSC is effectively opposing a Boycott in the trade union arena.
The task is clear. If PSC is to live up to its claim to want to build a mass anti-apartheid organisation in Britain it first must belong to its own members, not a small ex-left sect like Socialist Action.
* Letter to PSC Executive
Dear EC members
We, the undersigned, as members of PSC, would like to raise the following issues that have been of concern to us recently, and we would appreciate a response from you at the next branch forum meeting on12 September. We are sure that in the spirit of openness and transparency, the EC will welcome the opportunity to address these concerns.