ROUND AND ABOUT
By JUDAS ISCARIOT - Xmas 2014
On Christmas Day one of the Germans came out of the trenches and held his hands up. Our fellows immediately got out of theirs, and we met in the middle, and for the rest of the day we fraternised, exchanging food, cigarettes and souvenirs. The Germans gave us some of their sausages, and we gave them some of our stuff. The Scotsmen started the bagpipes and we had a rare old jollification, which included football in which the Germans took part. The Germans expressed themselves as being tired of the war and wished it was over. They greatly admired our equipment and wanted to exchange jack knives and other articles. Next day we got an order that all communication and friendly intercourse with the enemy must cease but we did not fire at all that day, and the Germans did not fire at us…
Another year on the front. War-weary troops bedeck their dug-outs with tinsel and Christmas cards and prepare the turkey, spuds and brussels for the roast while downing as much Christmas spirit they can afford. But back at Château Falconcrest the festivities have been overshadowed by uncertainly. No one knows what the New Year will bring… apart from the panic measures sprung on the staff and the membership by the NEC over the past six weeks.
In the terse statement issued soon after the December NEC meeting we were told that:
• NEC recognised that PCS was undergoing a sustained political attack
• Direct debit campaign is first priority
• Bold financial decisions are required, including PCS staffing reductions
• National and group elections will be suspended for 12 months
• ADC 2015 will take place on same basis as 2014 and will be asked to endorse NEC decisions
• The NEC endorsed the sale of the Clapham Junction building.
The emergency decision was carried by 15 votes to 3 (out of the 35 members and officers of the NEC – either abstentions or on their Christmas shopping).
Back in October we were told that PCS had “been advised to lodge a planning application with Wandsworth Council in order to maximise the potential value of the building” and that the proposed redevelopment of Falconcrest “may come to nothing”. This month we’re told it’s a done deal and that the property has been sold, reportedly for £25 million – part of the “bold financial decisions” taken by the NEC to meet the shortfall when check-off is abolished throughout most of the civil service next year.
This is entirely within rule, specifically Rule 9.2 which states:
“All Union property and funds (including all those held by subsidiary parts of the Union, but
excluding that held and owned by the Inland Revenue Group) shall vest in the Member
Trustees, who shall act with the consent of, and in accordance with the directions of, the
NEC. The NEC shall ensure that the Union's finances are conducted in accordance with the
Union's Rules and any direction given or decision made under them. The Union's finances
shall be managed by the General Secretary, subject to the direction of the NEC”
and Rule 9.5:
“The NEC may authorise the payment of any monies required to carry on the Union's affairs,
the investment by the Trustees of the Union's funds in any lawful way, and the raising of
monies by way of mortgage, loan or charge on any Union asset”.
|We all love a good Panto: here's Tweedledum and Tweedledee
|"WE'RE NOT SKINT"
||"OH, YES WE ARE"
£25 million is, of course, a good price. Falconcrest, as it stands as office accommodation, is only worth about £11 million. The approved plans for the conversion of the existing building into 65 luxury flats have greatly enhanced its value. Many suspect that the buyers are, however, more interested in the land and have a more ambitious plan to demolish the building and replace it with a luxury tower block similar to those that are sprouting around the new US embassy in the Nine Elms area of Wandsworth.
Though this raises a whole number of problems for existing residents such as the loss of a major local employer and the increased pressure on street parking, road congestion, water supplies and sewage these are not issues that directly affect the union. This wasn’t always the case. As the Clapham Junction Action Group points out:
“PCS is the Trade Union in occupation at Falcon House, since its construction more than 20 years ago. Many of PCS’s staff either live locally in Clapham Junction area or are reliant on the proximity of rail services at Clapham Junction station for their journey to work. The PCS is one of the few major employers still present in Clapham Junction, with a staff of approximatively 240 who, together , contribute significantly to the social and economic life of the centre. As the Head Quarter of a trade union with 300,000 members, Falcon House receives as many as 350 visitors per week according to a contribution sent to the Planning Application Committee in 2009."
In their objection to the proposal to erect two 42 storey towers at the station in 2009, they told the Council that the developer’s proposal was making “no reference on effects of the loss of 241 full time jobs in Clapham Junction“. Therefore we can only be surprised now that the same people who objected against the loss of jobs are fulfilling quietly the same purpose”.
The staff have been told informally that the buyer has agreed to allow PCS to remain in the building for another 12 months rent-free which will give plenty of time for CHRIS BAUGH to sort out the redundancies that will inevitably follow. Some staff are certainly going to go. Where is another matter.
“The NEC has begun to scrutinise all areas of spending to cut back all non-essential expenditure. There will be a large reduction in PCS staff in the coming period. That will not be enough. All other areas of expenditure, without exception, must also be considered if the union is to achieve our goal of maintaining stability and avoid an incapacitating financial situation in 2015. The January meeting of the NEC will take further serious decisions on finance”.
Some are clearly going to collect their cards in 2015.
A lot depends on where PCS is going to relocate. The union still owns the old IRSF building in Victoria but that could barely meet current needs and in any case it was let to a charity five years ago on a ten year lease so that’s not an option. During the negotiations with the buyer, who has yet to go public, it emerged that PCS was looking to purchase a smaller building in Croydon for around £10 million for HQ use. Now some believe that BOFF will use the 12 months grace to see if he can farm out most of the HQ work to the regional offices and just lease a small central London office for the use of our great and glorious leader, MARK SERWOTKA, and the PCS press and propaganda unit.
The union says that “In 2015, the combined effect of check-off removal and job cuts in the civil service will have a severe impact on the union’s finances, reducing our income by as much as £6.5 million. The government is attempting to break PCS as a union”.
This is because the DD campaign is faltering for a number of reasons not least that that PCS hasn’t sufficient organisers on the ground to sign every one up in time. Some believe that by April, when check-off goes in most departments, little more than 50 per cent of the existing membership will have converted their dues payments to direct debits.
Even the pensioners are being called up. The Associated and Retired Members Association (ARMS) received a formal request from Falconcrest last week to help the campaign. But at the moment the best estimate is that our dues-paying membership will still be little more than 155,000 next spring.
Whether this justifies the suspension of national and group elections is debatable. The PCS December briefing statement says:
“In considering whether it was possible to reduce expenditure on elections in 2015, the NEC noted, first, that national and group elections require expenditure of approximately £600,000. It is an inescapable fact of the current situation that such a substantial proportion of our overall spending must be examined."
“Secondly, the NEC noted that the successful transfer of members on to DD is our overriding short-term priority. Elections in 2015 would take place at exactly the time when check-off is being withdrawn from the DWP and other departments. Continuing with the elections would remove a major part of our full-time officer resource, and reps' time, from the DD campaign during a crucial period. This would have a direct effect upon the numbers of members signed up to DD."
“Thirdly, the NEC noted that there are no alternative options for reducing our expenditure to the necessary level. All other areas are being cut by the maximum amount."
“Therefore, the NEC has agreed to suspend NEC and group elections in 2015 for a maximum of 12 months. It was also agreed that this decision, and the NEC’s other decisions on measures taken to stabilise the union’s finances, would be put to ADC for endorsement”.
Suspending elections is not a norm in British unions. While it remains the prerogative of ageing African leaders seeking to extend their tenure such a draconian measure in PCS would normally require a rule-change in advance. But it seems that the sharky legal team employed by the grandees have discovered a loophole that was not designed with this situation in mind.
Our rules do not allow for the cancellation of elections but “suspensions” are another matter. It all hinges on whether the state of our finances constitutes an “emergency”.
Rule 11.2 states:
“Where the NEC considers that by reason of industrial action, force majeure or other cause beyond the Union's control, or in case of emergency, any time limit specified in the Union's Rules cannot be fulfilled, the NEC may notwithstanding any provisions in the Union's Rules change such times as it considers necessary”.
The NEC will argue at Conference that this is the case for suspending costly elections while we try to maximise DD uptake. There is a clear need for a motion to define the length of the suspension of elections.
Clara Paillard defiantly insisted PCS isn't skint on the FB PCS Members page. So far there’s been little opposition comment apart from the maverick Trots in the INDEPENDENT LEFT who say:
The NEC reasons don’t stack up. The real reason is that with the alliance between the Independent Left and ‘Your Voice’ activists in the HMRC, the Democracy Alliance (‘sic’ or maybe we should say ‘sick’) fear that they will lose seats on the NEC; possibility even losing the NEC itself. They fear that members will blame them for the crisis in the union (as they should and will). They fear losing a union which has become for some a gravy train of full time officer positions. Lastly they fear that they will not be able to merge with (be taken over by) Unite) as they are planning”.
Well, the first part is nonsense. The grandees were never in any danger of losing the next elections. There’s no real opposition left in the union – just a handful of old 4TM has-beens on the NEC who don’t even have a formal platform to campaign on and the dissident TROTS in IL whose influence, such as it is, is confined largely to London.
But they’re right about Unite and the grandees continuing attempts to seek a bail-out take-over from the colossus of the union movement. MAREK held further talks with LEN McCLUSKEY in November outlining the PCS policy on “joining forces” with Unite despite the stringent terms imposed on the leadership at the 2014 ADC. The problem is that now there nothing is to offer Unite once Falconcrest is sold apart from a much-reduced dues cash-stream and a fist-full of industrial relations problems (like restoring check-off and a normal national negotiating procedure) that would baffle even the most experienced Unite negotiator.
It’s going to be an interesting New Year folks!!
"And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?"
Matthew 24:3 King James Version