PCS union members on strike in March (Picture: Guy Smallman) 

The election result for general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union showed the frustration with the 2022-23 pay campaign.

Fran Heathcote, the choice of the union’s dominant Left Unity (LU) group, just won. She took 10,340 votes. Runner-up Marion Lloyd won 9,557 votes.

The turnout, 11.5 percent of the 174,000 eligible voters, was a significant decrease from the 18.6 percent who voted in 2019. Lloyd, a Socialist Party member, stood as part of the Broad Left Network/Independent Left.

Heathcote was firmly associated with the strategy of the last year from the majority of the PCS national executive. It has involved repeated sectional action, but only very infrequent national action.

The government, in response, imposed a lower award even than the below-inflation deals agreed by workers in education, the NHS and other areas.

Lloyd pushed for more strikes, which is the main reason Socialist Worker supporters backed her—although without any great enthusiasm.

John Moloney, who was running in tandem with Lloyd, defeated the Left Unity candidate for assistant general secretary. Socialist Worker supporters did not back Moloney, a member of the pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers Liberty. 

PCS member Steve West said, “Socialist Workers Party members decided to leave LU in October this year. This was despite being a founding member since its inception over 20 years ago. 

“This was a response to the repeated refusal of the PCS leadership, dominated by Left Unity, to escalate strikes.”

In the 2019 election, Mark Serwotka was re-elected with 16,420 votes—almost twice Heathcote’s vote. Lloyd received 9,278 and Bev Laidlow, the Independent Left candidate, recorded 5,059. The Left Unity vote was down, and so was the combined further left vote.

The strikes in the PCS, and elsewhere, have seen new layers of people involved in the union and enthusiastic backing for action. They revived the union. Those activists and members have not involved themselves in large numbers in either LU or the other internal groups.

PCS members now face big challenges. The pay campaign was officially “paused” rather than terminated. It has to be re-started. All trade unionists are menaced by the new anti-union laws. They need to organise now to defy the laws whoever they are used against. And there are key fights over racism, climate chaos, Palestine solidarity, LGBT+ rights and more.

But there are also opportunities. The government is in a death spiral and vulnerable to resistance. The Palestine movement has seen the biggest sustained mobilisations for 20 years.

The way forward has to come from the struggles at the base, not manoeuvres inside the unions.

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