The following article was published in the Socialist Voice. No 35 (April/May).
John Moloney, an administrative officer in the Department for Transport, is standing for election this year for AGS, the second most senior leadership position in the UK’s largest civil service union. He is standing alongside candidates from the PCS Independent Left (IL) grouping on a programme for a fighting and democratic union, controlled by the rank and file.
International Socialist League statement
The election raises important questions for PCS as a union and for workers, and the trade union movement more widely.
John Moloney says, that the main distinction between him and all the other declared candidates is that they are all “full-time officials of the union; I′m the only rank-and-file member of the union standing. I′m also by far the poorest paid individual standing. The AGS, and the General Secretary, should be on a workers′ wage.”
He says that “The general secretary and the AGS are the only officials who are elected; other full-time officials are not. The officials are a bureaucratic caste within the union with which lay reps have to plead for resources, have to persuade to take legal cases, have to persuade to take action. The union′s rhetoric has a left tinge, but if you drill down, many unions are more democratic…There′s a body called the National Disputes Committee, to which people have to plead to be allowed to ballot for strikes.
“To give one example of how bureaucratic the union is, some years ago a group of members in my section of the union applied to be able to ballot for strikes; that request was knocked back because we apparently wrote it on the wrong form…[they] were more interested in the bureaucratic procedures of the committee.”
John stands for rank-and-file control of the union. All full time officials of the union should be elected by and answer to the members, not to any internal staff hierarchy and the leadership of the union should support all groups of workers willing to take action, not put up barriers to them doing so.
For John Moloney the main issue over pay is equality. “Equality of pay, and equality of process. We have a situation now where men and women across different departments are paid differently. The union′s main demand should be equalisation of pay across the civil service and associated industries.”
“Our procedures are riddled with racism, sexism, and other biases. We should tackle that head on. Yes, an 8 or 10% pay rise, that′s great as an aim. But the main thing should be a fight for equality in the pay system, and for equality of treatment across all the terms and conditions we have.”
John says, “I was part of the team that negotiated the first contractual staff handbook in the whole of the civil service, which has meant that management can′t arbitrarily change our terms and conditions. This has stood us in fantastic stead. Whereas the rest of the civil service suffered the debacle of [the end of] check-off [a mechanism by which an employer allows a union to deduct membership fees direct from salaries]…in our department, and another department with the same contractual arrangements, the management couldn′t change our check-off arrangements. If we had had those arrangements across the whole of the civil service, we could′ve prevented the end of check-off.”
However, he believes that no matter how clever or eloquent a negotiator is, their ability to win is based on the strength and involvement of the rank and file. He thinks that, “negotiations should be open… we should clearly refuse confidentiality agreements. We should be open with members and tell members what′s happening in negotiations. I′m totally opposed to secret negotiations…”
In order to fight for better pay and terms and conditions, “it′s vitally important we mobilise the rank-and-file. The union must find every means possible to give power and impetus to the rank-and-file. The union must also seriously take on the employer directly in the workplace itself. What we have at the moment is a shutdown on freedom of speech and freedom of association in the workplace. We′re effectively banned from going around talking to members. We have to challenge that head on – legally, politically, but also industrially.”
One of John’s key pledges is for PCS to take a lead from unions like United Voices of the World and PCS activists in BEIS, the Culture Sector and HMRC Bootle to fight privatisation by helping outsourced workers fight for a living wage and conditions in line with civil servants. This is vitally important with more government functions being forced into the private sector which is then used to further undermine workers’ pay and terms and conditions. And we think this should be developed to call for a general strike to unify the outsourced strikes with all the others that have been taking place in such unions as the RMT, Unison and UCU against austerity.
There is an urgent need to unify all struggles: within and across unions, with students, youth and to build common action with workers in other countries. We believe that John would agree with this point. But that can only happen in a call and struggle for a general strike to end austerity, and all the employers attacks. However, Labour are retarding this struggle and while their manifesto has declared for ending freedom of movement the EU are leading the attack on European workers and migrants coming to Europe to escape war, poverty and build better lives. We do not agree with his position on Remain, nor his support for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, however critical, [we go into detail on these points elsewhere in print and online].
John says that, “PCS is in a terminal crisis. It cannot be business as usual. It can′t be a matter of electing someone who says we′ll just do the same things we′ve done before. I recognise we′ve got real problems, none of my opponents do.”
We agree. John Moloney’s programme, and that of the IL in PCS, throws some light on the problems the PCS and all unions are facing because of its leadership. While we disagree with John’s stance on some issues, we support his candidature and that of that of the IL candidates in the National and Group (Departmental etc.) elections as their election would be a major step forward in building a fighting democratic union.
Read a full interview with John here. There are also video clips on the IL website (https://pcsindependentleft.com/) where John outlines his election pledges.