It’s been a busy morning in Brighton, with a debate taking place that will have major implications for the future of the Labour party. The non-party affiliated civil service union, PCS, is having its annual conference and top of the bill for discussion has been the impending merger with Unite.
The PCS NEC proposed a motion that would have allowed them to continue negotiations with Unite, without conditions. The pace of discussions has accelerated in recent months with the merger process now due to complete in January 2015.
However, this timeline may now be in doubt as PCS members rejected their leaders’ motion by a significant majority – 109,326 t0 73,212. A subsequent motion allowing the NEC to continue negotiations subject to minimum conditions did pass on a hand vote, but the warning signal from the PCS membership was very clear: they still prize their independence.
Although PCS has a substantial pensions deficit, its immediate solvency isn’t threatened and questions have been raised by many members as to the benefits of subsuming their union into Unite. The debate in the hall was particularly characterised by hostility to joining a Labour affiliated union with speakers citing the level of civil service cuts implemented by the last Labour government.
Notably, one of the conditions stipulated for future PCS-Unite merger talks is that there would need to be an independent political fund.
PCS members’ suspicion of Labour will heap further pressure on Unite, in addition to its own internal rumblings, to revisit its relationship with Labour.
Recently, Len McCluskey envisaged a scenario where Unite could disaffiliate from the party if Labour lost the next general election. Given the recent polls, and the views of the PCS rank and file, Unite’s long term relationship with the Labour party is now looking increasingly tenuous.