Tory fruitcake, Eric Pickles, lost a High Court battle last week with the PCS Union. Pickles has wanted to end the collection of union subs via salary check-off in local government for some time but then decided to do it himself for those working in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). PCS successfully challenged the change and Pickles has been left with a massive bill for £90,000. Considering the cost of check-off to the department is just £300 per year it’s easy to see that this was a purely ideological attempt to make the unions’ job harder.
It’s understandable for the union to be beside itself with excitement to know that money from subscriptions will continue to enter the organisation automatically. It ensures that the activists can carry on doing what the bureaucracy expects of them and organising can be controlled from the centre.
However we should look at the benefits of workplace activists having to spend time collecting subs from members on a monthly basis. And of course we should consider the problems of check-off: namely that union organising is reliant on help from the employer, embedding a compliant, partnership model of union activity.
Back in the days before check-off union activists had to go around the workplace collecting dues. To do this discussions had to take place with the members regularly to gauge opinion. Activists came away not just with the subs but with intelligence from the members on what was happening on the shop floor, the actions of management and the strength of feeling amongst the membership. The activists were also able to educate the members of the latest union news, the negotiations with management and any plans for action. By giving subs each month people were renewing their union links manually, keeping up to date with their activists and ensuring that their views were heard. In other words the rank and file activists were essential in securing the union could function financially; much more so than under current arrangements where some reps prefer to stay hidden in their union offices rather than actually talk to members.
Check-off doesn’t prevent this kind of activity but an end to check-off presents an opportunity to get back to our roots and increase our discussions with members. Of course we cannot assume that check-off will last forever and unions will no doubt push members to use direct debit in the modern era. This would be a mistake. Ruling class attacks on our movement should be resisted but they can also be used to our advantage. Activists should prepare for an end to check-off and the cosy elements of the relationship between the union and the state. All out hostility would not break the union; it would likely see rising membership levels and further strike action.
- Liberal Conspiracy: Eric Pickles cost taxpayers £90,000 over ‘reckless’ case (moonblogsfromsyb.wordpress.com)
- Eric Pickles costs taxpayers £90,000 in failed legal action against trade unions (mirror.co.uk)
- PCS Forced to Hand Out Direct Debit Forms After Pickles Decree (order-order.com) – This was written before PCS won and is fucking wretched. It includes some very stupid remarks about the PCS direct debit form and the equality tick boxes re sexuality. The writer clearly hasn’t got a clue about why the union might want to monitor equality or indeed of union democracy relating to the function of the political fund. The comments on the blog are even worse.