John Pearson Case: #PCS rep claims that supporting sacked activist is an ‘attack’ on the leadership


I’ve highlighted the John Pearson case a number of times. John was sacked for carrying out his trade union activities but his union (PCS) decided not to support his case at tribunal. As a matter of principle the union should have supported an activist suffering from union busting tactics but instead there have been lots of strange murmurings as to why John should be left to fight for himself. Just to be clear though, he won his case at tribunal having hired a private lawyer.

The reasons people in PCS have given for their lack of support have ranged from accusations John ignored advice from the union and that he didn’t have the support of his fellow branch reps. The latter is an utter disgrace because it uses the fact that local activists were spineless as a reason to be insitutionally spineless. The former is connected to the fact that John knew he had a good and winnable case.

But now there are new reasons coming to light. I’ve been handed an email from a rep in a large government department which details their concerns. The rep in question is a member of the leading “Left Unity” faction. I should declare now that when I was in PCS I was also a member of this faction and I became increasingly concerned with the lack of democracy and transparency within it as time wore on.

The email is a response to a member asking the branch to formally support John’s case by signing a letter to the general secretary, Mark Serwotka. You can see here how many people did bother to sign the letter. The email starts by setting the scene declaring “the case of John Pearson was a complex one.” Well, most cases are complex but this is actually simple if looked at from a principled position of opposing union busting and supporting fellow trade union activists.

It goes on to say that it is still a contentious issue and then the following jaw-dropping paragraph spews forth:

On the one hand its not good to appear to back some cases and not others (in an ideal world it would be great if we could back all cases financially). But on the other hand it also not very useful for a case with complexities (reasons for it not being backed) being highjacked by an existing agenda to attack the current leadership of PCS, with no viable alternative to put in its place.

So there we have it. For this branch officer in a high profile part of the union this case is about two things. The first is that not everyone can be backed financially. Now this is interesting wording because the focus here is on cases in general. Yes, a union can’t just take every case to tribunal, that would be impossible and I would argue pointless, whereas the writer of the email thinks it would be desirable. But this is a case of the employer attacking a rep whilst they carried out their legitimate union duties and on top of which, they won the tribunal.

The second issue is more telling. We see the officer link the case to an “attack” on the current leadership. Well, I’m not concerned with the internal machinations of PCS anymore. It’s really none of my business who controls the union. My one concern here is to support victimised reps. It is unclear how PCS having a change of heart and supporting John would help an attack on the current leadership. It’s also unclear what is meant by the word “highjacked”. OK, so let’s assume it’s supposed to mean ‘hijacked’. This case hasn’t been hijacked by anyone. from what I’ve seen it’s been handled extremely democratically with the individual at the centre of the issue a crucial part of the decision making process. But forgive me, who gives a fuck anyway? A comrade has been attacked, just support him and stop the bullshit.

So, if any PCS National Executive Committee members get to read this my message is simple. Please change your decision and support John Pearson. How the case has been handled is history, perhaps you can put it to one side and be bold enough to support his case in the interests of solidarity and in the principled tradition of opposing union busting and attacks on activists.

Both John and another PCS activist, Sofia Azam, are seeking help from the union and will be protesting outside PCS HQ in Clapham on Tuesday at 12:30.

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5 thoughts on “John Pearson Case: #PCS rep claims that supporting sacked activist is an ‘attack’ on the leadership

  1. I want to make it clear that I had excellent support from the members of the Branch Executive Committee (BEC) of my PCS HP North West branch. This branch was leading the campaign of industrial action against Hewlett Packard’s mass redundancies programme during the course of which I was suspended and later sacked. We were let down by the leadership of the North East and Yorks branch who made insufficient effort to persuade members at the Newcastle-upon-Tyne site that, although that site – (for the time being) – was being left relatively unscathed by the job cuts that devastated sites in the North West and at Sheffield (the latter being in their own branch), it was nevertheless in the interests of the members of that branch that they support the strike action.

    A lot of what has happened since, with respect to the union officials’ refusal to support me, is connected with the provision of a fig leaf for the failure in Newcastle, where the union’s HP Group President, Alan Skinner, is also the Branch Chair. Skinner is a PCS Left Unity member. The LU leadership has had a tendency over recent years to want to describe failures as victories. The collapse of unity in the fight at HP, which has cost to date over 500 union members’ jobs, had to be recast by the LU leadership and their allies in the ranks of former LU ‘other hat’ wearers in the bureaucracy, as a case of the adventurism and maverickism of John Pearson (who was treated as a personification of the militant branch), rather than appalling leadership by their men in Newcastle.

    After the impact of our action was badly hit by the collapse of support in the North East I had to take the Employment Tribunal route to challenge my dismissal for sending out statutory redundancy data to branch members, with the authorisation of my BEC. 5 BEC members acted as witnesses for me at the Tribunal and their testimony was vitally important in my winning the case. Of these 5, one – Nicholas Cockell, who also held a post of Organiser at PCS HP Group level – had to be subpoena’ed to appear, due to unwillingness to do so voluntarily. Nick was the person from my branch who badmouthed me at the union’s Annual Delegate Conference last May. He was the only branch delegate in attendance. The other hostile speaker from outside the ranks of the NEC was Skinner himself.

    I am surprised that apologists for the officials’ refusal to support me have assigned so much significance to the Conference speech of Br. Cockell. What evidence is their that he was speaking on behalf of the BEC, (let alone on behalf of branch members), rather than in his personal capacity, expressing a personal view?

    Now, crucially, did Nick – under oath at the Tribunal – articulate an alternative narrative concerning my actions which led to my dismissal? No, he most certainly did not. His testimony was not of a different character to that of the 4 other BEC members.

    Nick differed from the others in that he always saw – (and referred to) – “PCS” as being the full time officials, the HQ at Clapham Junction and the institutions of the organisation, rather than seeing it as the members. What Nick said against me at ADC 2014 reflected a philosophical difference as to how a trade union should organise. For Nick personally, my methods, although they had won the support of the BEC and the branch membership, were not the way forward for trade unionism at HP. He was readily winnable to come over to the service of the bureaucracy in resisting the democratic impulse for Conference to overturn the officials’ actions.

  2. It’s strange that it was John Pearson himself who nominated Skinner as Group President in August 2013 after his afore mentioned dispaly of appalling leadership !

  3. In reply to Post Toastie, I can explain why I nominated the PCS HP North East & Yorkshire Branch Chair, Alan Skinner, for the role of Group President just 3 months after the official industrial action collapsed in that branch, leaving the members in my North West branch isolated. The action was clearly very seriously weakened by the collapse of support in the North East. That very serious situation had to be rectified if we were to defeat a powerful transnational company.

    The breach in solidarity could only be rectified by some dedicated hard work in the branch where the problem existed. Either a new leadership had to emerge to replace Bro. Skinner and his associates, or the approach of the incumbent leadership had to be turned around. I did not know of any potential new leaders in the North East and I wrongly believed at that time that Bro. Skinner could be won to doing the necessary work by means of ‘stretching him’. In assisting him to secure the GEC Presidential role, I was trying to create a situation wherein he took on responsibility to the members in all of the branches within the group. I hoped that holding that role would motivate him in winning back the lost solidarity of the North Eastern workers for their North Western colleagues who were first in the firing line. On paper, Alan Skinner’s credentials to be Group President at a time of a fight against mass job cuts were impressive. He had been an active NUM nenber throughout the 1984/85 strike.

    Sadly, my calculations proved to be wrong and my faith in Bro. Skinner was very seriously misplaced. Within a month of my successful nomination for him to take the role of Acting Group President, pending a by-election being arranged, Alan moved to remove me from my GEC seat. He immorally and unconstitutionally came up with a cock and bull story that unemployed PCs members cannot hold office at Group level and he debarred my attendance at meetings.

    Alan decided to serve the bureaucracy instead of the members. He repeated the role at the ADC in May 2014 where he made an ad hominem attack on me to help secure the defeat of a motion for the union to support me against my dismissal for trade union activities. These were shameful actions for a trade unionist to take. In all probability, he’ll have another go at the 2015 ADC, varying his smears accordingly to counter the fact that I have been found to have been unfairly dismissed for trade union activity. I have to continue to fight to make the officials of the union that I served for 6 years recognise their obligation to defend the union’s elected reps from employer attacks. I will continue that fight alongside the many principled and rock solid union sisters and brothers who have come forward to stand with me. Thereafter I will look for ways to reciprocate that support. Meanwhile, Alan Skinner will have to live with his conscience.

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