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.