No ifs, no buts – PCS leaders collaborate with cuts

FRFI has consistently argued that the opportunist left’s reliance on the trade unions to fight the onslaught on the working class is a bankrupt strategy. In the case of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, it has become downright reactionary. The PCS, which organises within both the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and Atos, refuses to side with disabled people to confront the notorious Work Capability Assessments (WCA). Both the Socialist Party (SP) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which are very influential in the PCS, have opposed direct action against the DWP and Atos by those fighting the WCA tests, and have tried to destroy the reputation of one of the leading disabled activists in Wales, Liza van Zyl.

FRFI spoke with Liza following the experience of Glasgow against Atos (GAA). During a meeting in February to discuss how PCS could support GAA, Alan Brown, PCS representative for Glasgow DWP workers, explained that ‘if you beat Atos the government will just hire another company to do the assessment’, adding ‘we won’t tell our members not to do the job ... leaving them open to dismissal ... or leaving the union open to legal action ... we will not manufacture a dispute’. In other words, the union was not going to break anti-trade union laws and would limit itself to defending the narrow interests of the union, if needs be at the expense of poorer sections of the working class.

Liza helped set up Disabled People against the Cuts (DPAC) in Wales which organised some very successful actions against Atos. Liza recalls:

‘It was our group that forced the Co-op to drop Atos as its occupational health provider ... We had two superb direct actions ... one of them was we stormed the main Co-op bank in Cardiff with a guerrilla hymn-singing occupation ... it went viral and was a huge protest ... loads of passers-by ... came and joined in the singing.’’

Yet what happened next?

‘We had a complaint from Cardiff Trades Council which is run by the Socialist Party ... because we organised this protest at the same time that they were leafleting for the 20 October [2012] TUC march in London’.

What mattered to the SP was not a real fight against the cuts, but the phoney war waged by the TUC. Liza had already aroused the anger of both the SP and the SWP by demanding that the PCS support increasingly successful DPAC actions against Atos. This led to a campaign of personal vilification: ‘Over several months we had such attacks on us; they were accusing us of advocating that DWP staff were murderers and crap like that ... it was an entirely political attack.’

So determined was the PCS to destroy Liza that they set the Welsh police on her claiming that she had physically threatened PCS members. Her house was raided just before midnight on 26 October 2012 on charges of criminal acts against the DWP. These were not pursued. Liza explains:

‘The reason that I was targeted and the police set on me wasn’t because I made a threat ... I never threatened PCS members with violence, I never threatened to set myself alight outside a job centre, I used it as a rhetorical device ... they told the police that I was intending to go and set myself alight outside Transport House which is the TUC headquarters in Cardiff where PCS is based ... I only found out almost two and a half months later that it was the PCS that was responsible for setting the police on me.’

Liza was, until recently, vice-president of the University and College Union in Wales. ‘Was’ because a kangaroo court convened behind her back forced her out of her post in November 2012.

‘They [the PCS] told the general secretary of my union before they set the police on me but my own union didn’t bother to tell me that this was going on. I’ve now also been forced out as Wales Vice Chair because apparently my activities make me unfit or my mental health makes me unfit to hold trade union office.’

What has been the outcome of this campaign by the reactionary left?

‘I set up a branch of DPAC in Cardiff and ... in the three months that we were going ... we became the biggest and most active branch of DPAC ever. We were having a direct action protest every week ... we became really big and then the Trotskyist left destroyed us. So now there’s a new branch of DPAC that’s formed in Cardiff but it’s essentially controlled by the Socialist Party and it’s under the remit of Cardiff Trades Council which is the Socialist Party. It doesn’t do any direct action.’

Liza told FRFI of her recent contact with former DPAC activists and stressed:

‘It’s really important ... to build links with ordinary DWP and PCS rank and file because they’re not in the SP, they’re not in the SWP ... we can show solidarity with those workers in PCS who are really upset about the fact that the leadership is not representing their interests and is not building for a boycott’.

Liza added ‘Unfortunately in Wales we’ve got a major problem in that the Wales President of PCS is in the SP and a very senior official in the SP ... and the Wales Vice President is in the SWP and is very senior in the SWP ... they’re representing the interests of the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party.’

Liza emphasises that it is the opportunist or Trotskyist left that has orchestrated the campaign against her. Her experience is consistent with that of Glasgow against Atos: it differs only in being more outrageous. Together they show how backward the opportunist left is: backward in its attitude to disabled people, backward in placing sectional interests before the interests of the working class, backward in its contempt for democracy, and ruthless in its preparedness to use the police to enforce its will.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013