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Mark Serwotka’s conference address

The annual conference of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) opens in Brighton tomorrow. Delegates will be asked to endorse a ballot for a national strike over jobs, pensions and pay. Mark Serwotka was a surprise victor as PCS general secretary almost a decade ago, and his victory was bitterly contested by the right-wing establishment that he ousted. He came from the Benefits Agency in Sheffield, having never before been a paid official of the union.  In that time, from a very difficult start, he has not only consolidated his position and strengthened the rank and file base in his union, but he has become one of the most articulate faces not just of the “awkward squad” but of the trade union movement as a whole.

In his keynote address before the debates begin, Mark Serwotka is expected to say:

This coming year is the most important year in our history as we face battles over jobs, privatisation, pensions, pay and our terms and conditions. Everything we have ever worked for is under threat from this government.

The services we provide and the jobs we do are under threat. The government’s strategy on pay makes no economic sense. And George Osborne says public sector pensions are ‘unsustainable’ but the National Audit Office disagrees and Lord Hutton’s report showed the cost of public sector pensions is falling.

The scale and injustice of these attacks, announced by the government without consultation and sometimes simply imposed, means our national executive committee is unanimously recommending a ballot for strike action.

The government is trying to divide us – picking off different workers at different times. But if we vote for strike action we will be co-ordinating with unions representing another half a million public sector workers.”

On wider campaigning and working with other organisations, including UK Uncut and community campaigners, he will say:

For years our union has been at the forefront of the tax justice campaign, and we are proud to support UK Uncut that has popularised our message that the real fraudsters and the real scroungers are to be found in the boardrooms not in the jobcentres.

Like many I have been inspired by the student protests that erupted at the end of last year – hundreds of thousands of young people taking to the streets because they had been betrayed, again.

Their passion and their organisation surprised me and it also inspired me – because too often people have labelled young people as apolitical and apathetic.

We are also working with organisations like Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and supporting initiatives like the Hardest Hit march last week – because black people, migrant communities and disabled people are not to blame for the crisis, but they are some of the worst-hit victims of it.

We cannot allow our communities to be divided at this time: whether between those born here or born abroad, those in work or those out of work, or between those who work in the public sector and those in the private sector.

On Friday we’ll be hearing from Len McCluskey, the newly elected general secretary of Unite – a union like ours that represents workers in both the public and private sectors, a union that knows the importance of campaigning hard, and a union with which we will be signing a joint agreement to embed our new working relationship at every level.

To sum up, he will say:

This coming year is going to be one of the most challenging years for the trade union movement – and public sector trade unions in particular – as the coalition government seeks to make the public sector and its workforce pay for the crisis, through cuts to jobs, services, pay and pensions.

We will need to be creative in our campaigning, tough in our bargaining, and prepared to take action. We will continue to work, and build links, with other trade unions to make our voice as powerful as possible in our campaigning and in any industrial action.

We can work together, campaign together and, yes, strike together – and together we can win.”

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