Tax office spends public money on union-busting

hmrc logo on paper

SCANDAL: the ExCom paper advocates the “isolation of PCS’s leadership from all but statutorily required discussion with HMRC...”

by a PCS representative The revelations on 13 November of a union-busting plot at the heart of HMRC should come as no surprise to all socialists and students of trade union history. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has been fighting job cuts and office closures on a massive scale for years in the tax office but it the employer now has another target in its sights—the union itself.

HMRC Deputy Director Jonathan Donovan’s leaked paper, ‘Update for ExCom on Employee and Industrial Relations’ includes all of the elements of Thatcher’s attack on the miners.

Just as the miners opposed the destruction of their industry, the paper recognises that PCS’s ‘Jobs and Staffing’ campaign seeks the “reversal of mass job cuts and abandonment of HMRC’s published staffing reductions”. It goes on to state that “there is no prospect of a negotiated end to this dispute”.

The ExCom paper advocates a “further reduction of facility time from key PCS office holders” and the “isolation of PCS’s leadership from all but statutorily required discussion with HMRC” in order to “target those responsible for leading union members into a series of disputes…and permanently reducing the influence of union leaders”.

It is of course not a new tactic for employers to target unions in this manner. Back in 1983, Thatcher, fresh from winning her second General Election, approached her Energy Secretary with the immortal words: “We are going to have a miners strike.”

Still burdened by the bitter memories of serving in a government brought to its knees by the National Union of Mineworkers in the previous decade and being forced into a tactical retreat by the same union during her first term, she recognised the class enemy and ruthlessly embarked upon a strategy of union-busting.

The industrial carnage of the pit closures was a secondary objective to the primary goal of destroying the most effective, militant group of workers in the country as a means of achieving her vision of a laissez-faire society where the rich would be free to trample on the poor.

Economically viable pits were announced for closure with no consultation; new anti-trade union laws were rushed in; ancient sequestration laws were utilised in order to target the NUM’s finances; union leaders were targeted and demonised; a scab union, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM) was conceived and promoted to undermine the collective power of the miners and the media was utilised to portray those fighting to protect their industry and their livelihoods as being backward-looking relics of a bygone age.

Just as the UDM appeared at the height of the Great Strike, the manufactured staff association ‘Revenue and Customs Trade Union’ has the full backing of HMRC who are using it to “encourage HMRC employees away from PCS representation, including but not limited to other workable alliances and potentially establishment of direct consultative employee forum arrangements starting in those areas where PCS membership density is low”.

And just as anti-trade union laws and sequestration were used to strangle the NUM’s finances, HMRC also wrote to PCS on 11 November to commence a one month consultation after which HMRC would serve notice to “withdraw from the existing check-off arrangement”, the method whereby PCS pays HMRC to deduct union subscriptions automatically from wages and pass on the money to PCS.

Apart from her “catastrophic leadership failure”, according to her peers on the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, HMRC CEO Linn Homer’s previous tenure, on The UK Border Force was marked by a prolonged and bitter standoff with PCS.

After unfairly distributing the pittance of a pay rise to reward higher earners at the expense of the lower paid, her cabal went about a campaign of dirty tricks, involving the promotion of the hated scab Immigration Services Union, anti-PCS propaganda and the victimisation of PCS reps which culminated in the sacking of six GEC members including the group president.

Just as with the miners, make no mistake, PCS is being targeted because, to quote Homer’s pawn Donovan, the union is an ‘intractable problem’. At a time when the legally recognised, democratically elected, independent trade union is being victimised and the department struggles to pursue big business tax avoiders, it is nothing short of a national scandal that HMRC should very openly indulge in union busting using taxpayers money.

Union branches have been holding emergency car park meetings and letters have been sent to every member in the group making clear the tactics the employer has stooped to. Motions pledging support for the union, denouncing the union-busting of HMRC and reinstating the overtime ban have been carried unanimously.

In the leaked paper, HMRC recognise the weakness of their approach, which “does not end the current dispute, [is] high risk, cannot be delivered subtly, will be opposed, and is likely to be seen as political”. Crucially, it has the “potential to embolden support for PCS and therefore [could be] counterproductive”. All socialists and trade unionists should help make sure that those fears are realised.

• Please email messages of support and practical solidarity to: r&cgroup@pcs.org.uk

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