PCS 'in best place it has been for many years', says departing chief Mark Serwotka

Outgoing general secretary calls for unity and says he is confident PCS “will go from strength to strength” under Fran Heathcote’s leadership
Mark Serwotka. Photo: PA/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

01 Feb 2024

Saying his farewells after 23 years as PCS’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka has said the union is in “the best place it has been for many years”.

Serwotka retired yesterday, passing the baton onto former PCS president Fran Heathcote, who discussed her plans for the union in an exclusive interview with CSW published today.

“I retire today after 23 years as general secretary in the knowledge that we have built PCS into a campaigning, fighting union,” he said.

“The union is in the best place it has been for many years.”

Serwotka said the union has withstood attacks from the government, has been winning “historically high” votes in industrial action ballots, and has developed “an effective industrial action strategy for the future”. He said the union is also growing its membership and its financial position is “the best it has been in years”.

But he warned that members are “facing a hostile government, a cost-of-living crisis and threats of job cuts”, along with “a worrying rise of racism and anti-migrant forces in wider society”.

In light of this, PCS will need to be strong and united, he added.

Serwotka said confident that the union “will go from strength to strength” under Heathcote’s leadership.

“Fran will be a brilliant general secretary,” he said. “Her style of leadership is to build consensus wherever possible around the issues that matter to members. Fran is a serious, hardworking leader who will prioritise the fight for better living standards and working conditions.”

Heathcote, who is the union’s first female general secretary, told CSW that her role “in the months ahead is to try and unify people behind a strategy that takes the fight to where the real enemy is – and that’s the government”.

She warned that PCS members are "incredibly angry about the way they've been treated by government" and that strikes could soon be on the horizon.

Serwotka also recounted his early days of the role, finding a lesson on the importance of unity.

After he won the election to become general secretary in 2000, his predecessor attempted to oust him, claiming legal irregularities in the election process. The dispute was taken to the High Court, where Serwotka won and subsequently took office.

“PCS was in the grip of internal division,” Serwotka said. “We beat the ‘coup’, as it was called, because progressive people across the union were united and we went on to create a union that members can be proud of.”

Heathcote, like Serwotka, has become general secretary after a career in the Department for Work and Pensions. She did not face a “coup” after winning the election in December, but the race was tight – with less than 1,000 votes in it – and supporters of her rival expressed frustration with what they considered to be insufficient action by the current PCS leadership.

However, Serwotka said he is confident can Heathcote can repeat history and once again “build unity” within the union.

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