‘Not New Labour’: As passport workers threaten to ruin thousands’ summer holidays with new strikes, we take a closer look at the union’s self-proclaimed ‘true socialist’ leader
- His membership of Socialist Organizer led to expulsion from Labor in 1991
- He makes fewer friends in governments than under moderate Labour
His critics say he is a Trotskyist plotting general strikes – and Mark Serwotka hardly disagrees.
The secretary-general of the Public and Commercial Services union prefers to call himself a ‘real socialist’, making it clear that he is ‘not a New Labor version’.
His membership of the radical group Socialist Organizer led to his expulsion from Labor in 1991 – he only rejoined in 2016 after his hard-left comrade Jeremy Corbyn became leader.
And not only was he recently linked to ‘general strike plans’, ‘to take down the Tories’, Mr Serwotka, 59, declared in 2014 before town hall workers walked out: ‘We need to combine these permanent major political strikes with effective targeted action that will really hurt them.’
He makes even fewer friends in governments than he does among Labor moderates.
His critics say he’s a Trotskyist plotting general strikes – and Mark Serwotka hardly disagrees
Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union on the picket line outside Birmingham Airport last December
But no one can deny father-of-two Mr. Serwotka’s will to fight – not least for life, after suffering permanent heart damage from a “severe allergic reaction” caused by cleaning his dog.
Mr Serwotka’s struggles began at birth, with six months in a Catholic orphanage in Cardiff.
He was then adopted, his father had a Polish background, his mother Welsh.
At the age of 16 he joined the government as a benefits administrator – joining the union on his very first day.
The following year he was a representative and was elected general secretary in 2000 – holding the position to this day.
Despite being described by the Tablet newspaper as one of Britain’s 100 most influential Catholics, as Serwotka’s commitment to socialism grew, his faith declined.
“I broke up with Virgo when I was 20 and don’t consider myself Catholic,” he said.
“I saw more and more problems, and the answers didn’t come from religion. My philosophy is to try to change the world we live in now.’
The general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union prefers to say he is a ‘real socialist’, making it clear that he is ‘not a New Labor version’
He quickly rose through the ranks of the unions and was elected secretary-general in 2000 – a post he has held to this day.
Staying alive has been more of a struggle. In 2010, at the Surrey home he shares with his wife Ruth, with whom he has children Imogen and Rhys, his Labrador, Scampi, returned ‘smelly’ from a walk in the woods.
He didn’t think to bathe the filthy pet – but the next day his face and legs were grotesquely swollen. A week later, he felt his heart go ‘crazy’, up to 220 beats per minute.
Doctors found permanent scars on his heart, which they blamed on a “severe allergic reaction” or virus contracted while cleaning his dog.
He survived thanks to a pacemaker linked to a bulky rechargeable power pack in a bag slung over his shoulder – reportedly he had ‘no pulse’ left – before a heart transplant in 2016.
Serwotka joked about his years plugging in his pacemaker during meetings: “I’m the only Duracell-powered general secretary in the Labor movement.”
As his members prepare to ruin Britain’s holiday plans, he’s definitely charged up now.