The opening minutes of the CWU postal and telecom workers’ conference laid down a clear challenge to the government over the way services have been sacrificed to corporate greed.
The delegates gathered just as a strike ballot among 150,000 postal workers was coming to an end. The union is expecting a strong mandate to call action over a 2.5 percent pay offer (in reality a 2 percent pay cut, as inflation is 4.5 percent), threats to 40,000 jobs, the closure of 2,500 post offices, worse pensions, mail centre closures – and much else.
The strike campaign has energised the union and its structures. It highlighted the destructive plans coming from management, and the government’s contempt for public services.
Moving the second motion of the day, Martin Walsh, a London divisional rep, said, “We see job cuts, Post Office closures, full competition from private firms four years ahead of anywhere else in Europe.
“Imagine if all this was happening under a Tory government – there would be outrage, and quite right too. Royal Mail’s plans mean moves to regional pay, and the business also wants to limit deliveries on a Saturday to stamped mail – that’s about 10 percent of the total.
“We are facing destruction of the service.”
He demanded that unless there was significant change by June 2008, the union should ballot its members on whether they continued to fund the Labour Party.
Mark Palfrey, acting London divisional rep, said that the policy of competition had led directly to Royal Mail’s “slash and burn” approach. “The strike ballot will arm us industrially, we also need to be armed politically,” he said.
“Whenever there have been members’ meeting during the strike campaign, we are asked why we continue to give thousands of pounds to a party where we have very little influence.
“If it’s Blair or Brown as prime minister, Johnson or Darling at the DTI, they need to realise we mean business.”
Speaking for the executive, CWU general secretary Billy Hayes called on the conference to pass the motion.
“We know we do not have friends in the Tory Party,” he said. “And we also see today that the Lib Dems want to sell off half the industry. But we also can’t continue in a situation where we go to Labour Party conference and to union-sponsored Labour MPs and all we get is hand-wringing. If the government won’t listen then we will ballot on whether to fund the Labour Party.”
He said he was confident that change could be achieved, just as the union had forced Royal Mail boss Allan Leighton to back off from some of his schemes.
The motion was passed unanimously
There is an electric mood, both industrially and politically among delegates. Everyone expects a strong vote for action when the strike ballot result comes out on Thursday. And a titanic battle will then be in prospect which will have implications for workers everywhere in Britain.
It will directly affect the battle to break Gordon Brown’s 2 percent public sector pay cap, and could greet Brown with the clear message that the unions are not prepared to be ignored as they were under Blair.