The CWU postal and telecom workers’ union today overturned its executive’s recent decision to back Alan Johnson for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party.
Johnson, a former leader of the union, has angered CWU members by support for a share scheme in the Post Office, his failure to support extension of workers' rights, and his anti working class policies.
In a highly charged debate, the tensions of the union's relationship with New Labour, and the hunger for political representation that backs workers’ interests, bubbled to the surface.
And CWU delegates made clear they do not want a divide between the industrial and political policies of the union.
Around 70 percent of delegates backed a motion that said the decision to support Johnson trampled on the instruction from last year’s conference to support only those candidates who were for the Trade Union Freedom Bill, who were for 100 percent public ownership of the Post Office, and who were against Post Office closures.
The motion censured the executive for its decision and told them to reconsider the union’s position and come up with a new recommendation before voting begins for the deputy leader later this week.
Opening the debate, London divisional rep Martin Walsh said, “This is a question of whether our members come first or the Labour Party comes first. Is it the executive or the conference that makes decisions?
“When the union asked the candidates their views on the questions which last year’s conference said were crucial, Alan Johnson’s were the weakest responses.
“If we pass motions and then fail to carry then out, what message does this send to our members?
“We should not support someone who has walked away from this union and its policies.”
Phil Waker from London Number 7 branch said, “We cannot pass a motion calling for the abolition of the postal regulator one day, and then support someone who offers absolutely no progress on that the next day.”
Delegate Paul O’Donnell said, “In a short time we will be starting a dispute which could determine the future of the Post Office and this union. We need to fight on the industrial and political fronts. Backing Alan Johnson sends out a totally wrong message.
“It’s like having a fry up for the bailiffs before they repossess your cooker”
Bob Cullen from South Central Number 1 branch said, “At a rally a few weeks ago in London a speaker said ‘Let’s have a lamp post before we support Alan Johnson’. I have to say I prefer the lamp post.
“At this critical time we are trying to form a united front with other unions, we need to warn them about Johnson, not back him.
Peter Groom from East London postal branch said, “We couldn’t believe the decision. Surely, I thought, we’d back someone who backs us. Alan Johnson has ignored the people who got him where he is today.”
Paul Turnbull from Eastern Number 4 branch said, “People have said to me this decision was perverse and diabolical. We’ve been told that none of the candidates are perfect, and that’s true, but that is no reason to choose one of the worst. And if none of them are deemed suitable, then don’t support any.”
Jan Zablocki from North Midlands branch said, “Look at Alan Johnson when he was at the department of employment. On a very concrete issue – employment tribunals – he let us down
“He had a chance to help us, but he made the process even more difficult for workers and allowed employers to take punitive measures in response to our members’ claims.
“He chose to pursue his own career. Good luck to him, but he doesn’t do it with our blessing.”
Marian Brain from Birmingham and the Black Country branch said, 'I think Johnson's attitude towards top-up fees for students is crucial. He piloted that through the Commons. I was lucky enough to get an education because there were no fees, but many working class people will be denied that now.
'We shouldn't help the man who pushed that through.'
Paul Moore from Central London branch said, “What next will the executive reveal? Is it Margaret Thatcher for the NHS, Rupert Murdoch for head of the BBC and Nicolae Ceausescu dug up to head the Electoral Commission?”
Only two delegates spoke against overturning the recommendation for Johnson, arguing that once a decision had been made it had to stick.
Speaking for the executive, general secretary Billy Hayes said, “The executive stuck to a transparent process, and I believe we need a leadership, not one that is just looking over its shoulder at conference motions. It’s a sad day when the executive can’t make a judgement call – and none of the candidates are perfect.”
But his appeal to dismiss the motion failed.
It should be noted that not all the executive had supported Johnson at the executive meeting in question, with three supporting Jon Cruddas.