The CWU conference 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 his support for a share scheme in the Post Office and his failure to support extension of workers’ rights.
The tensions of the union’s relationship with New Labour, and the hunger for political representation that backs workers’ interests, bubbled to the surface during the debate.
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 and 100 percent public ownership of the Post Office, and who were against Post Office closures.
The motion censured the executive for its decision. It 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, Johnson’s were the weakest responses.
“If we pass motions and then fail to carry them 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 Johnson sends out a wrong message. It’s like having a fry up for the bailiffs before they repossess your cooker.”
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. If none of them are deemed suitable, then don’t support any.”
Only two delegates spoke against overturning the recommendation for Johnson.
Speaking for the executive, general secretary Billy Hayes said, “The executive stuck to a transparent process. 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.”
But his appeal to dismiss the motion failed.
Not all the executive had supported Johnson at the executive meeting in question, with three supporting Jon Cruddas.