The battle between Royal Mail bosses and the CWU postal workers’ union is at a crucial stage, the outcome of which will determine the future of the union in the industry.
The leadership of the union was meeting to discuss the next steps in its campaign as Socialist Worker went to press.
Four periods of strikes by 130,000 workers over pay in the summer forced management to offer new talks.
But it is clear from documents released following the breakdown of talks that management are out to impose “total flexibility” on postal workers, and smash the union in the process.
The union must respond with a determined programme of industrial action, if Royal Mail’s plans are to be thwarted.
However, there were signs that some in the CWU leadership were reluctant to call that action – believing that talks might still bring about a deal to end the dispute.
This is a serious mistake. Royal Mail has repeatedly shown that it is not serious about reaching a decent deal.
The bosses, and Gordon Brown who is backing them, want blood.
The union leaders’ strategy risks losing the momentum of the previous strikes and disorientating activists.
A packed meeting of reps from across Britain met in London last week. It made its feelings clear – the strikes must be back on. Many at the meeting were angry at the way that successful strike action has been suspended for weeks. This has allowed management to regain the initiative by announcing big changes to working practices in some offices, bullying workers into acceptance and victimising a number of union activists.
“The meeting was united. We need hard-hitting action. That action must not be suspended, even if management agree to further talks,” Paul Moffat, the CWU’s Eastern Region secretary, told Socialist Worker.
There was also a strong feeling that the political campaign that the union’s leadership promised would accompany the industrial action has not been vigorous enough. Many felt that this was because of an unwillingness to attack Brown’s role in the dispute.
“Brown is telling our bosses to stand firm because he does not want his public sector pay freeze to be broken,” says Paul Turnbull, who represented Eastern No 4 branch at the meeting.
“Everyone seemed to agree that striking during Labour’s conference next week would be a good way of getting both the political and industrial strategy on track.”
There will be anger in the union if it is suspected that any failure to announce new strike dates is part of an effort to avoid taking action during Labour’s conference.
“Some in the leadership are worried that by attacking Brown, we are alienating our friends. Some friends!” said Paul Turnbull.
Many reps called for a review of the union’s funding of the party. Paul Moffat said, “In my view, giving money to Labour is like paying the school bully to give you a black eye.”
Mark Dolan, area delivery rep for north London, told Socialist Worker that the union must resume strike action. He said, “If we were to strike now, the system would be crippled, and management would be hit incredibly hard.”
The strikes over the summer saw millions of items stuck in the system. Bosses were unable to cope. Action now would have an even greater effect because mail volumes are much higher.