CWU’s national conference passed a motion that prepared the ground for a national fight over pensions, office closures and the threat of privatisation.
With near unanimous support, the conference backed the proposition in the expectation that it would result in a ballot for strike action if Royal Mail refused to back down over its closure of our pension scheme, and its plans to shut dozens of mail centres and scores of delivery offices.
Last week the national union issued a letter to branches that confirmed that the campaign is now ready to start.
Deputy general secretary Dave Ward has told both Royal Mail and the government that there will be “no prospect of progress” on further changes to working practices unless there is a deal on pensions.
The letter confirms that there will be a demonstration at the Labour Party conference in Manchester that starts on 20 September and that there will be a major publicity campaign among our 130,000 members in the post.
Union activists who have been wondering why there has been so little news of the campaign we were promised will particularly welcome this bulletin.
In the period since conference, management have ramped up the pressure – particularly on the question of centre and office closures.
The list of mail centres under threat has turned into a closure list. With the north west of England still “in review”, Oxford, Reading and Coventry have all had closure confirmed, and management have even told the press that they have acquired sites for new buildings.
Under the guise of introducing new technology, like the giant new flat sorting machines (for over-sized letters) that are being put into some of the expanded mail centres, Royal Mail is now saying that hundreds of delivery offices could close.
New super delivery offices will replace up to three old delivery offices, and our asset-stripping bosses will then sell off the land to give the business a cash boost.
With this comes the possibility of transforming large numbers of full-time delivery workers’ jobs into part-time, or even casual, posts on the model of the postal service in the Netherlands.
Some in the leadership of the union seem to have hesitated in launching the campaign, fearing that our members are not up for another fight.
I think this misreads the feeling of the rank and file. Not a single person has approached me to say they don’t want a fight over their pension. It is an abdication of leadership.
The role of leadership is not simply to echo the most passive layer of the union, but to develop a strategy to fight the attacks we face – and then to go out and argue for it.
I think that the reasons for the hesitation are twofold.
Everyone knows that our fight with Royal Mail will be for extremely high stakes, and of course that scares people.
But you only need to look back at how strong we were during our strike last year to know that if we fight, we at least stand a chance of winning.
The second reason is connected to the weakness of Gordon Brown’s government. Many union leaders fear that an outbreak of strikes at this time will finish off the government, like the “winter of discontent” did in 1978-79, and they don’t want to be seen to be the ones who let the Tories in.
But Labour’s support is haemorrhaging because it continually attacks its own supporters, not because it keeps caving in to union demands.
By taking action we can force the government to move away from its most unpopular policies.
If we don’t act, and Royal Mail gets away with its attacks, the demoralisation that will follow carries a real danger of allowing the right to gain.
That anger with the government was reflected in another key motion passed at our conference – that if our pensions, privatisation and closures issues are not sorted out, we should ballot the membership on continued affiliation to the Labour Party. It is vital that this motion is now pursued.
We are now engaged in a life or death battle for the future of our industry and our union. In every area of the country, activists must throw everything into backing the union’s campaign.
And we must insist that alongside pensions, a strategy for stopping the closures is at the centre of the fight.