As Lord Mandelson toured television studios last week defending his plan to sell a share of Royal Mail to vulture capitalists CVC, we in the London division of the CWU union were totting up our votes for strike action.
With a resounding 91 percent “yes” vote, almost every unit we balloted endorsed the strike call. In my area, in nine out 22 units, not a single person voted against.
The results are the perfect antidote to almost two years in which Royal Mail bosses have been able to set the agenda.
In that time we’ve seen the final salary pension scheme attacked, government privatisation plans announced, mail centres closed, cost-cutting and part-time contracts introduced, and hundreds of jobs lost – all without a national strike in response.
Many in the union’s national leadership, and a fair few local reps too, have argued that our members are not up for a fight. But the sheer scale of the London vote should put an end to that idea.
And its not just London – there has been a rash of disputes all over the country this year.
The real question of whether we can win our members to a fight remains one of leadership. When our members know their union is serious about fighting they will back it.
In London that has meant touring offices, winning over those who were wavering and giving confidence to the reps.
A key task of this year’s CWU conference will be to link all the local and regional battles into a national fight.
It would be no surprise if Royal Mail rushed to the courts to try to mount a legal challenge to our strike. The union can’t allow our action to be derailed by such undemocratic actions.
And the London vote must not become like last year’s national consultative ballot on pensions which showed the willingness of our members to fight, but which led to no action.
That failure was a casualty of our union’s link to Labour. In short, the union didn’t want to rock the government’s boat.
Now Lord Mandelson tells the press that the union is an obstacle to change because local branches have a say in how agreements are implemented.
Then we hear Dave Ward, our own deputy general secretary, saying we should rethink that aspect of our relationship with Royal Mail.
Instead of our link to Labour being used by us to pressurise the government, it seems that the opposite is true.
Many in the CWU national leadership hope that making a deal with the present government can protect us from worse under the Tories.
But the more we give up now, the more disillusioned our members will become, and the less able we will be to face down future attacks – whichever government they come from.
There are some in the union who say that without the link to Labour there would not be 159 Labour MPs who are prepared to rebel against the government. I don’t buy that.
Most MPs know how unpopular post privatisation is and they don’t want to be associated with it because it might cost them their seat.
Our union’s money should only go to those who stand up for us – with not a penny going to a party that attacks us.
And to those in Royal Mail and the government who hope they can get away with privatisation I say, take a good a look at the London votes for strike and prepare for one hell of a battle.