Secret documents leaked last week show that Royal Mail is planning to smash the postal workers’ CWU union.
Managers hope to inflict a defeat that will change the industry forever. And the Labour government backs them all the way.
Not since the great Miners’ Strike of 1984–5 has there been such open planning involving management, government and the police.
The ten Powerpoint slides in the leaked documents reveal meticulous preparation to break the union.
Royal Mail management responded to reports of the documents with claims that they “did not recognise” them.
But just 48 hours later, bosses showed that they are serious about taking on the union with the announcement that they are hiring 30,000 casual workers to deal with the backlog of mail caused by strikes.
Business secretary Lord Mandelson at first denied knowledge of the secret documents.
But then he plucked from the air that he “believed” one section referred to the “£20 million worth of facilities and payment for union salaries”.
Government ministers have made it clear that they want to use the postal workers as an example to the whole working class of the need for sacrifice and the “impossibility” of serious resistance.
Cabinet sources last weekend revealed to the media that Gordon Brown plans to take on groups, such as the postal workers, that he sees as a block to “public sector reform”.
And there are clear signs that preparation is under way for a major confrontation.
The Association of Chief Police Officers has issued guidance to forces on dealing with large-scale strike action.
Each police force, it announced, is assessing and reviewing the implications for public disorder that might arise from industrial action.
The secret documents, and the wider plan they represent, should be a spur to intense action on our side – an urgent and resounding call to build support for the postal workers.
The leaked documents have clear themes:
- The industry will be run strictly on management’s terms and the CWU will not be allowed to get in the way.
One slide urges delivering “the necessary 2009 changes with or without union agreement”. Another argues, “Putting transformation on hold because of non-agreement is not an option” and that “a new relationship with our people is non-negotiable”.
- Bosses will try to punish the union if it stands in the way. If the CWU blocks cuts, job losses and new work patterns then the slides urge bosses to “consider programme of reducing relationship with union”.
And throughout the dispute, it says, “Any non-agreement… must mean the union lose.”
As for the union reps, if they persist in their resistance then management should “serve notice on current IR [industrial relations] framework and facilities/release agreement and substitute legal minimum”.
- They are talking about replacing the CWU, because “actively down-dialling role of the union likely to succeed only if alternative forums for employee voice available”.
- Management have ministers’ support and have “positioned things in such a way as there is shareholder [government], customer and internal support for implementation of changes without agreement”.
- One objective is “new government/political settlement (possibly)” – which points towards a revival of privatisation plans.
It’s also revealing what is not in the document – there is no concern for the public service and no sense of social responsibility.
And there is not a thought for the back-breaking work behind bland phrases about “transformation”.
At key moments, the ruling class prepares carefully for confrontation and then ruthlessly implements its plan. Far too often our side is pathetically unready, weak and constrained by illusions that cosy talks will sort things out.
In the British General Strike of 1926, for example, the Tory government withdrew from a premature confrontation and spent nine months getting ready for a momentous battle. But the TUC spent nine months doing nothing.
Another example is the Wapping strike of 1986. Rupert Murdoch spent years building up a scab newspaper plant, complete with steel fences and television cameras.
He recruited a trained replacement workforce.
Socialist Worker repeatedly highlighted what he was doing, but the union leaders remained in endless and fruitless talks.
Then Murdoch dismissed his 5,000 workers and mobilised his scab plant and workers.
The police battered pickets for a year while the unions utterly failed to deliver effective action. And the print unions suffered a crushing defeat.
We cannot allow another setback like that – the stakes are too high.
The government, employers and workers are all watching the post strikes as an indicator of what can be rammed through in other industries.
This is a key battle about who will pay the price for the economic crisis.