Postal union conference
Delegates prepare for confrontation
JUST BEFORE the election around 50,000 postal workers stuck unofficially and illegally-and won. They were protesting at their bosses' demands for "flexibility", ever harder working, more competition and privatisation. Rank and file organisation was victorious in round one. But round two is not likely to be long in coming. One big issue is the future of the NDO office in north London. The Post Office's closure plan threatens the future of 1,300 jobs. Workers have just voted by four to one for strikes to save NDO.
Union leaders were meeting this week to decide when to call the first action. When NDO strikes, it will throw down a challenge to management. The recent unofficial strike was sparked by Royal Mail provocatively instructing other offices to do the work of Watford, which was on a one-day official strike. Royal Mail could detonate another big strike if it instructs other offices to do NDO's work. Management may be wary of that so soon after their last defeat.
If Royal Mail bosses retreat and do not tell people to do NDO's work, they will be admitting they are weak and may have to make big concessions on NDO itself. The future for the Post Office is a symbol of Blair's project for the second term. As well as the threats of privatisation, New Labour wants "increased productivity and continuous efficiency improvement".
That means nastier discipline, 4am starts, more bullying, intimidation of union reps, and more pressure to work harder. But the growing strength of rank and file organisation is a formidable obstacle to that.
The sectional conferences of the Communication Workers Union took place last week. The postal workers' section was particularly interesting.
Why give to enemy?
AT LEAST a quarter of the CWU general conference (which brings together postal and telecom delegates) voted for a motion which would have opened the way for the union's political fund to be used for candidates to the left of Labour. The motion was quite modest. But the union leadership upped the stakes. Deputy general secretary John Keggie told delegates they were voting on breaking entirely from Labour.
Several delegates expressed anger that the union continued to shovel money to New Labour when it is attacking union members. Pete Boswell from Oxfordshire said, "The time is now right to ask whether all our money should go to New Labour. "During our strike earlier this year we were told on the picket line that the Department for Trade and Industry had agreed with the Post Office that there should be selective dismissal of strikers. I do not want to give money to an organisation that is trying to sack me."
Derek Durkin from Scotland number 2 branch pointed out that companies like the delivery company UPS were giving money to New Labour. "We are lining up with them to fund the people who are going to privatise the industry," he said.
The union leaders arranged for John Prescott to speak just before the debate. He rammed home the idea that the only choice was New Labour or the Tories. The closeness of the election also had a big impact on delegates. In the end the fact that a quarter to a third of delegates voted for the motion is very encouraging for socialists who want to free up the political fund.
DELIVERY workers throughout Leeds struck on the day before the election. It was a protest against non-payment for delivery of election material. Staff were particularly angry about the lack of national arrangements over the issue.
'Rank and file can organise seriously'
By Jane Loftus, delegate to CWU conference (personal capacity)
THE POSTAL industry conference was opened by the CWU union's deputy general secretary, John Keggie.
He is the Blair supporting, "partnership with the employer" candidate who was recently defeated in the election for general secretary. Keggie told delegates, "The decisions you are about to take over the next 48 hours will determine whether we are on a collision course with the Post Office and New Labour."
Privatisation and job losses are high on New Labour's agenda for the Post Office. The CWU also faces a government and employer hell-bent on introducing competition into all areas of their businesses. To carry through these attacks, New Labour and management need to smash the solidarity and effective opposition shown by CWU members recently. The opposition to Royal Mail's plans and the revolt against its provocative style of management mean that nearly every day there is an office on strike somewhere in Britain.
These strikes, particularly the big unofficial strike, formed the background to the conference. People feel confident, particularly because not a single union member has been disciplined as a result of that dispute. The election of Billy Hayes as general secretary has reinforced the message to our leaders that we want to fight against the Post Office's attacks and we want the whole union behind us.
We do not want any more national agreements like the Way Forward which weaken our ability to fight and increase workloads for many of our members. Billy Hayes's election has rocked national officials. The executive repeatedly changed its mandate from opposition to left wing motions to support at the conference.
This caused great confusion among the Keggie-supporting delegates. Conference voted time and again for the union to break from the employer's agenda, and fight over issues like productivity, discipline, pay, attendance procedures and job losses.
By passing these motions delegates made it clear they are on a collision course with government and employer. The political debate was not confined to the conference floor. Many delegates attended fringe meetings. In the recent past a big fringe meeting has been a rare event at CWU conference.
This year around 180 delegates went to a meeting sponsored by branches to discuss the future for the union.
The most significant meeting saw around 50 come to the launch of the rank and file newspaper Post Worker. This paper has placed itself at the centre of the fightback in the Post Office. During the last dispute the Liverpool strike committee wrote two letters, one calling for solidarity action and another calling for postal workers to prepare for the next round of attacks.
Post workers from every region of the union have been elected to the Post Worker editorial board. A network has now been established that wants to bring together rank and file workers so that we can put pressure on our leaders and take action ourselves.
Delegates supporting the Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party organised a fringe meeting to debate breaking from and fighting New Labour. The true potential of Post Worker and the socialists will be seen in the coming months as workers prepare for national action.
One very good sign was that on the last day of the conference the executive was pushed to support the Anti Nazi League's demo in Oldham. The conference was further evidence that there is real resistance to New Labour's plans. Significantly, we have also seen the emergence of a rank and file which can organise on a very serious basis.
70-hour week usual
"THERE IS a new mood in society. At Seattle we saw a whole new generation of activists on the scene. Issues like globalisation are not esoteric questions-they directly affect the lives of our members. Public ownership and public investment are back on the agenda."
- BILLY HAYES, the new general secretary, in his inaugural speech to conference
"THE PRESSURE on us is already really intense. I am away from home this week at conference but I will see more of my family than I normally do. I work a 70-hour week-that's quite usual for me. I don't see my child. I don't feel like a normal human being. Where I live a two bedroom house costs �190,000. I can't survive on my basic money."
- POSTAL WORKER from Dorking, Surrey