LEADERS OF the Communication Workers Union (CWU) faced a key test this week. On Tuesday the union's postal executive was to vote on its response to demands for a strike ballot over London weighting. A press report in advance of the meeting suggested that the union's national leaders were opposed to a ballot because the annual pay negotiations with Royal Mail were 'only just beginning'.
It would be a serious mistake to refuse a ballot. London workers have already demonstrated their feeling over the issue in the strongest possible terms. In May, in an unofficial ballot, they voted by 19,803 votes to 91 for action on London weighting.
After that vote rank and file workers pushed for a day of action. But the union's national officials headed off such calls by insisting they would take London weighting very seriously in the next national pay round. The CWU conference also supported this approach. At around the same time, in the elections for the union's deputy general secretary, Dave Ward defeated John Keggie partly because Ward was seen to be sympathetic to the London campaign. Royal Mail knows there is anger over the level of pay in general and in London in particular.
But management's response has been to offer an increase of only £100 a year in London weighting. At present London weighting is £3,250 for inner London and £2,016 for outer London. London reps want that to rise to £4,000 - still well below what the police get.
Action in London would be an excellent boost to the overall pay campaign - which is set to see serious confrontation. Last week Royal Mail chairman Allan Leighton sent out a letter to all 180,000 workers which claimed that a 14.5 pay rise was on the table. This is based on workers hitting near-impossible productivity targets and accepting mass redundancies.
The basic increase Leighton is offering amounts to just 4.5 percent over 18 months. Leighton sees himself as a trailblazer who can push aside the normal methods of negotiation and consultation with the union. There are rumours that Leighton may try to go over the heads of the CWU leaders and ballot the workforce directly on the pay offer.
But this would be a highly risky strategy for the bosses. Most postal workers regard management with a mixture of hatred and disgust. Even if they thought the pay offer was genuine (which it isn't) their instinctive reaction would be to vote against it in such circumstances. In these conditions the union needs to set out a clear policy.
It should be to fight for £300 a week minimum for everyone now, £4,000 a year London weighting and no productivity strings.