The annual conference of the postal and telecom workers’ CWU union came very close to telling the Labour Party that it would cease all funding to the party from 1 November.
A motion to the conference demanded an unequivocal pledge from the government that the post office would remain 100 percent in public hands.
If no pledge was received, it demanded the funding be suspended and the money used for an anti-privatisation campaign.
The conference was presented with two propositions. Both called for strike ballots if there was any confirmation of the plans floated by Royal Mail chair Allan Leighton for moves to privatisation. But they differed on the question of the Labour Party.
The executive called only for a review at the 2006 conference of the relationship with Labour if privatisation went ahead.
The other motion, from a number of branches and divisions, said funding should be suspended if no promise not to privatise was received.
After a lengthy and very serious debate the executive motion was carried, but only by 113,000 votes to 102,000.
In the postal workers’ section of the union, whose members are most directly affected, this motion was clearly defeated.
Even those who supported the executive had to sharply criticise the government.
General secretary Billy Hayes tore into the government appointed regulator Postcomm, but he argued the Warwick agreement between union leaders and Labour ministers showed it was possible to influence party policy from within.
Martin Walsh from London South West branch, supporting the motion to suspend funding, responded that it was now “time to stop posturing and to start tackling this issue”.
He said, “Allan Leighton has told his managers that the privatisation question will be decided by October and when we are under attack we have to resist now, not at some point in the future.”
Holding up a Labour Party card and a CWU card he said that the first loyalty had to be to the CWU, not to Labour.
Simon Midgley from Bradford said, “We have to tell Labour that if they want our money then it is not too much to ask for a commitment to 100 percent public ownership.”
He argued that Labour responded only when it was put under pressure.
Lee Baron form Northampton supported the executive but admitted that he was “fed up coming here year after year wondering if we should stop giving money to Labour because it won’t give clear commitments to us”.
He added that the government had already allowed private firms to cherry-pick profitable work.
Mark Baulch from East London Postal, supporting the suspension of money to Labour, said union leaders were rightly angry with Allan Leighton, “but who employs Leighton? It’s the government who pays him and keeps him in his position.”
He added that Labour was not going to be frightened by the prospect of a review of funding. Instead there had to be tough action.
Huw from London North West C&C branch said he had been a Labour member for many years, but that he fully supported suspending the money.
Dennis Kilgariff from South Central said, “The union survived an onslaught under Thatcher.
“It’s bad enough when your enemies stab you in the back, but you don’t expect it from your friends. Do we have to wait for the For Sale signs to go up before we take action?”
On the first day the conference also passed policy for an immediate strike ballot if there is any attack on the pensions of any section of the CWU.
It also voted for the government to set an early date for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and for full support for Stop the War activities and for Military Families Against the War.
Giving teeth to the privatisation fight
AT A packed 150-strong meeting on Monday night, rank and file delegates discussed the outcome of the debate and how to make the campaign against privatisation effective.
Norman Candy from the London division said, “Let’s be clear. Just over half of the conference voted for the executive position against privatisation, and just under half voted for a policy that went further.
“But there was 100 percent opposition to privatisation, and we have to make that campaign bite.
“No effective campaign has ever come from the top down. It’s always been from the bottom up, and we have to get on with this immediately.”
Delegates from London put forward the idea of organising an unofficial conference for CWU members across the country to prod the executive to build the campaign and to develop it in the branches.
There was also discussion of further moves to allow union members to have their say about money for the Labour Party.