Socialist Worker

CWU union prepares to ballot for action and threatens Labour funding

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2002

Postal workers have voted in huge numbers to reject their bosses’ agenda and have moved closer to a national strike ballot over pay.

Ballot papers could go out in six weeks’ time if Royal Mail does not reopen negotiations over pay. Post bosses are attempting to impose a 2.9 percent pay deal, in fact worth only 2.4 percent as it does not apply to all elements of pay.

The moves came as postal and telecom workers, gathered for their CWU union’s conference in Bournemouth, voted to cut off Labour funding if the government presses ahead with its privatisation plan.

Last Sunday 99 percent of delegates backed a motion which pledged to withdraw funding from the Labour Party should the government come out in support of – and then go on to implement – a share scheme within Royal Mail.

Moving the motion, London divisional rep Mark Baulch said, “If they do the unthinkable, then so should we.” He demanded that the government should issue an unequivocal statement that it does not support a share scheme.

“We should ask the government, ‘Do you want to put your faith in a multi-millionaire spiv or the 200,000 employees of a highly valued public service?’”

Royal Mail chair Allan Leighton is so confident of the scheme going ahead that he wrote to employees at the start of May, telling them it was almost a done deal.

Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, told the conference, “There are people in the government who would like to see Royal Mail privatised. But if the Labour Party is foolish enough to go down that route then, rest assured, we will implement this policy.”

Bob Cullen from Oxford demanded that Leighton should be sacked for campaigning for the share sale. “It is not the job of a public servant to try to create the conditions for privatisation,” he said. 

Lee Barron, branch secretary of Northamptonshire CWU, is a leading supporter of maintaining the union’s links with Labour. But he backed the motion, saying, “If Labour lets the shares go ahead then I don’t see much future for this organisation in that organisation.

“Will Leighton succeed in turning the sorting floor into a trading floor? I think not.”

Fran Choules from Exeter called for the union to back the ultimatum to Labour unanimously and said that in his office there was virtually no support for a share issue. He added, “Let’s turn this motion into reality and show Labour that we are serious.”

Simon Midgley from Bradford and District branch said, “Have no doubt that shares would mean privatisation. If shares are issued then first they will be able to be sold between workers but then the pressure will be on to sell them outside the business to make a profit. That’s when the private firms will gobble them up.”

Passing this motion by such a big majority was a step forwards for the union. Last year’s conference voted to “review” links with Labour if the share scheme went ahead.

Some in the CWU leadership may believe that if Gordon Brown became prime minister he would halt the share plan, and that the motion is a safe way to channel the growing anger against Labour.

But Leighton is very confident that he can swing ministers behind his strategy. It is quite possible that another union will change its relationship with Labour in a way that would have been unthinkable until recently.

Tony Blair’s term in office has seen the expulsion of the RMT rail union, the disafilliation of the FBU firefighters’ union and the suspension of funding by Unison during the battle over pensions.

The CWU is still some way from breaking with Labour. A motion proposing that the union should be able to fund candidates from other parties was defeated.

Most delegates are convinced that Labour remains the “only serious game in town for working people”, as one speaker put it.

But the discussion continues, and becomes more real every time Respect advances. In the post the political battle is fusing with, and heightening, the industrial battle.

On Tuesday the union announced the results of a consultative ballot that asked workers to choose between the CWU’s agenda of public ownership and well-paid, secure jobs or Leighton’s plan of privatisation, gimmicky bonus schemes and increasing part time instead of full time jobs.

Despite intense efforts by Royal Mail managers to frustrate the ballot in local offices, the response was huge. Some 90,103 workers voted for the CWU vision of the future of Royal Mail, just 1,375 voted against.

The 98.5 percent vote for the CWU’s proposal came with a 67.3 percent turnout. This greatly outweighs Leighton’s own ballot.

He wrote to 200,000 post workers, managers and sub-postmasters asking them if they were interested in the share scheme.

But only 80,000 (37 percent) expressed even the barest interest—and many of them were managers and supervisors.

On Tuesday, the conference also passed a motion that said Royal Mail’s decision to impose a pay deal was “a calculated act of hostility towards CWU members”.

It condemned management’s plans to axe 40,000 jobs and to marginalise the CWU, moves that were “tantamount to an act of union derecognition”.

The motion says that unless Royal Mail reopens pay negotiations, allows the union to shape the future over new technology and guarantees pensions, the union will begin a strike ballot in six weeks.

Executive

The proposed pay settlement would mean a rise of just £9 a week before tax.

Royal Mail’s chief executive has just seen his basic pay rise by £47,000 to £615,000.

He has also grabbed a £454,000 bonus for hitting profit targets last year. He’s the million a year man telling workers they have to settle for £17,000 a year.

Dave Ward, the union’s deputy general secretary, told the conference that he thought there was no prospect of getting a decent negotiated settlement unless there was a clear yes vote from the union’s membership for industrial action.

Speaker after speaker told of the anger against management in the offices, pledged full backing for the campaign and called for the regional divisions after the recent bruising executive election battle to be replaced with fighting unity.

Fran Choules said, “The employer wants the Dutch post office’s model of a mass of part time workers paid just over the minimum wage. Our members want the French workers’ model of getting out on the streets, confronting the employers and the government. That’s the way we’ll win.”

Postal workers need to start the campaign for a yes vote now. Royal Mail will try every trick to undermine the union and pump out false information and promises.

As Neil Parker from London South West said, “We need to challenge Leighton’s lies on the shopfloor, that’s where arguments are won or lost.”

The vote to go for a strike ballot was carried unanimously.

The union must flood out material making clear that this is not just about pay but about the future of the industry as a public service and about the ability of the union to represent the members.

There must be no drawing back now from the battle, no halting of the ballot without decisive gains and guarantees on pay, the future shape of the industry and pensions. And there must be hard hitting strike action after a yes vote.

Political

In many ways this has been the most political CWU conference ever.

When CWU chair Pat O’Hara requested delegates to hold the traditional minute’s silence for members who had died in the past year, he also asked them to remember all those who had died in wars around the world and to rededicate themselves to stopping such killings.

There was an important conference discussion about combating the BNP with delegates demanding that the BNP’s fake “Solidarity” organisation should not be allowed to register as a trade union.


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Tue 23 May 2006, 17:51 BST
Issue No. 2002
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