Leaders of the postal workers’ CWU union have finally got their rotten deal with Royal Mail bosses approved by members. In a much-delayed ballot, postal workers voted by nearly 76 percent to back the “recovery, transformation and growth agreement” between the firm and the union.
The CWU said on Tuesday afternoon that some 67 percent of members voted. The union machine had thrown everything into winning a yes vote.
Its executive toured the country trying to calm widespread fears that Royal Mail bosses were on the rampage and that the union’s response was inadequate. The CWU also ran a massive social media campaign.
It was helped enormously by the fact voting on the deal took place months after the last strike—and all the momentum of the dispute had long since gone. The tiny resources of the Postal Workers Say No group had no way of matching the scale of the union’s propaganda—despite having all the best reasons to reject the deal.
Some will argue the ballot shows union members didn’t want to strike again. Yet time and again postal workers had shown they were prepared to fight. In February a whopping 96.7 percent voted for more walkouts – but the union called no more action.
General secretary Dave Ward used these hard-won strike votes only as bargaining chips with the bosses. He said that the company was in so much financial difficulty that any action would likely tip it over into insolvency.
Ward also hoped that, by not calling action, the union would win management’s respect and could keep a seat at the company’s negotiation table. But there was a terrible price to pay for the strategy of “keeping the powder dry”—something that even the CWU’s ballot announcement acknowledges.
“Many of you simply do not trust the company because of Royal Mail Group’s lack of integrity and the way they are treating you in the workplace,” it reads. “Others find the prospect of changes such as later finishes unpalatable,” it continues.
The question for the union leadership is that if they know there is a war going on in Royal Mail, why have they just thrown away their best weapon for fighting back? The CWU strike mandate expires in just a few weeks.
Dave, a long-standing Parcelforce worker in the Midlands, told Socialist Worker that management had got nearly everything they had wanted. “We’ve signed up to a two-tier workforce on different pay and conditions. We lost our sick pay agreement. We got extended working hours at the whim of management,” he told Socialist Worker.
“And worst of all, we’ve got union reps and members who were sacked or suspended during the dispute still out in the cold. That to me is shameful. All those sacrifices for what? A few hundred extra quid as a bribe.”
Dave recalls that in years past postal disputes rarely finished until everyone was back at work, and that local unions used unofficial action to enforce that. “What gets me is that the people that once led the unofficial action are now the people selling a deal that leaves sacked workers at the whim of an ‘independent’ panel,” he says.
There is every chance that Royal Mail managers will go on the offensive, driving through unilateral change in offices, mail centres and distribution hubs, especially in the autumn and the run-up to Christmas.
Workers will be deliberately provoked, and there could be a lot more disciplinaries. Pete is an activist in Postal Workers Say No and works at a mail centre in the west of England. He says that the key task for activists now is to resist the coming bosses’ assault—and to argue with people to stick with the union.
“If you leave the union, you are letting the leadership off the hook,” he says. “That’s what I’m saying to people that are really pissed off by the result. And, you only have to look at the battle going on to unionise Amazon to get a taste of what life would be like without a union.
“We have to say that we, the members, are the union and we are going to rebuild it from the bottom up. I know that is an incredibly hard task, but we have to do it.”
On Saturday 23 September a “Workers’ Summit is meeting in-person in London around the slogan, “Link the fights, reject bad deals, fight to win!”
Organisers describe it as “an afternoon for grassroots collaboration”. It was initiated by Lambeth and Hackney NEU, NHS Workers Say No and Strike Map. It’s already backed by 20 trade union branches and trades councils.
The summit will host discussion but can also strengthen the networks of resistance at the base of the unions.
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