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CWU: Postal strike hangs in the balance

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Postal workers urgently need to take control of their dispute and strike to win, says a CWU rep

Postal workers in the CWU union are stuck in limbo awaiting the outcome of negotiations with Royal Mail bosses. Ten days ago CWU leaders cancelled the first day of strike action scheduled for 4 November in favour of secret talks.

That was the last thing postal workers needed.  We have a strong 4-to-1 vote to strike, and should have walked out and escalated rapidly week by week so we could win quickly. That way we could secure our pension, a ten year deal protecting our terms and conditions, and our workplace strength. Instead, CWU leaders Dave Ward and Billy Hayes are wasting precious weeks before Xmas when postal workers have maximum leverage.

Reports on  the outline deal being worked on underline that point.

Small concessions swapped for strike

A 30 October joint CWU-Royal Mail statement lays out what concessions have been made by the company but it is full of vague management-speak. You need to read between the lines to see where the sticking points are and what’s being cooked up. A report on the 4 November national officials’ meeting that replaced the strike has given some extra info.

  • The pay offer has been upped – but how far?
  • Legal protections are extended beyond three years, with Ward on 4 November stating there will be a review of these after five years.
  • Royal Mail bosses still want a no strike deal which Ward insists will not happen, but measures to block disagreements and strikes –  “a culture of consensual change” aimed at “industrial stability” will no doubt be part of the deal.
  • The pension question will be settled in a later separate agreement. This shows that Royal Mail is not willing to back down on the issue, making future cuts almost inevitable without a strike – a repeat of 2007

The CWU leadership is also pushing for “a joint legally binding charter” with shared “principles and values and strategy of how Royal Mail group will operate as a private entity”. These would lock in and deepen the union’s collaboration in cuts, closures and speedups, as in the 2007 and 2010 deals.  This strategy has led to 50,000 job losses and privatisation itself. Rather than deepen it we need to reject it and start on a new path.

The union insists all issues are agreed or none will be and the strike will go ahead.

Overall there are some concessions in the joint statement but it isn’t even close to the demands that members endorsed in the October ballot. 

A 50:50 chance of a deal

Two reports from the 4 November national meeting for local and regional CWU officials and full-time reps have been put online, one on the union website and a second on a postie chatroom royalmailchat.com by someone who is clearly close to the leadership but a bit more frank.

It’s clear this meeting was not aimed at firing the officials up for a fight but to ensure they are singing to the members from the same songsheet as the Postal Executive. Unfortunately this seems to have succeeded, with very little questioning of the decision to cancel the strike.  Dave Ward is reported as saying at one point that he thought it was “fifty-fifty” that there would be a deal – no strike should be called off with such bad odds.

Full-time reps present have reported that Dave Ward stated at one point that he thought it was “fifty-fifty” that there would be a deal – no strike should be called off with such bad odds.  They also reported that Bob Gibson, the national officer covering delivery staff, spoke about how Royal Mail was digging in particularly hard against agreeing to change tack on deliveries, as managers force through big budget savings in delivery offices around the country with speedups, lapsing, and bullying and harassment.

The unofficial 4 November account from Terry Pullinger, national officer for Mail Centres, Network and Parcel Force said it was becoming clear that “senior RM managers are struggling to explain their strategy for growth without giving the game away about their real intentions. It is clear that some senior managers do not want an agreement with the CWU.”

It seems not even all the top brass in the CWU are convinced that Royal Mail bosses are near to conceding what we need.

Going forward

No doubt some reps and members, being leaned on by officials and skeptical about the CWU tops’ will to fight, will say we were always going to have to compromise and should take the new offer – if it comes together. But with our whole future at stake it’s worth having a fight, especially since it will strengthen the union in the workplace, the only real guarantee of any agreement and our ability to defend and extend it in the future.

Now that Royal Mail has private bosses not government bureaucrats at the helm, our power at the heart of Royal Mail, to withdraw our labour and shut down operations that produce profit, is our major strength, especially at Xmas.

But being stood down after intensive preparations for a strike and voting with a sigh (or not at all) for an inadequate deal is a big come-down after a strong strike vote. It leaves us weaker, not stronger, just when we will need to struggle against privatisation’s effects on the shopfloor, whatever the deal says.

Restore the strike

With privatisation and the “locusts” winging in postal workers can’t afford 2013 to be a repeat of 2007 and 2009 – delays, stop-start or dropped strikes, secret talks and dodgy deals.  But that is the strategy of the leadership, they don’t want a hard hitting strike. If there is no agreement by the 13 November deadline, Dave Ward has stated that Postal Executive will only “reinstate strike action for a 24-hour period”.  We need to demand that the strike is restored and escalates quickly to all-out if necessary, to use the Xmas period to our advantage.

The whole PEC voted unanimously to drop 4 November including the “lefts” so we can’t rely on them. We can’t leave our dispute in their hands, if we do at the very best we will get far less than was possible to win, at worst a rotten deal.  “Modernisation” cuts will speed up and our leaders insist we “can’t say no” to them, just like they did with efficiency savings and flexibility.   The day of reckoning where legal guarantees run out will be a bit longer off but we will be weaker to fight when it comes. The time to fight is now, and use the leverage of the Xmas period to our advantage.

If the PEC comes back empty handed on 13 November, no doubt many will be angry that we wasted so much time for nothing.  If the fighting wing of the CWU can meet nationally and get organised – launching a clear set of demands such as escalation up to all-out, workplace strike committees, a national rank and file network, a solidarity movement – we can rally the members and have a real fight for our future.

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