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Royal Mail workers should reject the deal

 By a CWU postal rep, December 12 2013

 

The CWU postal executive has recommended that members accept the agreement reached after weeks of talks by union negotiators led by Dave Ward, Deputy General Secretary Postal.

Yet despite the headline-grabbing pay and conditions offer, at its heart is a blueprint for company-unionism and class collaboration.

The new Agenda for Growth, Stability and Long Term Success agreement falls far short of what our union is fighting for – a ten year deal protecting workers’ jobs, terms and conditions, threatened by privatisation of Royal Mail. It comes after the union tops cancelled a strike for 4 November in favour of negotiations, themselves the culmination of a year-long campaign.

However, the bitter truth is that this “campaign” has been a charade, the sole purpose of which has been to be “seen to be doing something” while in actual fact doing nothing to stop privatisation. Despite the company being sold-off in October, the CWU leaders deliberately held back a ballot to avoid striking against the sell-off.

After 4 November, talks were held in secret and dragged on for weeks, leaving CWU members anxiously wondering what was in the deal. Royal Mail cynically used this period to launch an offensive that picked up steam as Christmas traffic hit, forcing posties to work harder and harder.

A tempting deal?

Many postal workers were resigned to not getting everything we were calling for, as officials had privately softened union members up, telling us that we needed to be “realistic” about what we’d get. However, not only does the Agenda for Growth fail to deliver on the ten-year guarantees, it also makes damaging concessions and ducks the hard questions facing delivery staff, who are are bearing the brunt of Royal Mail’s present attack.

The 9.06 percent pay rise over three years is an improvement of less than a 1 per cent over the company’s original offer. While it comes with a £200 Christmas lump sum, it barely represents 3 per cent per year, i.e. less than the real rise in the cost of living for working households. Many Postal workers will be tempted, having tightened our belts like everyone else with rising food and energy bills, but they should look at the rest of the deal first.

Royal Mail has made concessions. It has extended its offer of three year legally binding guarantees on jobs, terms and conditions to five years, and expanded this to include CWU’s demands not to introduce a two-tier workforce, franchise offices or to break up the company. The deal promises these clauses are legally binding and the union and media cite it as ground-breaking for a post-privatisation agreement between a company and a union. The fact that the company has had to make these concessions shows how much they feared a postal strike would damage profits.

Always read the small print!

These guarantees are linked to get-out clauses, allowing Royal Mail to ditch them overboard if they are having a “materially adverse” affect on its profits – in other words, if they can’t sweat enough efficiencies out of us to allow them to compete with TNT! It is a no strike deal in all but name, and doesn’t deal with any of the issues currently facing delivery staff, except to promise even “further improvements to efficiency”.

Delivery issues were the sticking point for weeks, forcing the talks to be extended three times, but clearly the CWU negotiators blinked first; there will be a review of delivery issues in January but there is nothing concrete and binding in the deal itself.

This agreement would see our union take the last step into outright business unionism, looking to change Royal Mail structures so that “union representatives can become participating members in them”. A charter, drafted in part by CWU officials, will enshrine a “corporate culture aligning the interests of customers, employees and the company”, as if such a thing was possible in a profit-based private company with the kind of harsh competition Royal Mail faces.

Don’t take our word for it; look at the private railway industry to see how such charters work out: rising prices, falling services, casualisation and cutbacks. The love-in of Royal Mail executives and CWU tops would see us looped into collaborating with round after round of cuts and efficiency drives at every level of the business. No thanks.

To sum up, this isn’t a deal members should vote for, especially delivery staff, who should launch a campaign to get a big “No” vote and put the strike back on – even in January and February mail will pile up incredibly quickly from a solid strike. After all, we struck in June, July and August in 2007, the period with the lowest mail all year, and we piled up a massive mountain of mail that put Royal Mail bosses on the ropes. We can still do that again, before TNT have their rival deliver network in place.

Almost all the local officials have, as usual, fallen in behind the national leadership. At the national briefing after the 4 November strike was cancelled, there was hardly a murmur of disagreement; only a couple of area reps stood up to question cancelling the strike for talks. It will be up to workplace reps, activists, and members to get organised and take control of their dispute and their union, or face a deal so full of holes it needs a damaged-item bag to keep it in!

For an emergency rank and file meeting to launch a no vote!

For an analysis of the full deal read this: A workers guide to the deal: the small print

Read analysis of this section here: Royal Mail/CWU: “a fresh approach” to delivery issues: lose them

 

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