Postal workers start another series of actions today which are scheduled to last on and off for two weeks. But there is a real danger that the leaders of the Communication Workers Union are frittering away the energy and determination of their members instead of mounting a serious challenge to Royal Mail’s job cuts and below-inflation pay rise. There are no signs that Billy Hayes, the general secretary and his deputy, Dave Ward, are willing to mobilise the union’s membership in a sustained way. One-off, one-day, regional, sectional strikes have the effect of minimising the impact on the mail service, which then serves to weaken the morale of the membership. The Royal Mail employers sense this and have decided to introduce the very “modernisation” plans the strike was aimed at stopping without reference or agreement with the CWU in a week’s time. This, says the union, will involve significant changes, including later delivery start times and permanent reductions in customer services. But the CWU leaders’ response was hardly impressive. “The imposition represents an unnecessary attack on postal workers’ jobs, pay and conditions,” a statement said. They may be “unnecessary” but the unilateral changes in working conditions are happening.
If the CWU leaders were really intent on opposing the massive job cuts that are coming up the line, they would have prepared the membership for all-out, indefinite action and sought the support of other trade unionists like London firefighters facing similar attacks. Instead, Ward pleaded yesterday with the Royal Mail to pull back, saying: “Despite Royal Mail’s stated position and with the prospect of imposed change, the union has made a fresh offer for a period of calm. We have made yet another offer to Allan Leighton and Adam Crozier [chairman and chief executive Royal Mail] to call off the next planned strikes. All Royal Mail have to do is take a step back and engage in meaningful negotiations.” The employers– with the support of government - have made their position clear: In a period of global competition, the Royal Mail has to cut costs and “modernise” in order secure a position in an open market. In other words, despite still being state owned, the Royal Mail is behaving like any other major corporation when it comes to costs and revenue.
The CWU leaders don’t want to face this reality because of their close, even cosy, connections with the wretched New Labour government, together with their inability to offer a perspective for winning the dispute. CWU members have to call their leaders to account before it is too late and before some half-baked deal is forced down their throats. The union has to answer the challenge of global capitalist competition with an alternative strategy, which stresses the importance of a not-for-profit public service and acknowledges that the business-friendly New Labour government is part of the problem not a solution. All-out, indefinite action could be linked to a campaign to secure wider public support as well as sympathetic action by trade unionists, including other sections of the CWU, whether this is unlawful or not under current anti-union laws. All links with New Labour would be cut as a first step to opening a discussion about alternatives to the political status quo under which all the major parties are committed to corporate-driven globalisation. If Hayes and Ward are not prepared to go down this road, they should step aside for others who are committed to the fight and to the future of the CWU as a viable organisation.
Paul Feldman, AWTW communications editor