The leaders of the CWU postal workers’ union have waited and waited for the intervention of the government in their pay and jobs dispute with Royal Mail. Yesterday it finally arrived. But it was not what the CWU leadership wanted to hear. New Labour broke its silence – and came down firmly on the side of the employers. Prime Minister Brown and business secretary Hutton denounced the strikes as “unjustifiable”. Brown told postal workers to “get back to work” while Hutton said the union should accept what he described as a “perfectly fair and reasonable offer”.
The postal workers have so far stood steady and firm in their series of strikes for jobs, pay and pensions in the face of an arrogant employer. Yesterday, after the official two-day strike had ended, a management provocation was answered by unofficial walk-outs in Glasgow, Liverpool, London and other parts of the country. The postal workers are up for a fight and have forced their leaders into some fighting talk and a limited strike action.
But the main (and only) strategy of the leadership of their union, the CWU, has been try to get the government to intervene and enforce a “fair” settlement. This was always an entirely hopeless and forlorn perspective. Far from being some kind of arbitrator (as governments were sometimes up until 1980), this government has a different agenda entirely. Not only does the government stand four-square behind the belligerent Royal Mail management, but, behind the scenes, it is dictating and determining the policy and direction of the company. To what purpose? To make it fit to compete with UPS and the other private carriers of mail and parcels, and then to privatise it.
It has become the tried and tested method of governments, Tory and Labour, since the great Miners Strike of 1984-5 to lie about their real intentions and then to rely on the trade union leadership to “believe” those lies and to confine any action to the perspectives and agenda laid down by the government. Behind the statements of Royal Mail about “flexibility”, the “need to modernise” and so forth is the plan to break it up and sell it. They offer below-inflation pay rises and refuse to guarantee jobs in order to streamline and rationalise the business for privatisation.
This all stems from the very nature of New Labour as an outfit that no longer even pretends to protect the interest of workers or their unions, but rather gives total support to the corporations, the banks and the speculators. It is not just the postal service that is facing break-up and the threat of privatisation, leading inevitably to lower wages, pensions and unemployment, but all public services including health, education, local government, the BBC and the civil service. This is not a popular policy. At a rally earlier this week for the postal workers, Mark Serwotka , general secretary of the PCS said the New Labour governments had privatised “more of our work than the Major and Thatcher Governments combined”. He said his union was gearing up for a full-scale battle with the government.
The CWU is now in a fight to the finish with New Labour. This is a political struggle against a capitalist government. If the union leaders were blinded to this harsh reality before yesterday’s statements by Brown and Hutton, their members are certainly aware of it today. The CWU has to mobilise the entire membership in all-out action, asking for the support of other trade unionists in the privatisation firing line. And they should also recommend to the membership that the union should end its financial support and affiliation to New Labour.