New Labour and Royal Mail management have hatched a thinly-disguised plot to destroy the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) if postal workers go ahead with their strikes next week over jobs and pay. That’s the clear message from the leaked document obtained by BBC’s Newsnight.
Behind the strategy is business secretary Lord Mandelson, who more and more seems in charge of the government. Gordon Brown is beholden to Mandelson after he blocked attempts to remove him as prime minister earlier this year. Mandelson has described CWU’s strike plans as “suicidal” and has come out against intervention by the arbitration service ACAS.
Mandelson withdrew plans to for a partial sell-off of Royal Mail because potential buyers signalled that the service needed “modernising” first. Since then, management has unilaterally introduced new working practices, leading to a series of localised strikes by postal workers.
Next week’s two days of national strike action (22 and 23 October) have been called in a bid to force Royal Mail to reach an agreement with the union on a way forward. But the leaked document shows that management and the government are not interested in a compromise but want to fatally weaken the CWU to prepare the state-owned service for privatisation.
The Royal Mail document marked “in strictest confidence” talks of “shareholder support” for the hard-line position - the government is the company’s only shareholder. Dated 24 September, the secret plan suggests that Royal Mail will effectively “de-recognise” the CWU by denying union reps facilities to carry out their activities.
The document also raises the possibility of managers delivering the mail and scab labour also being recruited. The PowerPoint presentation, obtained by BBC's Newsnight has a section marked “objectives” which states that “through the dispute” Royal Mail will “deliver the necessary 2009 changes with or without union engagement”. It refers to strikes as an "enabler" of its aims, saying "strikes make things worse".
Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU, told the BBC: "There is no question the document is genuine, what's more worrying is that Peter Mandelson seemed to know the document quite well. It does seem like an organised attempt to sideline the union. What we need is an agreement to modernise the company with the consent of the workforce. We want an agreement and we want to negotiate with good faith."
This is clearly not on the agenda, however. The government and management intend to break the union’s resistance and carry through their own programme of rationalisation and redundancies to add to the 63,000 workers already cut from the payroll over the last few years.
Right-wing papers like the Daily Mail are already salivating about the prospects of a re-run of the miners’ strike of 1984-8, when the Tories deployed the state to batter the union and impose pit closures. And yet the CWU inexplicably continues to fund New Labour to the tune of £1 million a year and express surprise at Mandelson’s position.
The argument has been that funding buys “influence” with the government and that the Tories could be much worse. Well, it seems more likely money down the drain when you consider Mandelson’s position and it’s hard to see the Tories planning anything harsher than the current government.
New Labour wants to demonstrate to big business and the middle-class electorate that it can be “tough” with the unions and workers. That’s why the government also intends to postpone the introduction of rights for temporary workers until 2011 required under European Union law.
The CWU is facing a fight to the finish with the government and management and it better get ready for this. Postal workers will need the active support in industrial action of other trade unionists, especially those in the public sector facing imminent pay cuts and job losses, if they are to defeat the New Labour government.