The three to one majority in favour of strike action by postal workers is proof enough that trade unionists are prepared to sacrifice to fight for their jobs and conditions. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the leadership of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) who seem ready to settle for very little indeed.
Postal workers undoubtedly want to keep their (low-paid) jobs at a time when mass redundancies are sweeping through the economy. That’s why they enthusiastically supported the ballot for strike action.
But far from fighting for every job, the CWU leaders actually want the Royal Mail to include them in negotiations about “modernisation” and actually accept that this will mean fewer staff. Union leaders have accepted that “jobs have to go” – they just want to have a say on where the axe falls.
Management has unilaterally reduced services, torn up collective agreements, cut earnings and intimidated staff. This has led to a series of well-supported local walk-outs over the past few months.
What angers the CWU leadership, however, is that they have been cut out of the process. General secretary Billy Hayes says that it “is our view that a labour-intensive industry cannot be modernised unless the workforce is treated with respect”.
So the union’s main demand? In the words of Hayes: “…our members and negotiators are demanding a new national agreement to carry through the modernisation of Royal Mail.”
Adopting management-speak, Hayes calls for a “new engagement with the workforce” so that the dispute can be resolved.
Not only that, CWU leaders are pleading with the New Labour government to put pressure on Royal Mail management to step in. Well, they already have done – on the side of the employers of the state-owned service.
As you will recall, the government only postponed a part-privatisation of the service because no buyer could be found in the middle of a recession. New Labour patently refuses to fund the £7 billion Royal Mail pension deficit – a drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds of billions thrown at the banks.
The government is responsible for imposing a market-driven, commercial framework on the postal service in line with its mission to erode the lines between public and private services in the interests of profit-driven corporations.
Yet Hayes once again appeals for New Labour to carry out its “responsibilities” in line with a motion carried at the party’s recent conference. This is worse than hopeless. Rank-and-file posties deserve better leadership than this. They must demand that the aims of any strike action are crystal clear:
• No redundancies whatsoever. Royal Mail is making a profit while chief executive Adam Crozier is on a £3 million-plus package after shutting thousands of post offices
• Occupation of any sorting office/workplace threatened with sackings
• A halt to the commercialisation/privatisation of the mail service
• Instead of “engagement” with management, fight to bring the service under the democratic control of workers and users.
• Immediate disaffiliation of the CWU from New Labour. Why fund a party that is intent on destroying jobs?
• Launch a campaign with other unions to show how not-for-profit services benefit the public and how this is the way forward in the midst of a capitalist economic crisis.
There are real indications that Royal Mail is provoking a strike, knowing that the CWU leadership is weak and will try to settle at the earliest opportunity. Rank-and-file postal workers must become aware of this and be prepared to replace their leaders with those who are committed to the defence of jobs, pay and services.