Workplace & Trade Unions

CWU ballot: Security and stability or a race to the bottom?

25 June 2023

By a CWU Rep

The CWU leadership argues that if we had continued to strike Royal Mail would have gone bankrupt. The Tories would have taken it over, handed the parcel operation to the company’s international holding company IDS (until last year Royal Mail Group) and slashed the USO, losing tens of thousands of jobs.

But does the Sunak government, with crises piling up and an election next year that it looks to lose, really want to take on such a toxic issue? It would mean rewarding the already unpopular Royal Mail bosses who took £600 million out of the company last year then tanked Royal Mail, by allowing them to keep a parcel company built with the profits of privatisation. All in full view of the public, 70% of whom think the company should be renationalised. This dispute has completely discredited privatisation, and the Tories would have very limited room to manoeuvre If the union were to strike and build a real solidarity campaign demanding renationalisation.

So this is a risk of course, and no one should take it lightly. But it is far from an automatic outcome if the union fights for renationalisation. The bigger risk is that we give in to Royal Mail blackmail now, and they pull the same trick in 2025. If it worked the first time, they will try it again.

What’s Plan B

Ward claims that the no voters don’t have a ‘plan b’ other than to go back to negotiations and demand Royal Mail let us have our old terms and conditions back. That’s not true of most. Ward himself was forced to admit in the Glasgow reps meeting that if there was a no vote, they would have to try to renegotiate or strike, though he warned the threat of administration would still be used against us.

But Ward, Furey and the PEC are themselves guilty of peddling illusions about our bright future under the new agreement. Ward claims in the Q&A that ‘this agreement can get us an opportunity to expand role of postal workers which Royal Mail is now properly signed up to’. Workers should put no hopes in this. Royal Mail has been ‘signed up’ to finding new areas of work and growing the USO in the 2014, 2018, and 2020 agreements. They aren’t interested, they want a parcel company, and the truth is there are limits to how much work can sustain falling letters.

There is only one way to save the USO, that is to fully integrate it into the parcel delivery network in a way that creates attractive, doable jobs. Only a strong union willing to take the militant action required, including facing down threats of bankruptcy and the Tories, can guarantee that. The Ward leadership is clearly not capable of that. In fact he has now publicly said in several meetings that the USO will have to be cut to five days soon, to “save” it, a bankrupt argument.

Groundhog day 2025

This deal is a golden ticket for bosses. It ends the dispute. It slashes terms and conditions. It creates a two tier workforce. It hasn’t stopped their shop floor offensive for a minute. Board members smiled and shook hands with CWU leaders, signed joint statements and the agreement, then turned round and told shopfloor managers to continue imposing cuts and victimising members throughout the entire 3 month period from agreement to ballot. Ward admits this ‘won’t change overnight’ as ‘out of control managers’ keep at it.

But the big, strategic gain for Royal Mail is the single large parcel delivery network, structurally separable from the USO operation, which the union will now help them build.

That means in 2025 the bosses will be in a much stronger position than now. Letters will have continued to decline, weakening the USO, and they will have a freshly minted parcel network. What if they dust off the 2022 playbook, hive off the new parcel network and hand it to the international holding company IDS? They could then threaten the bankruptcy of the USO operation if we don’t deliver up more cuts to jobs, pay, and T&Cs.

This deal means surrendering to blackmail, being willing to trade terms and conditions for weak assurances, and a weaker union. That puts us in a bad position to fight them off when they come back for more.

Accepting privatisation

Even before 2025, we could see Royal Mail try hardball executive action again – they have a history of ripping up agreements after getting what they want or if savings aren’t enough – in 2017, 2019, 2022, and they have the measure of the Ward leadership, it’s no danger to them.

If the CWU did try to strike in 2025 we would face steep headwinds after this deal. Workers would point to the current dispute and ask if a strike would work this time, especially those new workers already on worse pay and T&Cs. If we accept the company’s blackmail in 2023, what will have changed if they try it again in 2025?

The turn to parcels will mean a more and more direct competition with the gig economy conditions of the parcel sector, and a race to the bottom. The CWU officials have no answer to that, they have not lifted a finger to organise the delivery sector, instead they are looking to expand away from Royal Mail into warehouses and tech workers, with whispers about a merger with the RMT rail union. Mergers are the bureaucrat’s response to falling membership, the product of their own failed strategy, in order to maintain their positions, perks and privileges. Dave Ward says we need to ensure ‘Royal Mail is successful’, that is as a private company owned by millionaires. But that means we will have to keep feeding them our jobs and terms and conditions, for Royal Mail to turn into profits. The alternative to this deal, and the future concessions and give backs it points to, is striking to defend our terms and conditions and fighting for the CWU’s policy of renationalisation.

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