CWU - Communication Workers Union  •  Industrial

CWU opposition forces u-turn on ballot

31 May 2023

No more delay, restore the strikes

By a CWU rep

The leaders of the CWU postal union have been forced to bow to a grassroots revolt against April’s rotten deal agreed with Royal Mail bosses. They have postponed the ballot again, this time indefinitely and with an ultimatum to management: stop riding roughshod over workers and union reps or we won’t put the deal to the members.

This doesn’t indicate a change of heart, just that stubborn opposition has proved impossible to shift. Several branches have stood up to behind-the-scenes bureaucratic pressure and recommended a no vote, including three that represent the bulk of Scottish postal workers, while a worker-led campaign organising at the grassroots, Postal Workers Say Vote No, has taken off.

At meetings with workplace reps two weeks ago General Secretary Dave Ward argued that the union had thrown out management boasts that ‘it’s our business to run’ and that the agreement put reps back in the driving seat. Acting Deputy GS Postal Andy Furey proudly pointed out that ‘joint working’ is mentioned 75 times in the agreement.

They were heavily rebuffed. Reps lined up to say that Royal Mail’s shop floor offensive around revisions (management impositions of changes) hadn’t let up for a minute and the union had done nothing about it. Many said their members wouldn’t vote for the deal, and they wouldn’t either, in tones ranging from respectful to furious. As Scottish reps met in Glasgow, workers in one of the city’s delivery offices walked out over bullying managers trying to force through cuts. The spin on the deal has hit a reality check.

Ward, Furey and other top officials saw the writing on the wall and on 15 May said they would not put the ballot to the members unless Royal Mail pulled back from its attacks on the shop floor. They finally notified members of this in writing on the 24th, nine days later. No urgency – or respect – there then!

Deal or no deal

The no vote is most pronounced among delivery workers – the great majority of CWU members in Royal Mail – who face antisocial later finishing times and a massive workload hike embedded in the deal. But even before it comes in, revisions have imposed cuts to hours and jobs, new shifts and finishing times in mail centres and delivery offices. They’re still running the show, alright!

Besides trying to make Royal Mail ‘change its behaviour’ on the shopfloor, the Ward leadership is promising to get start and finish times published for individual offices (a massive issue in Scotland) and hope to boost the lump sum by another £1000 to bribe workers, hard hit by 18 days of strike action, to vote yes.  Workers need to expose this blatant attempt to bribe us with an unconsolidated sum already gobbled up by inflation, and to salami slice the no vote. 

These revisions are not a new issue, continuing unabated since the 2 March Joint Statement was supposed to put the rep back in the room and the industrial relations framework (IRF) in place. The leadership did nothing to challenge this for two and a half months. That shows how they intend to run the agreement once it’s in, with a light touch leaving reps to deal with its fall-out. They are only reversing gear now when they realise the deal could tank in a mass no vote.

Many reps will be sceptical of their big idea: a mass zoom-call of managers and reps where hard-line union-buster Grant McPherson and Dave Ward piously state their joint commitment to the IRF and Universal Service Obligation (USO). If they were half-serious they would be calling for every rep to put in a disagreement now and fire them up to stage three national disagreement to confront Royal Mail’s revisions and reverse them.

Even if Royal Mail bosses relented for the ballot period, there is no guarantee that this would continue beyond that. And if the deal goes through, continuous change from above, driven by joint working groups, will be the norm. Royal Mail’s losses (£400 million last year, more next) don’t point to the shop floor pressures relenting any time soon, deal or no deal.

Where next?

Workers and reps should demand that there are no more delays; let the many offices that want to fight the revisions and victimisations off the leash to fight. To make sure we aren’t being fooled again, set national strike dates now, rapidly escalating to all out if necessary.

Build a solidarity movement with other unions and community organisations – what Enough Is Enough was supposed to be! As well as raising funds and support so we can sustain an all-out strike, it could take up the question of renationalising Royal Mail – without compensation to the fat cats and run under workers’ and community control.

The alternative is grim. What Royal Mail wants is to become a standard parcel company, leeching off the USO in a race to the bottom in competition with the gig economy delivery sector, riding roughshod over the terms and conditions of its members. Whatever happened to levelling up? The CWU should work with unions in this sector and recruit the unorganised to fight for better pay and conditions and ultimately nationalisation.

Against the mantra of ‘mutual interest solutions’, ‘joint working’ and Ward’s arguments that we need to make Royal Mail ‘a successful company’ (in the private sector), it can only succeed by hiking the exploitation of postal workers and downsizing the USO.

A mass spontaneous opposition to the deal has broken out from below and upset their plans, but it is an organised movement in the union that the CWU bureaucracy really fears. Postal Workers Say Vote No is an important initiative, with the CWU postal side traditionally having no organised left for 15 years, though most of the left have kept their distance or pursued their own initiatives.

Whether or not it succeeds in winning a majority no vote in a ballot, if the campaign can successfully organise hundreds of militants it could develop an organised rank and file network able to rebuild our shop floor power, coordinate locally and nationally in the coming struggles and develop a new fighting leadership for a revived, democratic, class struggle union.


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