Postal workers have done it again. Forced to reballot by the Tory anti-union laws after six months of strikes and lost pay, they smashed it, with a remarkable 95.9% vote for action on a 77.3% turnout, nearly as high as the previous record ballots. Even after 18 days of strike action last year and lost pay at a time of skyrocketing prices, postal workers in the CWU union are still standing strong and rejecting Royal Mail’s union-busting agenda.
CWU General Secretary Dave Ward argued during the reballot that winning a big yes vote would mean winning the dispute. It’s clear, though, that even a “yes” vote this impressive won’t be enough on its own – we need to strike. In the ballot result announcement online, many posties argued in the comments for CWU leaders to set more strike dates, some arguing to escalate with a full week’s strike or even all-out.
We have taken 18 days of action so far, but in one and two day stints. What if these had been taken all at once with the threat of an all-out strike? Royal Mail would have been brought to its knees. Many members have learnt that lesson. The CWU leaders have not.
To talk or not to talk?
Instead of calling new strike dates, CWU leaders announced more talks, and only if these go nowhere would they be ready to “use the mandate” and call strikes, though “hopefully we won’t have to”. Now they have given Royal Mail until Monday to reverse victimisations and shop floor-imposed change or expect strike action.
As important as those are (and halting revisions is an easy concession for bosses), it won’t resolve the fundamental attack on workers’ jobs, terms and conditions, from hiking workload to later start times that delete family friendly shifts. Flexibility means working until all the mail is delivered with no finish time, and big brother tech to police performance. A nightmare workplace.
Expectations were raised with the news that Royal Mail Chairman Keith Williams requested these latest talks through ex-TUC head Brendan Barber, aiming for a quick “process” to resolve the dispute in three weeks. But the moderate union bureaucrat Barber is no threat to Royal Mail’s agenda. The CWU claim that the widely reviled CEO Simon Thompson has been side-lined is not decisive, Williams is perfectly capable of delaying strikes with offers of secret talks.
Yesterday’s public grilling of Thompson, Williams and vile union buster Ricky McAulay in parliament (the second for Thompson) was unprecedented (and entertaining!). It proved the 1,500 postal workers who provided evidence correct and showed the bosses to be liars and bullies who have broken their legal USO requirements. But it will not be the magic bullet to resolve the dispute.
There is no problem with talks, but they should no longer be secret. They should be accompanied by strike action, called immediately and escalating to all out if necessary, and supported by a properly built strike fund, solidarity movement and coordinated strikes with other unions in dispute. The truth is, the more you strike the more you win. Many reps feel now that we can’t go on with one or two days of action, and instead need to start escalating. The threat of going all-out if necessary gives the Royal Mail bosses no room to sit it out.
Rank and file control
CWU officials have refused to ballot workers locally despite some office requesting one to fight suspensions and sackings. The January 3rd joint statement was a dead letter, and nothing has been done since to stop the revisions pushing cuts and other attacks through every office and mail centre. Member meetings should demand their right to strike or take what action they can against such measures, including canteen sit-ins or walking out.
That’s not the only worrying sign. Asked what was more important during an LBC interview, Ward stated that most members saw the terms and conditions as the key issue. There is a danger that union leaders drop key issues like an inflation-proof pay rise to cut a deal. Strung-out strike dates prolong the dispute, lowering our horizons until we meet Royal Mail halfway. We could find ourselves going back to the status quo on some issues, but having lost legal protections, pay and more.
In the meantime, Thompson & Co. have their sights set on cutting the USO, which would threaten thousands of jobs. Some would no doubt accept that, given what Royal Mail wants to impose and wondering if we can really win the dispute. However, if we cut a poor deal rather than win a decisive victory it won’t be long before RM comes back for more. But there is an alternative.
The strike has consolidated the union in the workplace like never before, while the dispute has strengthened its militant wing, with an unprecedented twenty thousand posties – one in six – attending the 9th December CWU rally in London. Militants can build on this, holding meetings of workers to demand action and elect strike committees in the workplace and localities. But to do that militants need to get organised themselves, in a rank and file network that can become a movement and an alternative leadership for the strike, built from below. As postal workers rise to our feet for the next round in our fight, we should take control of the strike in order to give the knockout blow and win.