Britain  •  CWU - Communication Workers Union  •  Industrial

For a rank and file movement in the CWU

04 June 2023

By Workers Power 

The CWU leadership are running scared of their own members, first delaying the ballot and now the NEC has unanimously agreed to cancel the conference, no doubt fearing a serious challenge to their leadership. 

That’s what should happen. We need an entirely new leadership on both postal and telecoms sides of the CWU. Besides the sell-out deal in the post, the below-inflation pay deal in BT hasn’t satisfied the bosses who have just announced 55k job losses coming in the next few years. 

The answer to restructuring in BT and Royal Mail isn’t to make concessions but to struggle for these to occur under workers control and in the interests of the public and workforce. It needs to oversee the complete transformation of the union from top to bottom.

We should replace Ward, Furey, Kearns and co. with new leaders, drawn from working posties and telecoms workers paid a workers’ wage so they remember where they came from. They should be elected by and accountable to CWU members organised in the workplaces, recallable when they act against the workers’ interests.  

Most of all, they need to be committed to fighting the bosses with militant strike action, including walkouts where needed, for example to combat victimisation and ‘revisions’ — imposition of harder conditions and job cuts.

Different aims

The bureaucracy — the caste of officials and general secretaries who run our unions — and the rank and file members who pay their wages, have diametrically opposed interests.

The officials want a deal, any deal, that they can sell to their members, just so long as it keeps them at the negotiating table with the employers.  Their concern for the bosses’ welfare runs so deep that they put the profitability of Royal Mail above the working conditions of their own members.

Workers on the other hand need to maintain, if not improve, their real wages and sustainable working conditions, like the shorter working week, a union policy that lies buried on Wimbledon Common. Against local management’s offensive they need to fight against every cut and for workers’ control in the workplace, with a union prepared to call for and endorse strike action, regardless of the anti-union laws.

But you cannot fully control what you do not own. We should demand Royal Mail opens its financial accounts to workers’ inspection so we can see where the money’s gone. If it is close to bankruptcy, it should be renationalised without compensation to the billionaires who have used Royal Mail like their own Royal Mint.

With this agenda, an alternative leadership would use completely new methods of organising. All officials should be elected and paid a worker’s wage. As far as possible the bureaucracy should be dissolved and its functions carried out by elected rank and file members. The union should be based on workplace and strike committees, accountable to mass meetings, and its leaders mandated to carry out whatever action is needed to win.


The good news is that this dispute has thrown up the new kind of leadership we need, based on reps and militants in the local area that have opposed the deal, stood up to the leaders in meetings and got their branches to recommend a no vote. But it remains in embryonic form, scattered about and unaware of the next steps it has to take.

The Postal Workers Say Vote No campaign, set up by CWU members with the help of Workers Power, has played a positive role in growing the rejectionist mood in the union.  Hundreds of reps and posties have joined in but on its own it is not enough.

We appeal to the tendencies supporting a No vote to bring their forces together, whether in the Posties Say No or not: wherever the left has members and officers in the post, from CWU Forward and even the WSWS rank and file committee, insofar as they represent real workers. 

The aim must be to organise this rank and file revolt into an ongoing movement.  A network of reps and militants, organised locally and networked nationally is completely possible now, if all those who can see that possibility come together and seize it.  That’s the way to rally the membership and restore the strike momentum. 

Together we could hammer out a plan to take the fight to the bosses and transform our union. If the CWU leaders won’t call a conference – the rank and file should!

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