Articles  •  Britain

How the CWU leaders lost the Royal Mail

09 October 2013

By a CWU postal rep

If all the local areas currently on strike and all militants across the union were to walk out, coordinate their actions and appeal for everyone to come out, postal workers could still wreck privatisation and defend jobs and the union.

CWU leaders Dave Ward and Billy Hayes would object that an unlawful strike would see the union’s funds seized, its HQ raided, maybe even them put in prison. But the Tories would hesitate to take such radical measures, because it could spark a strike wave that could break what is fundamentally a weak government.

Where there’s a will there’s a way, but the history of the last few years shows that Ward and Hayes would never do it. Unfortunately, with a low level of unofficial organisation in the CWU and a small, disorganised left, the rank and file cannot organise the necessary action either.

The long road to privatisation

But the rot set in long before this. Back in 2007, postal workers already knew privatisation was on the cards. Rival private carriers TNT and UK Mail had begun cherry-picking the juiciest parts of the business by taking over giant contracts with large corporations and undercutting Royal Mail’s prices, while depending on the public sector to deliver “the final mile”. Now these cuckoos in the public sector nest have grown so big they have launched their own door-to-door delivery service in Manchester.

The strike of that year nearly crushed Royal Mail management with unofficial action spreading like wildfire from Edinburgh down to Watford. A court injunction and a fresh offer of talks, plus of course Ward and Hayes’ willingness to accept anything to stop the strike, saved the day for them.

Two years later another strike also threatened to get out of hand. Again it was called off just as it was beginning to bite. The terms agreed at the end of the strike amounted to a no-strike deal while the most militant mail centres, like Oxford, Liverpool and East London, were closed.

And what have the left done? In 2007, the Socialist Workers Party closed down their fake “rank and file” paper, Post Worker, for the whole duration of the dispute. Their leading figure, Jane Loftus, then president of the union, even voted for the rotten deal to end it.

It is truly shocking that the SWP now aims to re-launch this useless paper on the back of Billy Hayes addressing its Unite the Resistance conference. Hayes should be heckled and put on the spot, rather than praised as some kind of fighter.

In 2010, as soon as they came in, the Tories rushed through a vote to privatise Royal Mail again. The union leaders did nothing. Then in April of this year, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced that an autumn sale was on, again with no response to speak of.

Our leaders firmly ruled out any strike action against privatisation as being illegal, but the “wink and nudge” from CWU officials in private was that while we would ballot on pay and conditions, the strike would aim to derail privatisation. But with a sell-off taking place the day before the ballot even ends, they’ve completely missed the boat.

The large majority of CWU members work for Royal Mail; without them the union would collapse. Yet this leadership has allowed them to be privatised without a fight. Such a leadership has lost all right to lead.

A rank and file movement, capable of leading action without the official leaders when necessary and replacing them with class fighters from below as soon as possible, is desperately needed.

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