By a CWU rep
IT IS a sign of the times that workers across the three main sectors organised by the Communications Workers Union—Royal Mail, Post Office and British Telecom—could be striking together. This would be a first for the CWU.
Post Office workers led the way earlier this summer, with 1,500 workers taking two days of strike action after a 97.3% yes vote. Next up, BT employees held their first national ballot since privatisation in 1987—and smashed it with over 90% voting for action. Thirty thousand engineers and 9,000 call centre workers are set to strike.
Bringing up the rear on 28 June 115,000 CWU members in Royal Mail and Parcelforce launched their ballot with hundreds of gate meetings outside depots, and homemade videos of staff proudly wearing ‘I’m voting yes!’ stickers or posting their ballot, yes box ticked.
The common link is the refusal by privately owned Royal Mail and BT and public sector Post Office to grant pay rises that keep pace with inflation. Despite ballooning boardroom wealth the working class is being driven into penury.
The CWU’s new united industrial campaign and its political message of building a mass movement against the cost of living crisis mean activists across the union have an opportunity to work together, fighting for a more militant approach, including coordinated strikes and common claims.
FTSE 100 firm BT offered a flat-rate £1,500 to 58,000 frontline workers. That represents an 8% pay rise for lowest paid but only 3% for the higher grades—an attempt to play divide and rule, robbing one section to pay off another. But it leaves all workers facing a real-terms pay cut, since inflation, even at the lower CPI measure, is already 9% and will hit double figures by the autumn.
After years of attacks on terms and conditions and bullying management, this insulting pay offer was the straw that broke the camel’s back. On 30 June, the CWU announced that 28,500 engineers in BT subsidiary Openreach had voted a massive 95% in favour of strike action (74% turnout) while 12,350 BT workers voted 91% for a strike (58% turnout).
These votes are impressive, with thousands working from home since the pandemic and engineers on their own, out in the streets all day. This shows that ballots can be won even in disadvantageous conditions. In addition this is the first time that multiple call centres have been successfully balloted. It will be the largest call centre strike ever, a landmark for activists to build on in other companies.
Royal Mail workers, offered a measly 2% despite hundreds of millions handed over to shareholders, will inevitably give the CWU a hat-trick. A second ballot on a full-scale corporate assault on terms, conditions and zero-hours contracts is likely to follow in August.
Activists and reps in the various CWU sections have different issues but similar debates on strategy: one-day Post Office strikes every month will not crack the company and the same is true for BT and Royal Mail workers. Hard hitting action, escalating to all-out if necessary, is the way to bring the issue to a head quickly.
But now there is the opportunity to come together and raise the stakes further. We should be arguing for coordinated strike days, joint rallies and marches, and joint reps meetings to build solidarity, unite the campaigns and fight for a real pay rise indexed to inflation.