CWU - Communication Workers Union  •  Industrial

Postal strike at the crossroads — fight for workers’ control

18 November 2022

By a CWU rep

ON THURSDAY morning Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson announced he would press ahead with plans to impose 10,000 redundancies, ripping up union agreements in order to cut pay-outs. That evening a record 27,000 union members dialled into an emergency online CWU meeting where general secretary Dave Ward told members to “stand strong and stand together” and announced more strike dates up to Christmas.

After stringing out negotiations in the run-up to delivering Royal Mail’s dire financial report on the 17th, the same day Thompson released a pre-prepared video on the company’s employee app which outlined plans to immediately start on the 10,000 job cuts, and a two-tier workforce with new starters on worse pay and gig economy, self-employed contracts. The restructuring will mean mail centre and customer service point closures, and thousands more jobs going.

Ward told members they should be prepared to strike during the Christmas peak periods of Black Friday and Cyber Monday if there is no acceptable deal in the coming week. But holding talks in secret keeps members in the dark and undermines confidence. Any deal that does not protect every aspect of our terms and conditions and deliver an inflation-proof pay rise should be rejected.

Christmas is our most powerful weapon so we should use it to maximum effect. Gate meetings called for this Tuesday should kickstart the campaign to get everyone out on the picketlines on 24th and 25th. Ward told members the stakes are high. But given the stakes, two days a week is not likely to stop union-busting bosses: the CWU should plan for rapidly escalating action up to all out in December. This means appealing for solidarity across the labour movement to build its strike fund.

Cancel Culture

Royal Mail bosses trying to destroy our jobs and break our union are 100% to blame for this dispute. But our leaders didn’t help bring it to a quick and victorious end by cancelling strikes for three crucial weeks in November.

First they cancelled the rolling strikes (different functions out on different days) because bosses discovered technical balloting errors and threatened a court injunction to stop the strike. Then they dropped replacement strikes to ballot us on a new “offer” that even the union said wasn’t serious, and hold a second ballot as a vote of no confidence in Thompson—a stunt. Another flip-flop followed when the union agreed to “intensive” negotiations through ACAS. The talks cost Thompson nothing—and in return he got strikes suspended for another week and a smooth run up to Royal Mail’s 17 November financial statement. Ward said we had to suspend strikes to show we were serious about negotiation, and Thompson joining the ACAS talks was a step forward — after the union had just said he wasn’t to be trusted, hence the vote of no confidence ballot!

When CWU leaders say we have to “back the union”, they mean we have to back their strategy and tactics. We all back the union—we are the union. Those who don’t support dropping strikes for fake talks, or worry that the leadership’s conservative strategy won’t deliver victory are right to raise concerns. Ward told us that the union’s “objective isn’t to strike but to get a deal”, and that the leadership is being shrewd by using different tactics to win the dispute.

That’s just spin. Strikes do end in deals, but so far the company hasn’t made any concessions that come anywhere close to what we need, so why stop the strikes? Their other tactics, writing letters to MPs requesting a parliamentary enquiry, and a petition for the public to sign, won’t win this dispute—only a strike blowing a hole in their profits will.

Any worker can see that losing these weeks for talks or fake ballots was completely wrong. All this time Royal Mail, week by week, was imposing its T&C changes on the shopfloor while victimising more than thirty reps and members.  

This is the fight of our lives, a fundamental fight for Royal Mail’s future, its workers and the public service. CWU leaders aren’t fighting it like that. They are spoon feeding the action out, turning it on and off, reacting to Royal Mail’s initiatives rather than taking the initiative ourselves.

Watch your leaders!

The rank and file need to get organised to restore the strike’s momentum, demand escalation, and prepare to take whatever action necessary to see it through to victory. A plan to escalate to all-out in December is the way to hit Royal Mail bosses and create a massive public debate about the future of the service, with the argument for renationalisation front and centre.

To avoid escalating, CWU leaders hide behind the argument that they need to ensure “members don’t lose too much money”. But leadership is about overcoming problems. It’s not too late to build a hardship or strike fund. Ward and Furey should call an emergency meeting of the other unions to coordinate a campaign of fundraising, solidarity, and action with joint strike days.

Workers are fighting mad at Thompson. This corporate chancer has jumped on board our industry, run it into the ground, given himself over £100k in bonuses and claims the service isn’t sustainable and he wants to cut the USO.

The fact is that eking out strike action over weeks hasn’t shaken him, we need to escalate until we win, without any more stand-downs or delays. It’s time for workers to take control of this dispute and negotiations. That means mass members’ meetings, elected strike committees, and city-wide committees of delegates uniting different offices and functions.

When a strike reaches this critical juncture, it is time to “watch your leaders”, collectively discuss the dispute as workers, meet to discuss and decide our red lines and place demands on the officials, and organise ourselves to push for the action needed to win—with our leaders if possible, but without them if necessary.  

You can donate to the Postal CWU union strike hardship fund: Unity Bank, Account name: CWU General Fund, Sort code: 60-83-01, For Reference put “strike hardship”.

We welcome the comments and contributions by workers on their experience of the strike so far, in their workplace or in terms of strike strategy, and will publish them as letters in our paper where room allows. Please email any comments or letters to [email protected]

If you agree with our analysis then please get in touch and join us!

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