Workplace & Trade Unions

Postal workers – are we sliding towards a bad deal?

03 March 2023

Workers need to organise against any sell-out of the dispute

In a massive climbdown, CWU General Secretary Dave Ward and his deputy Andy Furey announced the new joint statement and talks with Royal Mail. Strikes are ruled out till the end of the month. The reaction of members in the online meeting was the most negative it has ever been, forcing media officer Chris Webb to tell the leaders, coming from the livestream comments “there’s a huge issue of trust”, and they “think the union’s been had over here”.

They aim to reach a deal by 12 March and tie off revisions by the end of the financial year (31 March). That’s handy for Royal Mail given this is a one of the busier times of year to get through. But after a huge yes vote in a ballot two weeks ago, this is another blow to the strike and likely to lead to a rotten deal.

Reps will have to agree revisions by 10 March, making cuts to offices and in many cases later start times, “to try and assist the financial situation in the company”! If not, senior officials will take over and push them through.

An independent reviewer, acceptable to Royal Mail, will look at the suspensions and dismissals of reps and members – over 300 now. That takes the issue out of the hands of local offices, where many have voted for a ballot for local action but been denied one, and it won’t get all our unfairly victimised reps and members back. Again, it’s holding back the membership to make an unnecessary compromise.

Ward openly signalled a climb down on pay, citing the company’s financial situation and saying it was “probably the right time” for a multi-year deal. But after striking and 10% inflation we need money in our pocket now.

Desperate for a deal

The members are fed up with the revisions and attacks on the shop floor – kicking staff off duties, ripping up attendance patterns, agency handed overtime while workers who need it get nothing, conduct and suspensions – but the ballot shows we are up for a fight. The union tops could have bounced off the ballot, using the momentum to call strikes.

Instead, Ward and Furey refused to set strike dates. Then they announced an ultimatum saying if executive action didn’t stop by this Monday they would consider “all options.” The deadline passed without a sound, more proof of paper tigers. Meanwhile Royal Mail just kept on with executive action and dismissing good reps. Why not? The union has dropped the strike completely since Christmas so there are no real consequences for the bosses.

Dave Ward has increasingly banged the drum of the company’s “serious financial and economic challenges” for a few weeks now. It signals desperation – hardly the way to get the deal we need. Worse, it is a clear signal to bosses that the union is willing to make serious concessions to get the deal they want. The joint statement is a down payment on that, with revisions to save money.

But it has a contradiction in it. There are only two ways to save the company money: fail the USO (already Royal Mail’s unofficial policy) or hike workload. Revisions are clearly meant to do the latter. If they fail, there likely won’t be a deal and we will have wasted another month.

Resist every cut and suspension

Only militants in the post can turn this around, push the struggle from below and get organised. Redcar delivery office, possibly Tyneside Mail Centre, have walked out over imposed changes in the last week. That is exactly what workers should do to resist every cut or suspension, and insist the strikes are put back on.

In other unions, like the lecturers’ UCU union, there is a left that can organise resistance, and provides an organised challenge to these kind of climbdowns. The CWU has no organised left, but going forward militants need to network to resist any sell-out and build that into a proper rank and file movement that can put an end to secret negotiations and instead have them overseen by the membership. Such a movement could democratise not only this dispute, but ultimately the union, with a new leadership recallable and on the workers wage.

Furey argued the old line that “we’re not Usain Bolt we’re Mo Farah, we’re in it for the long haul”. But you can only drag a strike out so long, especially when members are getting pushed around by management and told not to walk, not to strike but to effectively turn the other cheek. We need an all-out strike to deliver the knock-out blow.

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