CWU - Communication Workers Union  •  Industrial

Postal workers: Organise to stop the retreat!

25 July 2023

CWU bureaucracy wins on rotten deal, but struggle won’t end

CWU postal union leaders have succeeded in getting their rotten deal over the line. Many workers will be wondering where we go next. This deal is a major defeat, one self-inflicted on us by the leadership around CWU General Secretary, Dave Ward.

When the deal ends in less than two-years-time, Royal Mail is like to demand further concessions, if not before. The shopfloor offensive of cuts and changes has not halted, and the deal has not resolved the issues arising from privatisation in 2017. Workers need to reorganise at the grassroots and rebuild our strength for the next inevitable battle.

Dramatic decline in membership

CWU leaders say that the yes vote has endorsed their deal, and it looks like a big win, with a 75.8% yes vote on a 67% turn out, but a closer look shows a more complex picture.

The official report from the 16 February strike ballot shows 111,670 members entitled to vote in the ballot, with 86,349 cast, a much higher turnout. But shockingly the 11 July ballot report showed only 104,259 eligible voters. The CWU leaders’ rotten strategy of delay and compromise has managed to lose over 7,000 members in less than five months. We can assume many of those would not have been yes voters!

Twenty thousand workers voted against the deal, after an unprecedented mass anger against the deal from its announcement nearly three months ago. Dragging out the ballot, putting pressure on those voting no, especially reps and officials, while looking the other way at management revisions on the shopfloor have all beaten down workers’ morale. Only fleet workers in a consultative ballot rejected one of the appendices, now to be renegotiated.

The mass opposition to the deal, fortified by five branches recommending a no vote and a grassroots Posties Say No campaign, forced a delay till the union leaders found an extra £900 bribe. Many no doubt voted yes not because they supported the deal itself but because they could see this leadership would not fight for better and so took the money. As the campaign pointed out, the yes vote was not an endorsement of the leadership or its strategy.

Bankrupt strategy

The CWU leadership under Dave Ward has not changed is strategy since it cut its teeth with its first sell-out in 2007. However, in the context of privatisation and a Royal Mail owned by profit hungry billionaire shareholders and undermined by changes in the delivery market, their strategy is all the more damaging to the union.

What used to be known as ‘pay for change’, with wage increases swapped for more flexibility and efficiency, has become surrender and big givebacks in the face of Royal Mail’s union-busting and blackmail. The company, battered by the strike last Autumn, threatened to cut Royal Mail’s UK operation loose and send it into administration. Ward & co, afraid to call their bluff, caved into this blackmail. 

The Ward leadership intends to continue with this strategy, already talking about agreeing a cut to the Universal Service Obligation (USO) from six days to five. In other words, they hope to pre-empt another Royal Mail offensive in 2025 by holding out major concessions ahead of time! What more proof is needed that this leadership needs to go.

Now management are not only continuing with the revisions that they began before the ballot, but planning new ones to take advantage of concessions in the deal itself, such as the trial cutting indoor work to hike outdoor workload.

Democracy or bureaucracy

At one point in the online live ballot update, Dave Ward said that the union was a two-way street, ‘we give you that right to vote but we also have to honour that vote whatever way the outcome is’. They give us the right?!

They controlled the dispute for 12 months, including delaying the ballot, and nobody could do anything about it. We had one moment as individuals where we could all vote. We couldn’t recall the leadership, we couldn’t change the course of the strike. We weren’t organised to.

That’s not really democracy, or even a two-way street but a bureaucratic union, like all the unions to be fair, whether led by leaders on the right or on the left. Ward’s wording shows that when forced, they will consult us, but the union is theirs to run.

Workers need to stop the retreat 

Their running of the strike has seen a haemorrhage of people leaving the job or the union, with more likely to come. Two hundred plus reps and members still remain victimised, with their fate now in the hands of the right-wing Lord Falconer, whose case review forms part of the agreement. The yes vote doesn’t signal everyone ‘coming back together’ as Ward claims but deep demoralisation and bitterness.

We can rebuild starting on the shopfloor and in reps’ groups to oppose all attempts by officials to collaborate with management’s offensive or help impose the cuts. Where this fails, we can still fight back, with demands for ‘rule 13’ ballots or shopfloor action including walkouts. Members meetings, elected strike committees, local meeting of militants can help sustain solidarity for such actions.

Workers should fight to local officials’ routine-ism and bureaucracy and insist our branches support this change of direction. The Postal Workers Say Vote No campaign can now turn to building this resistance, and solidarity with every office that fights, creating first a network and then a movement to transform the union into a workers’ democracy that fights for our interests. 

Such a movement is essential because the shopfloor isn’t enough. Many recognise now that the Ward leadership has to go, but without a grassroots left in the union there is no alternative. We need to build both our strength from below and a challenge to the top. That means not just developing new leaders out of that resistance but ensuring that they are on the workers wage, recallable and accountable, and controlled by the rank and file. This is key to a wider project of dissolving the bureaucracy and transforming the CWU into a fighting union governed by workers’ democracy.

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