Workplace & Trade Unions

Postal workers: Vote no and defend our terms and conditions

25 June 2023

Rotten agreement will not provide job security and will weaken union

By a CWU rep

After weeks of delay the leadership of the postal CWU union have finally balloted members, fearing they would throw out the new agreement. Several branches are recommending a no vote, centred on Scotland, or refusing to recommend a yes vote, while a grassroots campaign of reps and members has taken off.

Union leaders like General Secretary Dave Ward don’t even pretend the deal has anything positive in it, but in their live Q&A to members (the first in weeks), they point to Royal Mail’s ‘perilous financial situation’ saying that if members don’t vote it in then there might not be a Royal Mail!

The fact is, it’s a rotten deal and workers should throw it out. Measured against the dispute’s goals, it abandons every single one. It is a real pay cut and slashes terms and conditions, while allowing digital data from parcel devices and other sources to be used for conduct, and worst of all agrees a two-tier workforce.

After members lost 18 days of strike pay, the Ward leadership dropped industrial action because they didn’t have a strategy to win. An all-out struggle meant losing control of it, or legal challenges to our strike mandate that they wouldn’t fight. CWU leaders ran the ‘fight of our lives’ like a simple trade dispute, whereas Royal Mail went to war. The union didn’t win any serious concessions, then caved into Royal Mail’s threat to go into administration if we kept striking.

The result is a surrender by the union bureaucracy, for which workers will pay the price.

An insult to workers

The 35-page agreement states that the union and management, ‘are committed to achieving mutual interest solutions to turn the fortunes of the Company.’ Considering what’s in the deal and the bitter, union-busting dispute that preceded it, where bosses victimised 400 workers and reps, that language isn’t just worthless, it’s an insult.

Ward states that with the company in the red there was no more pay to extract, but that is only one issue. Everything else the deal extracts from us is worth much more! It hikes the exploitation and workload of postal workers, particularly the majority who are delivery workers, in order to restart the flow of profits to its millionaire shareholders.

The officials’ main selling point is that voting yes means the union is ‘back in the room, back at the table’ and can mitigate some of these attacks in the future. What they really mean is their jobs are safe – the whole pyramidal apparatus of full-time officials especially those at the top – and they can continue to negotiate change.

They point to guarantees on compulsory redundances or mail centre closures, and limits on owner-drivers, as gains.  But these only last till April 2025 (if that long), and Royal Mail’s own documents show that it is already well on the way to achieving the ten thousand ‘full time equivalent’ redundancies it demanded anyways, so this is hardly a major concession.

There will be no job stability either, with joint working groups and trials imposing constant changes from above, as delivery workers facing revisions and mail centre ‘supernumeraries’ know.  

The only real incentive for workers to vote yes is an extra £900 lump sum negotiated during the delay, tapping an old pension reserve that should be used to stabilise the current pension, not as a bribe to vote yes. This is scandalous, particularly since it leaves real pay still 10% below what it was in 2021. It will backfire on the CWU tops if the pension ends up in trouble, but they don’t care. They are desperate for this deal to go through, so they are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it.

Working harder and faster for less

Dave Ward last Autumn stated that workers need to fight the cost of living crisis because ‘work has become all about working harder and fast for less’. But that is exactly what this deal has delivered.

One of the ‘pillars’ of the previous agreements was a shorter working week, but apart from a few more empty words in the deal on the ‘shared commitment’ to the this, it has effectively been abandoned. This is a basic health and safety measure for delivery workers as indoor work is mechanised, putting more time on the gruelling outdoor workspan. Workers have said they will have to leave the business – many already are – because they will be injured or disabled long before they are able to retire. These workers are what Royal Mail bosses referred to as the ‘legacy’ older workforce last autumn, which they want to get rid of, and this deal will help them do that.

The deal is a blow to family-friendly hours and work-life balance, a basic necessity for those with childcare and one of the few perks in our job, which has worsened and intensified since the 2013 privatisation. In the Q&A Ward simply said that they would do everything possible to support those with ‘genuine’ issues.

Most damaging of all, Royal Mail’s imposed new contracts have new starters working six hours more per week. effectively for free (their contracts are longer but pay lower than existing staff). This creates a two-tier workforce that will weaken the union and our shopfloor strength.

The deal abandons so much for so little. If it passes it means the dispute ends in a defeat, for all the brave spin by the leaders about holding our heads high. If the deal passes, it will be much harder to get workers out on strike anytime soon – and bosses know that, so will be that much less restrained.

Voting no and changing direction

If a no vote succeeds in overturning the deal, it will represent a victory by the workers. It will pose the question, what next? Workers should not leave the answer to that in the hands of Ward & Co any more than we should have left our dispute, the strike, the negotiations, in their hands. We need a change of direction if we are to win the fight of our lives.

Workers should demand our union stands up for our terms and conditions, and calls escalating strike action up to all-out. We do have the power to win and we don’t have to do it alone. The CWU can revive Enough is Enough into a movement providing the support and solidarity, including hardship funds, that we need to fight back. Such a movement would be able to fight alongside us for renationalisation, to build links with other striking workers, and organise the whole working class to fight against Tory austerity and stagflation. It is a scandal that the bureaucrats in every union have not organised such a movement already.

We need to organise the militant no-voting wing into a rank and file network capable of pushing these actions forward, organising local solidarity, building shopfloor organisation and strike committees capable of going ahead with or without the leaders if they delay or drop action again. We must build links with grassroots networks taking root in other unions – NHS Workers Say No, PCS Says No, UCU Grassroots Left – and together force our leaders to coordinate and escalate strike action.

Whatever happens in this ballot, workers have learned real lessons of this dispute: the strikes proved we have the power, but the bureaucracy blocks it. The ultimate solution is a rank and file movement to democratise the union, take control of our disputes and build a new, fighting leadership in every union, including the CWU.

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