Articles  •  Britain

Postal Workers, watch your leaders: CWU tops aim for rotten deal

31 October 2013

Dave Ward: but where is he leading postal workers to?

Dave Ward: but where is he leading postal workers to?

By a CWU rep
Just as postal workers around the country were gearing up for their first day of strike action this coming Monday, 4 November, leaders in the CWU postal union cancelled the action, supposedly to continue talks. A 30 October joint statement with Royal Mail bosses stated that they had made progress and committed the two sides to finalising an agreement by 13 November, two weeks away.
The vague outline of the deal being hatched shows that the CWU negotiating team, led by Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward, is making damaging concessions. Other than an improved pay offer, there is little information on what is being agreed.
At the centre of the dispute was a legally binding agreement to protect workers’ terms and conditions under its new private bosses. The statement only says that protections will extend beyond the three years currently offered by Royal Mail, implying heavily that CWU tops are prepared to retreat from the union’s policy of seeking a ten-year deal.
Royal Mail’s proposed pension cuts will be put in a separate agreement – as in 2007, where a deal was brokered separately from pensions in order to end the strike; then, after it was voted through, the scheme was then cut.
There is no detail on how the deal will settle workplace issues of flexibility, speed-ups, unagreed changes and other issues that have sparked a rash of local strikes since the summer, but it is overshadowed by a clause for a new “culture of consensual change, timely decision making and industrial stability supported by alternative dispute resolution processes.”
It is hard to see how this mouthful of management-speak could mean anything other than a no strike agreement, something denounced by the union in its leaflets to members arguing against Royal Mail’s offer! Only a few weeks ago, this was viewed as a terrible attack on the union, now the union leadership has swallowed this whole and repackaged it as part of a good deal, again just like at the end of the 2007 and 2009 disputes.
Alarm bells should be ringing in every postal worker’s head when s/he reads the 9-point communiqué. “An agreed approach to aligning resourcing to workload”: this could mean a “flexibility” deal that would leave workers at the beck and call of managers redeploying CWU members at a moment’s notice.
But the following can only have one meaning. “A joint company/CWU charter shaping the ongoing values and principles of the Royal Mail Group” is pure business unionism. The Royal Mail Group has one principle: profit, one value: shareholders’ value. Workers’ interests are irreconcilable with this because profits are made at our expense through increased exploitation.
It is clear from what is outlined that this is an unacceptable deal. Whatever pay increase is offered – the only concrete step forward – it is hardly going to compensate for the other givebacks and cuts that are clearly in the pipeline.
Dave Ward, Billy Hayes and the rest of the Postal Executive are so desperate for a deal that they are giving away the farm.
Postal workers deserve more than that and they deserve the dignity and respect to be treated like equals in the union and told, clear and simple, the terms that are on the table and what sticking points remain. Members and branches should demand the basic democratic right, to know what is being negotiated in their name and insist that the leadership clarifies these points immediately, not in two weeks’ time.
Delay after delay
First our leaders delayed any action till after privatisation, despite the huge leverage this would have given postal workers and the possibility of stopping a sell-off in the first place. Now they are talking out precious weeks leading up to Christmas where postal workers leverage is at its maximum.
They did the same in 2009 (sorry to keep harping on about it but the sense of déja vu is overwhelming). Back then they talked tough in September and October, dragged the action out and then bottled it after one day in the face of hysterical headlines about greedy Grinch posties stealing Xmas and a huge scab army of “Christmas temps”, assembled by Royal Mail in the weeks and weeks that the CWU leaders had given them to prepare their anti-strike operation. They were silent for weeks afterwards, a rotten deal emerging over two months later after the whole strike momentum had been killed dead.
All these delays have a purpose for union leaders other than negotiations – they deflate members’ expectations and morale, in order to get them into the “zone” where they are willing to accept – or at least not fight against – a rotten deal. We can’t have a repeat of that; too much is at stake.
Put the strikes back on
Workers should demand that the 4 November strike is put back on, and either way remain prepared to strike. Royal Mail has agreed to extend the ballot’s validity to 20 November, and the union is saying if no agreement that includes all the nine points of the outlined deal is in place by 13 November they will call a strike.
But CWU members can do more than that. Postal workers and union reps should get together in the canteens, in their branches, in emergency meetings to discuss the deal and reject it, notifying the leadership and the rest of the union. Militants and the left in the union should call an emergency meeting to debate how to stop a sell-out taking place and develop an alternative strategy to defend postal workers’ terms and conditions, get a real, i.e. above-inflation pay rise with no strings – pension cuts or no strike deals – attached.
Decisive steps – given a real organisational form through a rank and file movement against the deal– could rally postal workers and undo any confusion or demoralisation.
Postal workers should not allow themselves to be treated like a stage army, marched up the hill and marched back down at the whim of the leaders. Secret negotiations, calling off strikes without even the pretence of consultation with the members shows a bureaucratic complacency by the top table that needs to be challenged and thrown out.
Coming on top of Len McCluskey’s shameful capitulation at Grangemouth a cave-in by Hayes and Ward would mean an end to the much-touted “coordinated action” against the government and the bosses. Royal Mail’s self-confidence and the harshness of its terms will increase.
These events show the burning need for the rank and file in every union to organise independently of the full-time officials. Rank and file organisation in the CWU now could not only save the day in this dispute and unleash postal workers’ fighting spirit, so badly served up till now by their current leadership. It could lay the basis for democratising the union to put the membership in charge of negotiations and decisions on when to strike, when to suspend action and how long we should walk out for. In short it would put the officials in the position of servants of the membership, not its masters.
Reject the deal – put the strike back on – for an emergency meeting of the fighting wing of the CWU
National Dispute – Joint Statement 30th October 2013

Royal Mail and CWU have made progress in talks and commit to finalising an agreement in the next two weeks which will include the following:-
1. Legal protections for employees that extend beyond the current three year offer.
2. An improved pay and reward offer.
3. A separate pensions agreement.
4. An agenda for growth underpinned by a culture of consensual change, timely decision making and industrial stability supported by alternative dispute resolution processes.
5. An agreed approach to aligning resourcing to workload with a resolution to any current workload and resourcing issues.
6. An overview of the future parcels and letters strategy.
7. A joint company/CWU charter shaping the ongoing values and principles of the Royal Mail Group.
8. An ongoing operational programme of work.
9. The individual elements outlined above will only be deemed agreed when everything is agreed.
On the basis of the aforementioned CWU agree to stand down the 24 hour strike planned for the 4th November.
Royal Mail agree to extend the legal validity of the current industrial action ballot until 20th November.
Both parties will clear diaries to ensure all our efforts are focused on reaching an agreement by the 13th November.
A national briefing for CWU reps will take place on Monday 4 November at 12 noon.

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