CWU - Communication Workers Union  •  Industrial

Royal Mail: workers can counter attacks at the grassroots

29 September 2023

Bosses walk all over deal as union leaders dither

Local delivery offices in Hayes and Stranraer Scotland have balloted for strike action and action short of a strike against failure of Royal Mail managers to deliver the USO, their legal obligation that they are flouting nationally.

In the Mail Centres, Royal Mail continues to break the recent agreement by imposing cuts to “supernumerary” staff, and CWU leaders have been forced to state they will support requests for ballots over the issue.

Over 200 offices are still waiting for the return of their reps victimised during last year’s strike, while bosses keep sacking more. Most recently, six postal workers from Prenton Delivery Office on the Wirral were sacked for nothing more than taking a tea break at the local Weatherspoons, which they had permission to do. It is also rumoured that young members’ NEC member Luke Elgar from Essex Amal has been sacked despite assurances he would not be for actions during the strike.

The recent Business Recovery, Transformation and Growth Agreement (BRTG) agreed in the July ballot was dead on arrival. The deal is falling apart as Royal Mail bosses bypass it or break it to cut costs and restore profits, but the CWU leaders continue to cling to it rather than fight. Workers should support those offices balloting with messages of solidarity and collections, but the best way to do so is to join in, and request a rule 13 ballot. If Royal Mail digs in, reps should fight for and coordinate citywide ballots to spread the action, while demanding the union responds nationally with a strike.

Taking action is especially important to regroup postal workers after demoralisation caused by the rotten July agreement, with the huge attacks on the workforce built into it. Equally, strikes allow workers to get the truth out to the public about how Royal Mail is cynically gaming the system and causing misery to millions waiting for NHS appointments or bank cards, in order to save money. Right now postal bosses are lobbying the government to cut the USO claiming letters have declined too much to make money – when offices are stuffed full of undelivered mail!

This is the height of hypocrisy and cynicism. Their real aim is to wind down the USO so they can focus on growing their parcel business. To do this, they are embedding a two tier workforce, and stepping up the blizzard of unagreed changes and cuts to restore the company’s profitability at workers’ expense. Meanwhile the Communication Workers Union leaders stand by and wring their hands.

“No drop-off in workplace intimidation”

In a recent interview with CWU postal union General Secretary Dave Ward, Chris Webb, CWU Communications head of the union, confirmed that the new agreement has not seen any let up in shopfloor attacks, and that Royal Mail is blatantly breaking the agreement before the ink on it has even dried:

“Never before has there been an agreement with so many loose ends. You know we signed the agreement, the payment date for the back pay is in there, and then they move it. We come to do seasonal variations and they start deducting people’s annual leave off them when they said we won’t meant… Traditionally we’ve had a real period of calm after we’ve had a dispute like this but we haven’t had that, we haven’t had any drop off. We haven’t had any drop-off in the workplace intimidation, we haven’t had any drop off in essentially trying to rewrite the agreement after it’s been signed.”

Ward even questioned whether management could ever change and work with the union: “Working together at all levels, it’s plastered all over the agreement. Are they doing that at this stage? No. Can they do that? I think there’s a question of their capabilities as to whether they could ever do that…”

The appointment of new CEO Martin Seidenberg, the old Financial Officer who helped himself to massive bonuses in 2022 and was part of the union-busting response to last year’s strike, is hardly a good sign.

No let up from bosses

None of this will be a surprise to postal workers who have faced these attacks head on for over a year now, with offices full of undelivered mail after imposed revisions have hiked walk length. The result has been the exodus of up to 10,000 staff into new jobs or early retirement, sick of the lack of fight from their union’s leadership. More may leave now that the lumpsum £1400 bribe to vote yes has been paid.

Nor will it give comfort to the those suspended or sacked and awaiting justice from the Lord Falconer review. The scandal of an agreement that left out justice for the victimised, handing their fate over to the discretion and behind-closed-doors decision of a rightwing Labour Lord, becomes clearer with every month that drags on and they remain out of work. Some were suspended over a year ago, and no doubt many will have moved to new jobs and may not return even if reinstated, weakening the union still further.

Some workers have left the union, no doubt as a result of the betrayals in the new agreement, with its workload hike, cuts to terms and conditions, two tier workforce and surrender to Royal Mail blackmail.

Ward acknowledged these falls in staff and membership, saying many workers wouldn’t be able to accept the changes due to “a romantic notion” of the way the job was in the past – what an insult to workers, after he dropped the strike and allowed Royal Mail to take a wrecking ball to the job and USO!

What “change” looks like

The Ward leadership insists we must embrace “change”, holding hands with Royal Mail to build a single large parcel network out of the old operation, even floating the idea that the union would agree a cut to the USO.

Already the officials have failed to tackle revisions, and failed to stop massive cuts to parcel pick up points. CWU leaders admit bosses agreed an approach to purely voluntary redeployment of supernumerary staff in mail centres only to rip it up the next day, “attempting to circumnavigate the MTSF agreement” covering staff surpluses and which is supposedly protected by the BRTG Agreement! They have compromised on the unending executive action, which bends or breaks the new deal, agreeing to Royal Mail retroactively applying the new, worse attendance requirements on staff. This has just encouraged management to go further, from imposing an audit of union rep facility time to the latest unagreed “trust” survey, which postal workers say is rigged by management.

As predicted by those who opposed the deal, bosses are pulling every lever to restore profitability. And more changes are on the way with the different trials and working groups in the BRTG, while rumours are circulating that Royal Mail intends to cut 1,300 mail centre jobs, even though mail centres are full of agency workers. Royal Mail believes these roles will be made redundant by the new superhubs for the parcel network.

Stop the retreat, organise from below

The leadership’s feebly exhorts reps and branches to launch a gung-ho organising drive aimed at those who have left the union, as well as the new, lower tier and lower-paid workers. While absolutely necessary to stop the rout, this will leave a bitter and cynical aftertaste for most workers after the agreement was pushed through: there are few positives to sell membership on, just the threat that it will get worse if the union numbers fall.

Even so, union activists and reps must come together at the local level to discuss how to turn things round including rebuilding the union on the shopfloor and crucially pushing for Rule 13 ballots now whatever the issue – victimisations, supernumerary redundancies, revisions and USO failures. That is the best way to lift heads and restore morale, standing up for ourselves.

What they should not do is trust that Ward & Co will solve all these problems, and instead rely on regrouping from below to oppose the current offensive with strike action. All those opposing the sell-out leadership must organise a rank and file movement to oppose it and replace it.

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