Postal Workers Back Strike Action
Results announced at the CWU's annual conference in Bournemouth:
Royal Mail Pay:
Yes: 66,064 (77.5%)
Post Office Ltd (Counters):
Yes: 2740 (73%)
Cash In Transit:
Yes: 545 (66%)
Postal workers have voted strongly in favour of taking industrial action over pay, in what would be the first national postal strike since 1996. However the union seems to be using the ballot result as a bargaining chip, rather than showing seriousness that they will fight.
According to Deputy General Secretary, Dave Ward: "This yes vote shows absolutely clearly that Royal Mail workers have rejected the company's business plan, the company's leadership and the unacceptable pay offer. Royal Mail leaders say they listen to people; this is the clearest message they have ever had. Royal Mail has to listen and return to serious negotiations."
But he goes on to say: "Because we care about the service there will be no immediate announcement for strike action – we want an agreement – not a strike for the sake of it. So we will give Royal Mail a further opportunity to back-off from their cuts and come back to the negotiating table with a fresh approach."
The dispute is partly about Royal Mail's 2.5% pay offer. A series of walkouts will now be held by about 130,000 CWU members unless new talks can lead to a breakthrough in the dispute. But as Dave Ward points out: "The key issue in this dispute remains the unacceptable cuts in postal services – cuts in postal jobs - and attacks on our members’ terms and conditions. Royal Mail’s plans include 40,000 job losses – later deliveries - reductions in collections – reductions in weekend service. The closure of delivery offices and mail centres – and the destruction of the rural and crown office post office network."
But as I have pointed out before, the underlying issue is whether or not the CWU stands up for the idea of defending Royal Mail as a public service. So-called “liberalisation”, opening up the publicly owned Royal Mail to competition, was introduced in January 2006, as a result of EU legislation, but the free market zealots of New Labour decided to deregulate three years earlier than competitor countries. The response to this from the CWU was revealing. Billy Hayes complained “We all know that postal liberalisation is coming, but the CWU cannot understand why a British regulator [has placed] the nation’s postal service at a competitive disadvantage” (emphasis added)
All along the CWU has accepted that liberalisation and competition could not be opposed, and therefore even if Royal Mail does stay in the public sector, it will be subject to market pressure. So it will be run as a business not as a public service.
The CWU needs to take a political stance against liberalisation, and demand that Royal mail continues to run as a public service. This is a long haul argument, but is one that the RMT has effectively mounted over renationalisation of the railways. The advantage is the not only can we start to turn the tide over the political idea there is no alternative to the market, but it would make the workforce more confident and inspired to fight. It is never a good way to fight, to first concede that your opponent is correct in principle!
The Royal Mail's plans to respond to market forces, "Shaping the Future" were accepted last year by the CWU. But the inevitable consequences of the scheme are now becoming clear.
Given the liberalisation and competition then management will be determined to stand firm. The posties have a real fight on their hands, and the union's leadership needs to show the required determination. If not then the grassroots activists need to prepare to take the lead themselves.