On 30 September 2020, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) announced that its “Count Me In” campaign against planned job cuts and other attacks to terms and conditions by BT was “stepping into full gear.”
More than seven months since that announcement, and nearly six since CWU members voted for industrial action by a 97.9% majority in a consultative ballot, the union has still not launched a formal ballot. More announcements about “intensification” and a “significant ramping up” of the campaign have followed, but no ballot.
A large national ballot requires preparation. The CWU is right to want to put itself in the best possible position to beat the thresholds of the Tory anti-union laws. The campaign has been impressive on its own terms, keeping up regular communication with members and organising large online meetings.
But beyond a certain point, repeated announcements that a campaign is kicking into “full gear” start to have a counterproductive effect. In reality, the campaign has been stuck at the preparatory phase for month. Surely “full gear” would involve moving to the formal ballot workers voted for by such an overwhelming majority in December?
An interview with a local rep published on the CWU’s website on 7 May said that the rep and their members were ready to ballot “once the headquarters push the button.” Good: but there’s a danger. If decision-making is happens only at “headquarters”, with the rank-and-file membership just waiting, then the democratic self-organisation needed to sustain and win any serious dispute is much harder to build.
And if the message from headquarters is that the button is continually about to be pressed, then the rank and file may start doubting their officers’ seriousness.