After a series of local ballots and strikes over job cuts, the post and telecom union CWU is balloting all postal workers across Britain from 9 September.
The CWU’s strike call comes in response to what CWU Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward calls an “incompetent management running [the postal service] into the ground.” Although the Government has retreated on part-privatisation of Royal Mail, an aggressive cuts programme continues. Mail centres are being shut. Delivery workers are being asked to work longer for less.
The conflict is “unfinished business” following the deal struck to end the postal workers’ strike campaign in 2007.
As one postal worker told Solidarity: “Many of the current problems arise from management not sticking to the deal we got in 2007, which in my opinion wasn’t very good anyway. Many reps and activists felt let down by the deal in 2007, but there are problems with the union’s internal democracy.”
In 2007, Royal Mail agreed to negotiation with the CWU on the “modernisation” which it claims is necessary due to decreased demand for letter post. The union claims Royal Mail is reneging on that agreement.
The 2007 deal conceded to Royal Mail’s demand for “flexibility” and allowed Royal Mail to implement changes locally. Naturally, Royal Mail bosses have been pushing down that road as hard as they can.
In the run-up to the 2007 dispute, CWU leaders billed it as a showdown not only over pay but also over rival “visions” for the postal service. In fact, however, union leaders offered no independent political and industrial perspective from the union. They did not set out a workers’ plan for Royal Mail that took as its starting point what postal workers and service-users need.
Now Dave Ward is calling for “a joint CWU/Royal Mail vision” for the future of the service, as if the top Royal Mail bosses could be persuaded by talking into seeing the post as a public service, rather than a business competing in the market. Beyond that, and the negative aim of resisting job cuts, there are no clear positive demands for the strike coming from the top union leaders.
Socialists in the CWU have argued that, rather than developing a “joint vision” with management, the union needs its own, independent perspective that goes on the offensive around the issues that are at the heart of the dispute.
Royal Mail’s proposed cuts — including closures, job losses and speeded-up delivery spans (which expect workers to work harder and longer for the same pay) — are part of an ongoing government project for the public sector, trashing public service in favour of a model of public funds “commissioning” services from market-rival “providers”. Already, postal workers are seeing some of the wider political implications behind the dispute.
“The current cuts are seen as Mandleson getting his own back following the withdrawal of the privatisation plan. Although there isn’t yet a consciousness that sees this dispute as part of a wider class fightback in the recession, there is a consciousness around resisting privatisation and business-logic.”
It’s not enough to simply fight defensive battles over the threat to pay and conditions posed by privatisation and marketisation. A wider political perspective is necessary — one that takes on the idea that the postal service should be run as a business, to make profits in a competitive market. Why should any industry be run in the interests of profit rather than human need?
The same CWU activist told Solidarity:
“We’re fighting on very unfavourable ground, with an extremely hostile employer and a potentially even more hostile one if and when the Tories win the election. But I’m confident of getting a yes vote, and fundamentally the dispute is about defending the post as a public service, and resisting it being run as a business.”