CWU needs to regroup

Submitted by martin on 25 January, 2011 - 10:29

The government's Postal Services Bill, for selling off Royal Mail, completed its "third reading" in the House of Commons on 12 January.

It still has to go through the House of Lords and get Royal Assent, but those are formalities. The Government's problem is now not getting the law through, but finding a buyer.

The post and telecom union CWU ran two previous campaigns against selling off Royal Mail with success - against the Tory government in 1996, and against Mandelson in 2009.

However, the 2009 campaign was much more limp than the 1996 campaign, and succeeded only because the New Labour government must have decided that it was not worth the stress of forcing privatisation through Parliament on Tory votes (a lot of Labour MPs would have voted against) when in any case it was unlikely to find a buyer before the general election.

The CWU's response to the Bill passing the Commons was even more limp: "government MPs have missed the opportunity to safeguard post offices and postal services by not backing key amendments".

Before 2003, Royal Mail workers accounted for one-third of all strikes in Britain. They still have stronger organisation than many other groups, but the weakness of the CWU on privatisation reflects not only the inertia of the bureaucracy but also the cumulative effect of setbacks.

Levels of strike action fell from 50,000 days a year up to 2002 to about 3000 in 2005 after the "Major Change" deal of 2003.

In 2007 an industrial battle between postal workers and Royal Mail ended with the union leadership letting industrial action dribble away, and then, after a long pause, pushing through a deal which gave Royal Mail bosses a go-ahead for "flexibility".

Another dispute on jobs and conditions in 2009 ended the same way.

The CWU now needs to focus on organising to meet the more drastic attacks on jobs and conditions that will come with privatisation. An effort to organise casual workers in Royal Mail, and workers in private mail companies, is central.

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