Maria Exall, a member of the Executive of the post and telecom union CWU, spoke to Solidarity about the union's conference coming up on 7-11 June.
In the telecom sector conference, the big issue is “Service Delivery Transformation” for BT Openreach engineers. BT is demanding:
• A new “foundation grade” which will put all new workers on £4000 lower wages.
• A change in attendance patterns so that workers lose premium pay for Saturdays.
• Working up to 9pm without any premium pay, and being obliged to work up to two hours extra on any shift if management requires it.
The telecom sector Executive, under the leadership of the so-called “Effective Left”, a split from the Broad Left, will be proposing an emergency motion to accept these changes on the grounds that they will avoid BT making compulsory redundancies - though in fact BT bosses have made no hard commitment to that at all.
The Broad Left will be putting alternative emergency motions. The issue, I think, is whether union sees its job as defending BT against its competitors, or defending workers' terms and conditions. We absolutely should not sell out future employees in the way that accepting the “foundation grade” would.
Industrial action against BT on these issues is possible, I think.
Management bullying, sharpened in a time of economic crisis, is also an issue in BT.
The postal sector is dominated by issues which are essential sequels of the 2007 dispute — pensions and jobs. On 18 May CWU started a ballot of 160 workplaces in London for industrial action over job cuts, and the ballot runs to 1 June.
The other big issue is Royal Mail privatisation. The press is now speculating that Brown may move Mandelson to the Foreign Office, and that, as the Financial Times puts it, “would provide political cover for a government review of Lord Mandelson’s plans to sell a stake in Royal Mail to the private sector”. But it is still very possible that Gorcdon Brown will push through the privatisation, using Tory votes to defeat a rebellion by Labour MPs.
There are several motions on the agenda for the general part of conference proposing CWU disaffiliation from the Labour Party, but as the agenda stands they won't be reached. If disaffiliation is debated, and it may not be, that is most likely to be around an emergency motion submitted by the postal sector Executive.
Motions already on the agenda and likely to be debated include:
• One saying that all Labour MPs who haven't signed the “Early Day Motion” against Royal Mail privatisation should receive no financial or physical backing from CWU. (But all the CWU's sponsored MPs have signed the EDM).
• One saying that the union should divide its political fund into two funds, one affiliated to the Labour Party and one unaffiliated. That would be bad, since it would leave the political activity of the union totally bureaucratically controlled, as in Unison.
• One calling for a campaign to reverse the “Bournemouth” decision to ban political motions from unions and local Labour Parties to Labour conference. The CWU’s political committee has backed this, overturning a recommendation from the General Secretary. This means that CWU will recommend to TULO (the consortium of Labour-affiliated unions) that it reverse “Bournemouth”, though whether TULO will is another matter.