At this year's Communication Workers’ Union conference (Bournemouth, from 21 May), there is an issue that will not go away - the proposed privatisation of Royal Mail in the form of share options for staff.
Royal Mail boss Allan Leighton has sent a semi-legal letter to all staff asking them to register an interest in share issues. This is despite no final decision being taken by the Government and the necessity of an act of Parliament in order for shares to be issued at all.
Over 200 Labour MPs have signed an Early Day Motion opposing the sellng off of any part of Royal Mail. The CWU has been attempting to organise a pre-emptive ballot of staff to reaffirm the union's position, but Royal Mail managers are refusing to allow the consultation to go ahead.
Tied up with the question of shares is the issue of the CWU's relationship to the Labour Party, which for the fourth year in succession will be the subject of a motion to conference. One motion calls for the union to take a working-class stance, or at least something vaguely like it, on the issue of the Labour Party leadership; another would effectively lead to disaffiliation as it calls for the CWU political fund to be used to support a number of other parties.
Other hot topics will include pensions, council housing and the demand for the government to implement the Agency Workers’ Directive. John Hendy is also due to address the conference on the campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Bill.
At Telecoms Conference, the main issue will be the union's drive to organise in areas of the industry currently without union representation. Continuous structural changes in telecommunications have allowed the bosses to push through significant redundancies and attacks on pay and conditions. At the same time, thousands of jobs are at risk as a result of the merger of Telewest and NTL cable organisations. This is the area of mobile communications where the CWU has found it hardest to make an impact. Only 02, which was originally part of BT, has recognition. The Telecoms Conference will also see a discussion on the customer engineers productivity bonus scheme, with many branches calling for the Executive to negotiate an upgrade for all rather than let the divisive and failing scheme continue.
At Postal Conference the challenges of a liberalised market and the continuing drive of the Post Office management to "shed" jobs will be central. The need for the union to organise beyond its traditional areas and push for higher basic pay and a shorter working week is central here.