A determined picket was held at the Royal Mail Bowthorpe depot, Norwich, England. A determined picket was held at the Royal Mail Bowthorpe depot, Norwich, England. Source: Roger Blackwell - Wikicommons / cropped from original / shared under license CC BY 2.0

The CWU leadership is unable to defend its members’ interest; rank-and-file rebuilding of the union is the only way forward, argues the Secret Postie

Despite a protracted ballot period and lots of anger from CWU members about the deal that has been recommended by the leadership, this week that deal was accepted. When announcing the deal via a YouTube live broadcast on Tuesday, the union leadership looked relieved at best. Even though they had recommended this deal, but still can’t bring themselves to call it a good deal, it was noticeable that when announcing the results, General Secretary Dave Ward and Assistant GS Andy Furrey looked defeated. And it is hard to say, but it must be acknowledged, if we are to mount any kind of fightback in the future, this deal is a defeat for postal workers.

The leadership was keen to point out the ‘high’ turnout of 67% for this consultive ballot, but that is much lower than the turnouts in official industrial-action ballots, as was the 75.8% ‘yes’ vote. But I’m not going to spin the numbers, the majority of CWU members voted for this deal and I respect that and understand why they have done so. However, the union must face some hard facts: when we were balloted for industrial action in February, the membership figure was 111,670, and for this consultative ballot the number of eligible members had fallen to 104,259.

So why did the membership vote for this deal? Many believe it is the best we can get and are afraid the company will go bust with big job losses. This fear is completely understandable given that the CWU leadership used Royal Mail’s blackmail as their ‘killer point’ when all other arguments trying to sell the deal had failed.  

Many others have made it clear they thought it was a bad or even bankrupt deal, a surrender, but that they didn’t believe this leadership could be trusted to lead any sort of fight after the experience of last year. Half a year of suspended strike action has killed the momentum, and some have said they feel it would be hard to get us out on strike again.

So, we must respect that decision, and everyone will welcome more money to pay off bills.  But this cannot be seen as a vote of confidence in the leadership. And it must not be, since a significant portion of postal workers, 24%, saw through the spin, rejected the blackmail, and voted to reject the deal. They know this agreement was an unnecessary surrender, forced from above by leadership without any accountability: they’ve even moved the conference to next year to avoid scrutiny.

Dangers ahead

But worse still, it represents a huge step backward for our union. To give into blackmail and sell our terms and conditions on this scale, abandon the shorter working week and family-friendly hours, and accept a two-tier workforce and a real-pay cut, is unprecedented in the CWU.  

And the danger remains, however; what if Royal Mail pulls the same trick again and comes back for more after our union has helped build them a single large-parcel delivery network?  Certainly, as the current revisions show, nobody should expect any job stability.

This strike showed our power as workers, but also that we do not control the dispute or the union; the leaders do. This leadership cannot take the union in a direction that is in the interests of the members. If more proof was needed, they are already talking about agreeing cuts to the USO (universal service obligation) ‘to save more jobs’. The pretence of CWU policy for renationalisation is dead under this leadership.

We need to unite everyone, however, they voted, who agrees with that.

Now is not the time to leave the union. We all need to stay in and stick together on the shopfloor and oppose managements’ cuts and attempts to speed up the workforce, and any collaboration of the union with that, an issue which constantly surfaces on social media posts by workers.

But staying in also means ensuring that the experience of the last year is never repeated. That means building at the grassroots, holding members meetings, electing reps, and building workplace committees, holding branches to account. It means coming together to build a rank-and-file alternative that can give a new direction to our union and ultimately a new, fighting leadership.

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