Wage negotiations within Royal Mail have been dragged out now for over five months. Postal workers have been treated to a management imposed deal and union delays and prevarication over a strike ballot. Against a background of management attacks and bullying at all levels, the militancy of the postal workers has already exploded in a number of local, unofficial walk-outs, like the ones in Plymouth and Belfast in March, Wolverhampton in May, and Exeter in July (see article in this issue). In fact, the delaying and derailing tactics of the Communications Workers’ Union can only be understood as a means of making sure that this growing class anger does not escape its control.
In May, Royal Mail imposed its own wage increase of 2.6% on basic pay and paid this plus the back-dated pay into workers’ bank accounts. This was an attempt by Royal Mail to impose its will on the workforce, a ‘softening-up’ for even bigger and more stringent cutbacks, both in the workforce and in working practises. Royal Mail has made no secret that it is looking for 40,000 job-cuts as part of its ‘business-plan’.
This imposition of a management pay deal threw down the gauntlet to the CWU as it cut them out of the negotiation loop. The CWU was determined to enter into the game and in July conducted a ‘poll’ of its members asking if they were willing to take strike action. The result was overwhelmingly for a strike. This allowed the CWU to go to management and negotiate a ‘new’ deal. From this point on the CWU showed its true role as a force of law and order in the workplace, working overtime to quell a groundswell of militancy at both the national and the local level. We had a clear sign of this growing will to struggle at Exeter sorting office in July, where an unofficial 7 day strike forced management to drop disciplinary proceedings against a CWU rep who was threatened with disciplinary action because of his ‘sickness record’. The issue here was not, as the CWU and its leftist supporters claimed, one of ‘defending the unions’ (especially as the rep was obliged to disavow the unofficial action). It was a basic display of working class solidarity around the old workers’ maxim - ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’.
Angered by management’s highhandedness and increasing use of bullying tactics, postal workers had been expecting a strike ballot to be prepared more or less immediately. This was not to be. The CWU’s tactic was, first, to confuse the whole conflict by making it one of union rights. In mass meetings across the country workers were given the line: “This action by Royal Mail is a direct attack on union recognition; what it means is not only a lousy pay deal but management are attempting to make the union redundant”. Second, terrified by the militancy of postal workers on a short leash due to management intimidation, the CWU created a fire-guard against strike action with a poll, which it said would force Royal Mail management back to the negotiating table without the necessity for a strike. At a meeting in Liverpool in June, a CWU official put forward the CWU position in a reply to a postal worker who advocated a mass unofficial walkout: “our membership poll is enough to frighten management back to the negotiating table, under no circumstance are CWU members to take local unofficial action, this will just play into the hands of Royal Mail.”. But the CWU has been in the hands of Royal Mail and the capitalist state since the day it was born.