After a period of turbulence, including an industrial action that was struck down by the courts, the principal Royal Mail union CWU is embracing a partnership approach with the company. A joint online Q&A was held in late April, hosted by the CWU, where both parties answered questions from workers. This love-in failed to deal with the real issues and consisted of vague promises to fix things.
The union has lost so much ground over the last 30 years it is unrecognisable from the organisation that once enjoyed real power in the workplace. Its activist base has shrunk dramatically, with what remains looking very white male and middle aged. Membership is also down.
Following privatisation in 2013 the then CWU Deputy General Secretary Postal (DGS(P)), Dave Ward, enjoyed a very close relationship with Royal Mail CEO Moya Greene. It could be argued that strategy was partially successful in using the perceived threat of a national strike to defend existing terms and conditions whilst waiting for a Corbyn-led Labour government to deliver renationalisation.
Following Ward’s election as General Secretary in 2015, his successor Terry Pullinger faced his first real test when the employer announced its intention to attack members’ pensions. A deal was patched up but the onslaught that followed meant that even someone like Pullinger, who built his union career by positioning himself as the key figure on the right, had no choice but to go onto a war footing.
With management threathening the separation of parcels from the main business and the end of long-held worker protections, a ballot produced a massive majority in favour of a strike. The key event that followed was an attempt by the company to move to a five day Universal Service Obligation USO (rather than six days) in the midst of Covid. That was vetoed by the government and Rico Back, the new CEO (2018-20), walked away immediately.
His replacement, Simon Thompson, has clearly been given a remit from the RM board to embrace the union and get them on board to cooperate with change. That certainly suits the CWU DGS(P), who spent his 14 years as National Officer responsible for parcel members avoiding any confrontation, whilst allowing things like the growth of owner drivers to flourish.
The only way to reverse this trends is to build on the massive support for strike action by bringing together those who were active in delivering that at the grassroots into a campaign for a fighting union. The partnership approach now on offer is a dead end for workers. The main beneficiary will be an employer who will drive through change they want having bought industrial peace.