Issues behind CWU conference

Submitted by AWL on 12 October, 2021 - 4:27
CWU activists

The option presented by the Executive to the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) Special Virtual Conference on 7-9 November, to maintain the union’s affiliation to the Labour Party, is right. But the detail it contains, a focus on lobbying and supporting the Labour metro mayors, makes no sense.

Dave Ward, the CWU general secretary, has moved on a little, but essentially this is a reprise from when Dave Ward pushed disaffiliation to gain profile against Billy Hayes, whom he defeated for general secretary in 2015. He did that to appear more left-wing, though in fact Hayes, for all his flaws, was running a political campaign in the Labour Party against Royal Mail privatisation.

Public ownership is a cutting-edge issue in the Labour Party. The union should be campaigning for public ownership of Royal Mail and for free publicly-owned broadband.

The push for the conference came not from industrial concerns and workplace activists, but from political people in the Head Office communications department. They’ve picked up that lots of people don’t like Starmer, and they’re going for a half-in, half-out policy. It’s an accommodation to Corbynite left populism rather than proper political action.

The right wing in the Labour Party, Labour To Win, hasn’t got the strength it claims. At the Brighton conference, the unions mostly backed left motions. There is space for the unions to change things in the Labour Party. The unions pushing back Starmer on the electoral college is more significant than the bad rule changes than were passed in Brighton.

The Labour leadership tries to play unions off against each other, but there is less scope for that than there was in the early Blairite heyday, when there were a lot of very right-wing union leaders.


Submitted by David Warren (not verified) on Thu, 14/10/2021 - 19:18

This is an interesting contribution to the debate going on within the CWU but it is wrong on several levels.

As an activist within the union for many years I am very familiar with the positions taken by its leaders and the discussions around the unions political strategy. In the time Labour was in office their was a lot of criticism of their approach to Royal Mail which was a publicly owned body throughout their 13 years as a government. The stance taken by Dave Ward during  that period were a reflection of the anger felt by postal workers who were under attack. As General Secretary Billy Hayes defended the link unconditionally on the basis it brought influence. 

This 'influence' resulted in thousands of job losses, numerous office closures, increased workloads and the closure of the final salary pension scheme.

As for the privatisation campaign this was actually won by activists not the General Secretary. During this period motions on disaffiliation were presented to annual conference and were always opposed by the NEC. An NEC which included Dave Ward.

The 2015 General Secretary election resulted in Billy Hayes being defeated because his 14 years in the job were viewed negatively by the membership. A membership that had dropped substantially in that time. Since taking over Dave Ward hasn't got everything right but he has attempted to grapple with the many problems facing the union. Not least the issue of recruitment and organising. In the political sphere he deserves credit for getting the CWU behind Corbyn this in contrast to his predecessor who resisted all attempts to nominate John McDonnell in the 2007 Labour leadership election.

The conference in November present the union with an opportunity to debate the way forward in a number of key areas not just politics. For me the most pressing one is how does the CWU recruit more workers into the organisation, rebuild  at the grassroots and survive as an independent force.



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