At this year’s Communication Workers’ Union conference (23-7 May) the bureaucracy will attempt to introduce a biennial conference and biennial elections for the CWU national executive.
The General Secretary, Billy Hayes, and the Senior Deputy General Secretary, Tony Kearns, have argued that the current democratic structure is not affordable. There are financial problems due to a reduction in membership caused by job losses in Royal Mail and BT, two of the main employers with CWU representation, but no significant cutbacks are proposed in officers’ or HQ pay and associated costs.
The lay representation within the union will bear the brunt of the cuts. It is clear that there is much expenditure within the union that is unjustifiable, but rather than attack that — and the vested interests and patronage of many national officers — the democratic rights of the ordinary activist and members are to be curtailed, unless we stop it.
Whilst biennial elections are popular with some activists, a biennial conference may not be.
Also on the General Conference agenda for discussion are propositions on Proportional Representation and on changing the Political Funding structure. A proposal to split the CWU Political Fund between affiliated and non-affiliated funds, similar to in UNISON, has already been opposed by left members of the NEC.
The regular calls for disaffiliation from the Labour Party and support for smaller socialist projects are also on the agenda. The context of the debate will be different this year of course with the new coalition government.
The outstanding issue of lack of government support for the Post Office Pension Fund (which led the CWU nationally to issue no political information or recommendation on voting to members during the General Election campaign) continues, but could soon be less significant if the new government enacts policy to privatise the Royal Mail in the near future.
There are several motions on the policy sections of the agenda demanding support for the defence of welfare and pubic services, an increased minimum wage, the abolition of differential rates for young people, and more rights for agency workers.
A motion from Mount Pleasant branch calls on the CWU to support broad based initiatives against public spending cuts, job losses and attacks on pensions, and calls on the TUC to organise demonstrations and rallies on this basis.
The postal delegates will be discussing industrial strategy in the context of a two to one vote in favour of the compromise deal on the future of Royal Mail. The current issues on the industrial agenda for the Telecoms activists include BT's refusal to come up with a decent pay offer and their refusal to link this with pensionable pay. Issues around performance management and stress at work also feature on the agenda.
With a Tory-Lib Dem government, the union and its members will be facing stepped-up attacks. Are we ready to fight them?