After the defeat: rank-and-file postal workers discuss how to launch organisation

Submitted by AWL on 7 December, 2007 - 10:44 Author: Sacha Ismail

A small group of postal workers met on Sunday 2 December to assess the result of the ballot which has now ended the CWU’s long-running dispute over pay and working practices, and discuss the way forward for militants who opposed the deal. The meeting was organised by the same people who led the “No” campaign under the name “CWU Rank and File”, though unsurprisingly it was considerably smaller than the launch meeting they organised at the start of the ballot.

Under pressure from management, the union leadership and their bank balances, postal workers voted 64%, on a 64% turn out, to accept the deal. After a brief post mortem of this result, discussion quickly passed onto how to move forward, including plans for dealing with victimisations resulting from the dispute, campaigns against mail centre closures in Coventry, Reading and Oxford and the issue of pensions — which is separate from the balloted agreement but on which the CWU leadership has already conceded changes such as a later retirement age and the closure of the final salary scheme.

The most contentious, and lengthy, part of the discussion was about how to create an ongoing rank-and-file organisation. The relatively small number of people present at the meeting highlighted the problems with simply declaring a new organisation which in fact might not represent much. In addition, however, there is the problem of Post Worker, the self-styled rank-and-file paper associated with the SWP.

Post Worker is well-known and has a very wide circulation. As one might expect with a paper run essentially by the SWP, however, it is not produced in an open or democratic fashion: its editorial board is not open and does not meet regularly. Moreover, in order to maintain its links with left-talking officials such as Norman Candy, David Ward and even Billy Hayes, the paper runs no serious campaigns and has repeatedly equivocated on important industrial issues. This was the case even in the recent round of strikes, with Post Worker’s last issue published in early August and the paper playing absolutely no role in either the dispute or the “No” campaign.

Comrades from a number of backgrounds and groups asked the only SWP member present for his view on this — and also on other aspects of his organisation’s conduct during the dispute, most crucially the fact that SWPer and CWU president Jane Loftus had not taken a public position against the deal or participated in the campaign against it. The comrade’s replies were typically nonsensical and opportunist: he argued that vocally opposing the deal would have meant Loftus losing positions in the union, squirming when asked what was more important to the SWP, union positions or the class struggle.

Since, unfortunately, no one from the Post Worker editorial board had attended the meeting, those present agreed to send representatives to the next PW meeting (2pm, Sunday 9 December at the Exmouth Arms in Euston) with a series of proposals/demands.

1. The paper should take positions and organise independently of the leadership: with them when they act progressively, against them when they betray the membership, always remaining independent.

2. A bigger editorial board should be created; meetings should be regular, open to observers and scheduled well in advance to maximise attendance.

3. The paper should be produced regularly.

4. Post Worker should work with branches who opposed the deal to call a rank-and-file postal workers’ representatives as the basis for a permanent rank-and-file network.

The SWP comrade, again, opposed these demands with some really shocking arguments (the “best” one was that it would be too expensive to call a conference!) Nonetheless, everyone else agreed that they should be taken forward to the upcoming meeting.

The meeting ended with a short discussion about next year’s Postal Executive elections, including the possibility of anti-deal Postal Exec member Dave Warren (who sent his apologies to the meeting) standing against Dave Ward for deputy general secretary. It remains to be seen if it will succeed, but the defeat of the postal workers’ strike shows that the project of creating a rank-and-file network on the post is absolutely the correct one.

Comments

Submitted by Matthew on Sat, 19/01/2008 - 20:42

Around 600 postalworkers and other trade unionists took part in a national demonstration called by the Communication Workers Union in Stoke on 19th January. Over a hundred CWU members at the Burslem office have been on strike since 18th December in support of twelve victimised colleagues suspended by Royal Mail management last September.

The background to this action is the CWU postal executive's vote to call off national action over pay, pensions and jobs and leave discussions over new 'flexible conditions' to local negotiations. This has meant local managers attempting to push through new working arrangements in the knowledge that they will be backed by national RM management. It also means more militant offices who resist will be subjected to these attacks which the bosses know the CWU will only fight with branch by branch rather than national action, a point made by the Burslem strikers who lobbied the recent meeting between CWU leaders and national RM management.

At the rally at the end of the demonstration addressed by General Secretary Billy Hayes and Postal DGS Dave Ward, the strikers and their reps made clear their determination to continue the strike until their colleagues are reinstated. They also stressed the importance not only of maintaining the financial support they have received but also of winning the planned ballot of the 1,500 postalworkers in other North Staffordshire CWU branches. As they argue, without extending the action and putting further pressure on RM the danger is that the tremendous solidarity the strikers have shown will be isolated and those victimised forced to rely on lengthy employment tribunals which in any case can only order compensation rather than reinstatement.

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