By Tim Row, Leicester Delivery Office Unit Rep
There are no simple explanations for the CWU postal pay ballot defeat. The point is to learn the lessons and move on. The union said beforehand that the ballot represented the crossroads for Royal Mail. The defeat now represents the crossroads for the union.
Simply blaming the defeat on headquarters, management propaganda or the "the North" doesn't begin to address anything.
First, we need to acknowledge the fact that even if the 1,600 or so votes that made the difference had gone the other way, we would have been facing the situation of going into a major national dispute with the support of only half of the membership. No one can be stupid enough to think that would have been a position of strength.
Management clearly were united, geared up and organised for a long fight. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the union. Conference was split down the middle on Major Change and it was clear that different areas had different agendas.
For London and the south, Major Change was seen as a big opportunity to increase pay. In other areas maintaining job security and permanent contracts were key, and here Major Change was viewed with hostility and suspicion.
What was needed was a united strategy to deal with both pay and job security. What we got was confusion. This was perfect terrain for management.
It is no good for CWU leader Dave Ward to just point the finger at the areas that voted "no". Did members of the Postal Executive who voted for the ballot ever visit these areas to argue the case? It is to be hoped that in future decisions to ballot will be taken after full consultation with local reps. If there are suspicions about the motives of particular Divisional Reps then why not go to the unit reps or straight to the members? The gulf between headquarters and the membership is now clearly evident.
Question marks will now hang over Dave Ward's leadership. This is understandable. Having barely got his feet under the table, he has led the union to a defeat in an industrial action ballot - a situation unimaginable previously.
Local activists who fought for a "yes" vote will feel demoralised, and Royal Mail will view this as a mandate for pushing ahead with Major Change regardless of the union's wishes.
There will be repercussions too on the wider trade union movement who had looked to postal workers to deliver a bloody nose to Blair.
Hopefully Ward will not use the defeat on the national ballot as an excuse to hold back on London weighting. The perfect response for Ward to his critics now will be to deliver a victory in London. London deserves the full solidarity of the rest of the union. The worst case scenario now would be for the union to press the self-destruct button by allowing London to be isolated.