By Pete Keenlyside, CWU Postal Executive (personal capacity)
THE CWU has given notice to Royal Mail management that if acceptable progress has not been made on a range of outstanding issues within the next four weeks, a ballot for industrial action will be implemented among the entire CWU membership in the business.
The anger caused by management’s imposition of this year’s pay deal was reflected in the emergency motion, carried unanimously, presented to the CWU annual conference held last week. This labelled their actions “an act of union derecognition” and called for the reopening of the pay negotiations to deal with the issue of the money still owed to us as a result of efficiency savings as well as an agreement on issues including job protection.
An agreement was also demanded to deal with the pension fund deficit without putting the burden on the members.
Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward, in moving the motion, described the management as bullies who want the union out of the way and who think they can con our members into accepting their views. The result of our recent consultative ballot, which management did their best to disrupt, showed that this tactic has failed. Over 90,000 voted in favour of the union’s vision for dealing with the future with only 1,375 against.
Speaker after speaker in the debate described the feeling of outrage among their members at being denied what they saw as their right to vote on their annual pay award. Although the consultative ballot had been arranged before this happened, they seized on it as a way of expressing their views and so far more took part than would have otherwise been the case. But as well as sending a message to management, they were serving notice on the union to sort the management out and bring them back to heel. As one member put it to me shortly before Conference “If you can’t even negotiate my annual pay rise, what’s the point in me carrying on paying my subs?”
In imposing the pay settlement, management have thrown down the gauntlet. They’re not likely to make a move until they see the result of any ballot, and so a confrontation looks inevitable at this stage. Over the next four weeks we will be working flat out to make sure we get a massive Yes vote. Steering groups are being set up at national, regional and branch level to get the message out to the members and to make sure that they fully understand what’s involved.
The bigger the Yes vote, the more pressure there will be on management to reach a settlement. But if this does result in strike action, it is likely to be long and bitter. The outcome could decide far more than just the future of the CWU. It will be a dispute that will define the role of the trade unions in the face of aggressive anti-trade union management. Win and the whole of the movement will be strengthened. Lose, and the cause of organised labour will be set back years if not decades.
We are confident that we will get overwhelming backing from our membership. What we are looking for now is support from outside - from other unions, especially those that organise in competitor firms; from Labour MPs and party branches to put pressure on the government; and from the public. This is a fight everyone in the labour movement must take up!