Dave Warren is a member of the Postal Executive of the post and telecom union CWU. He opposed the deal with Royal Mail endorsed by a majority of the Executive on 22 October, and has been campaigning for a no vote in the ballot on the deal which runs between 9 and 27 November. He spoke to Solidarity.
So far about 20 CWU branches have taken a position to oppose the deal. Flexibility is a very big issue for many members. If it were a straight pay deal, there would not be the same opposition.
The pay deal is a 5.4% increase from October; £175 to cover the period from April (where the pay deal was due) to September (but that is money already earned in a bonus scheme which is now being wound up); and another 1.5% from April 2008, dependent on flexible working.
In the Mail Centres, to be honest, there is already a fairly high degree of flexibility, but it is a bigger issue in deliveries, both indoors and outdoors. There is an attitude in deliveries of “I've got a job, I’ll do it, but if you want me to do something extra, you’ll have to pay me extra”.
The flexibility is all about saving money for Royal Mail, so in fact it will mean that the pay is worse than it looks in the headline figures.
The management, in their material on the deal, have acknowledged the link between pay and flexibility, so that is helping us a bit on the no vote. The union leadership’s line is that the deal isn’t brilliant, but it’s the best we can get.
To the members they are saying: thank you for your support; the action brought management to the negotiating table. There will be flexibility, but we will negotiate it. They don’t go much into detail, but instead emphasise the headline figures in the deal.
In the union leadership there was a problem of illusions in the Labour government. Some people in the leadership genuinely believed that Gordon Brown was going to intervene and do something positive. I think it was a turning point in the dispute when they realised that Brown would not do that.
We haven’t got an old-fashioned traditional right-wing leadership in the CWU. It is a soft-left leadership — and people with some record of leading industrial disputes.
But in this dispute they never got their heads round the political angle. I don’t think there was much of a strategy, all the way through. They were dealing with things one at a time.
Billy Hayes [the CWU general secretary] doesn’t want to confront the Labour government, and with Dave Ward [CWU deputy general secretary, and the leading official on the postal side] you have an industrial militant with no politics.
Things have changed in the Post Office. We’re used to having a bit of action, then the management do a deal with us. But now it is different. It was a difficult dispute, no doubt about that.
In fact, on flexibility, the deal means the union agreeing to most of the imposed changes — the changed start times, the abolition of Sunday collections, and so on. I’ve never known an agreement with so much in it of the union agreeing to imposed changes after they’ve been imposed.
It couldn’t have been worse if we had refused to agree and just let management try to impose those things unilaterally without union agreement.
The union leadership have separated off the pensions issue from the “Pay And Modernisation” deal (though in fact the Executive was told that it was all linked: we couldn’t have the “Pay And Modernisation” deal without also agreeing the framework for the negotiations on pensions). That separation helps them, because there is a lot of anger on the pensions even from people who go along with the “Pay and Modernisation” deal.
The most honest account of the pensions deal came from Ray Ellis, the official who negotiated it. He said: it’s not a good deal, but it’s the best we can do with the money the Government will make available.
The leadership emphasises that you will still be able to retire at 60. But if you do, your pension will be reduced. It is not clear how much.
At present, you can retire at 60 on 50% of pensionable pay. That will go down. There may be more feeling to reject a deal on pensions than on the “Pay And Modernisation”. The timetable for agreeing the details on pensions ends in January, and there will be a separate ballot on that then.
The 27 October meeting [to organise for a no vote] was organised not by me but by Dave Chapple and Pete Firmin. I think the group will reconvene. It was a good meeting, a good start, but it’s still a weak formation. The people involved are all branch activists, but they are not seen in the union as key branch activists.
There isn’t really a coordination of the CWU branches that are calling for a no vote. Some of the branches that are going for a no vote would be hostile to anything they saw as a left group in the union.
It’s partly the long-term weakness of the left on the postal side of the union. There is a CWU Broad Left, but it’s almost all on the telecom side of the union. We’ve been in a position for a while on the postal side where Dave Ward has a majority on the Postal Executive, and there is a weakness in the branches compared with five or ten years ago.