In a clear indication that the Communication Workers Union [CWU] bureaucracy has capitulated to Royal Mail and is preparing to end the current strike, the CWU General Secretary Dave Ward announced that the strike action on 12 and 14 November had been cancelled, which means there will be no strike action for over a month. The union has announced holding two 48-hour strikes around Black Friday and Cyber Monday – 24-25 November and 30 November – 1 December – and adding vague promises of strike action up to Christmas.
The union is wasting further time by asking postal workers to vote on the new Royal Mail ‘offer’ in a workplace ballot and a no-confidence vote in Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson. So craven is the CWU bureaucracy’s action that its Head of Communication, Chris Webb, was forced to attack it saying loads of CWU members were angry and confused about the announcement and demanded that the union reinstate the two cancelled strike days—alongside the new ones. “People are saying, the union’s bottled it, we’re surrendering, we’re giving up to Royal Mail—why aren’t we keeping the pressure up?”
The ending of the two strikes on the 12th and 14th of November came as Royal Mail issued a new pay offer which is a massive pay cut and calls for further draconian attacks on postal workers’ pay and condition. Royal Mail is now docking pay and refusing overtime to make workers submit to their demands.
Royal Mail’s action is a further declaration of war on postal workers. Already 96 CWU members have been suspended nationally since the strikes began. Royal Mail wants to impose a 7 per cent rise over two years, plus a lump sum payment of 2 per cent this year, even though inflation is already at over 10 per cent. It would be paid only if postal workers agreed to Sunday working, new start times and flexible working. Royal Mail wants to tear up postal workers’ conditions that have taken decades to establish, slash jobs, and bring new starters in on worse terms and conditions.
All previous agreements with Royal Mail have been torn up. Union reps will no longer be allowed to have meetings or be released for union business. Overtime agreements are being scrapped. Delivery duties which were organised jointly by management and the union, will now be organised by managers only. Reserves can be sent to any office that needs them, and seniority of duties and holidays are to be scrapped. Workers’ performance is now being tracked and assessed by data from the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). In other words, Royal Mail intends to have a low-wage Uber-style workforce.
The CWU union bureaucracy described the offer as “a surrender document.” But that is exactly what they have done. As Laura Tiernan states, “Royal Mail’s announcement has blown the CWU’s corporatist strategy out of the water”.
Instead of rejecting this offer out of hand, instigating indefinite strike action, and establishing a strike fund, the union bureaucracy has called for more talks with an employer that has no intention of talking or backing down. Ward states, “On occasions, there has to be a moment where you focus on trying to negotiate, And it has been hard to focus on the negotiations when you’re also out on strike. Sometimes that isn’t always helpful.” How are negotiations supposed to take place when even Royal Mail’s CEO, Simon Thompson, does not even turn up for talks?
Ward explained his reasoning, saying, “We have got to take stock of where we are now, and we do have to put on the table other parts of our strategy to win this dispute. “There will be a hell of a lot of activity we’ll be expecting you to undertake, and we don’t want that activity to run in conjunction with the strike action that was planned on the 12 and 14 November. “Never believe there’s only one tactic that wins a dispute. What we’re putting forward is a rounded strategy. We don’t just get into a cycle where every strike is followed by the next one, the next one. You have to have a wider plan.”
Ward’s pathetic and treacherous plan is to write letters to MPs, asking for a hearing at a parliamentary committee and trying to get a debate in parliament. He also said union leaders wanted a meeting with Royal Mail’s shareholders: “We will explain to the shareholders that the CWU is up for change, and we will put forward our change plan.”
These shareholders are not innocent bystanders in this dispute. Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson, along with his private equity friends such as VESA and the Tory government, which has just greenlighted a possible takeover by billionaire shareholder Daniel Kretinsky, who wants to end Saturday letters deliveries, are pursuing a strategy to shatter workers’ pay and conditions, placing the company on a competitive footing with Amazon and other global logistics giants. These gentlemen have their strategy; unfortunately, postal workers do not have theirs.
While militant strike action is important, it will not work on its win this dispute. The bureaucracy fears postal workers will start unofficial strikes to protect themselves from Royal Mail attacks. This struggle is at a crossroads. To win it, postal workers must break the stranglehold of the CWU bureaucracy and set up rank-and-file committees, which will take the strike out of the hands of the union bureaucracy. They must link their struggle with other sections of workers, such as railway workers. The demand must be raised for the nationalisation of Royal Mail, the seizure of its vast profits and its conversion into a public utility under the democratic control of the working class.