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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 June 2010

CWU ballots BT workers for strike over pay

The CWU is set to ballot its members in BT for industrial action over pay for the first time since 1987.

Clive Walder, CWU Birmingham, Black Country and Worcester Branch, personal capacity

Last year the union recommended its members accepted only a 400 non consolidated payment and reductions in pension benefits because the company pleaded poverty after making its first loss since the 1970s.

Most members thought that this was a one-off to help BT through temporary financial difficulties but are now angry that the company has come back for more now that they have returned to profit. It has become obvious to most members that this was a con; the first step in a campaign to erode pay and conditions and break the union as an effective force for defending its members.

BT members are seething at management's double standards. Some senior management have received pay rises of over 50% for meeting business targets delivered by CWU members!

This dispute should be seen as a watershed. If BT win this it is almost certain that conditions of service will come under attack and possibly the no compulsory redundancy agreement as well. If a decent pay rise isn't secured this year then below -inflation and non or partly consolidated and pensionable pay rises will be the norm in the future. We will not only lose ground on pay but many members will face poverty in retirement also.

BT have already started to prepare for industrial action by asking managers which of our members' skills they have so that they can break industrial action. The union needs to be equally resolute in its preparation too.

The union's 5% pay claim would cost BT a mere 6% of this year's profits. They can afford to pay and a large 'yes' vote in the industrial action ballot is essential to stop management's attacks and secure decent pay and pensions for BT staff.


Conference votes for action

As well as agreeing unanimously to the strike ballot amongst BT members, CWU conference at the end of May agreed to mount a campaign against the ConDem government's proposal to privatise Royal Mail, with industrial action if necessary. Once again this was unanimous.

Mounting anger over the performance management regime in Royal Mail was reflected in a commitment to ballot for industrial action if recent improvements are reversed by the company.

There were some negative points, including the defeat of a motion from the Coventry branch, moved by Socialist Party member Judy Griffiths. This called for the union to discuss political representation for working people with parties other than New Labour. The executive made much of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition's general election results, without mentioning the broad sympathy with TUSC's policies amongst many who didn't vote for TUSC candidates.

Union democracy took a step backwards by conference authorising the executive to submit rule changes to provide for two-yearly instead of yearly elections to the executive. A call for conference to be held every two years was defeated.

Clive Walder

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