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23 April 2013
CWU continues support for a 24-hour general strike
CWU conference delegates
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) general conference on 21 and 22 April was held against the backdrop of the constant threat of wholesale postal privatisation and unprecedented attacks, union busting and sackings of CWU members across Royal Mail, BT and the communications industry.
It ended with a rousing debate which resulted in an overwhelming vote for the CWU to continue to support the call for a 24-hour general strike and for the NEC to do all in its power to prepare CWU members for the action.
This was moved by Socialist Party members from Coventry branch and seconded by Scotland no2 postal branch.
Delegates defeated the NEC who confusingly opposed the motion, and found it hard to explain why.
The conference kicked off with the crucial debate on political representation. The motion, moved by Socialist Party supporters from Coventry telecoms branch, sought to get the union to "enter into discussions with the wider trade union movement and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to examine and discuss the building and development of effective political representation for workers and CWU members".
It was supported by an array of postal and telecoms branches from across the regions. The motion produced a lengthy and crucial debate on the political strategy of the union.
Support for the motion brought in newer forces behind the idea of opening up the discussion, including a number of Labour Party members. It was the few same tried and failed old arguments that were put in opposition.
It is no surprise that many had self interest in the debate as prospective or current Labour MPs or councillors.
While the motion was lost, Lenny Shail from Coventry highlighted the processes that brought the Labour Party into creation.
Then how it transformed into a fully-fledged capitalist party and the role the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) now plays, despite modest development so far in the process of developing a new mass workers' party.
Lenny ended the debate by raising the contradiction that faced a number of the delegates in the hall who are Labour councillors voting through savage cuts.
He asked those who opposed the motion to consider that in the event of a Labour government implementing austerity policies, they would need to decide very soon which side they and the CWU were on - the working class or the bosses.
The effects of austerity and constant attacks on workers' rights were reflected in many motions passed on housing, benefit cuts, the NHS, the bedroom tax and trade union rights.
EU and Scotland
There were also lengthy and important debates on the European Union (EU) and the Scottish independence referendum.
Unfortunately Socialist Party members and other lefts were unable to defeat the NEC-backed motion that pledged support to the EU (which we explain is a club of the capitalist bosses) and for a 'yes' vote in the event of a referendum, with it just passing very narrowly.
A motion from the NEC that asked conference to allow them to consult with 'stakeholders' and come to a decision on the union's position in relation to the Scottish referendum was disappointingly supported by a number of Scottish branches who made it clear they supported a 'no' vote - against independence. It was passed narrowly.
Scotland no2 branch opposed the motion, putting forward a genuine class position on the national question.
They attacked the role and position of Labour and the SNP and put forward their branch's position of support for a 'yes' vote - not on a nationalist basis but on the basis of pushing forward the fight for a socialist Scotland as part of a socialist confederation with England, Wales and Ireland.
Building a fighting union
The struggle for a fighting left leadership within the CWU still remains. But it is also clear that there is a new emerging layer of younger members who hold no illusions in Labour and what this system can provide for working people.
Alongside more experienced people on the left, they are slowly chipping away and building ever more support to make the CWU a more militant fighting union.
In finishing the debate on the general strike resolution, Lenny Shail told conference that there was no better way to finish the conference than by sending a clear message in favour of a general strike, to the TUC general council on 24 April, that the National Shop Stewards Network is lobbying.
It's time to put the words of last year's TUC congress motion 5 into action. CWU members are ready and up for it - to strike a momentous blow to this government, austerity and the capitalist system itself.
The sectional CWU conferences
In the CWU's two industrial conferences, the mood for action following the general strike motion followed through with the leadership of both the postal and telecoms executives conceding to the pressure of delegates for action.
At the Royal Mail letters conference (full postal conferences are every two years) postal workers voted unanimously for a full ballot of Royal Mail workers on a boycott of private mail companies' final-mile mail.
This is part of the union's moves to protect the universal service and prevent privatisation of Royal Mail.
The ballot will run from 22 May to 18 June, with the result being announced on 19 June.
There was a triumphant mood amongst delegates afterwards with a determined attitude to 'up the ante' against privatisation.
Many delegates expressed their distrust about how far the leadership would be prepared to go. They made it clear they were ready to take up the fight officially or unofficially.
In the telecoms and financial services conference, the main debate focused on 'performance management' within BT.
Socialist Party members and other lefts demanded an immediate programme of action. The executive wanted to 'give BT one last chance' before starting any campaign of action.
The executive submitted an emergency motion that was eventually carried by a small majority after a card vote.
This knocked out the Coventry branch's motion calling for an immediate programme of industrial action.
Because of the hesitation of the leadership, Socialist Party members and other lefts have taken the lead in combating performance management.
Socialist Party members Judy Griffiths and Clive Walder gave rip-roaring speeches in the debate, tearing into BT and their bullying tactics.
They demanded that the union leadership stop giving last chances and start an immediate programme of industrial action.
Later, Socialist Party member Ryan Rochester from Coventry defeated the executive over a motion demanding immediate action by the union to investigate and begin to highlight suicide among BT workers. This trend is a tragic consequence of increased bullying and harassment.
The recent programme of strike action by staff in the country's network of 373 Crown Post Offices over closures, franchising, jobs and pay has received wide public support.
Many postal and telecommunications workers are watching and waiting in eagerness to start fighting back with strikes, boycotts and walkouts to defeat privatisation and fight for better pay and conditions.