Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/656/11099
Defend democracy in the CWU
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) national executive (NEC) has scandalously and without precedent postponed this year's NEC elections until after annual conference in May. At the end of conference the union will not have a constitutionally elected executive.
Socialist Party members in the CWU
Socialist Party members take union democracy very seriously. Annual elections are the means by which the members can hold their leaders to account.
Postponing the elections has been justified on the basis of the need for change and for cost cutting, given the decline in membership numbers. There are a multitude of other ways of saving, not least a review of officers' pay, which was agreed at 2010 conference, despite the NEC's opposition.
Large sections of the members are justified in criticising the lacklustre campaign against Royal Mail privatisation. Only now has the union started organising public demonstrations. Their campaign of lobbying MPs, particularly in marginal constituencies, has been totally ineffective. 71 MPs were lobbied but none of them indicated any willingness to vote against it in Parliament.
This lack of fighting leadership has resulted in disillusionment in the union from some postal workers. They took national action in Autumn 2009, in large part to defend the whole CWU from being de-recognised, not just in Royal Mail but in BT and elsewhere, in addition to stopping management attacks on the workers within Royal Mail itself. But the leadership was weak and the result was a three-year deal which produced a pay cut for doing more work.
In the telecoms constituency the leadership has failed to protect jobs and conditions. CWU members currently face a three-year pay deal. This is on the basis of current Retail Price Index (RPI) figures, which means another pay cut in real terms for 2011.
BT have recently announced their intention to update pensions by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than the normally higher RPI. This will increase pensioner hardship amongst our members while £2.5 billion is wiped off the BT pension fund deficit.
And the leadership shamefully allowed the Royal Mail final salary pension scheme to be closed two years ago without so much as a ballot on action in defence of it.
These are all burning issues on which many members believe that the leadership has been found wanting.
But a declining membership is far from inevitable. The CWU can strengthen and grow in this period, when workers need a union more than ever. But only if the union proves it is up for the fight! This attack on the democracy of the union is a block on the methods that members can use to ensure the leadership leads that fight.
A proposal to bring forward the Rules Revision Conference, scheduled for next year, is another example of union rules being manipulated by the NEC.
Socialist Party members recognise the need for change. However, we believe that current union rules should not be overlooked or dismissed during the period of discussions and decision making.
Socialist Party members are prepared to consider proposals to reduce the size of the executive in line with the union's membership. But we need to ensure that there is adequate representation for those members not employed in the traditional sectors. We are implacably opposed to the proposal for biennial executive elections. We believe this weakens accountability.
The leadership's justification for moving to biennial elections is that the union's postal executive have already agreed this. That is their right in a member-led union but it is an arrangement that has much less support amongst telecoms branches.
It is crucially important that grass roots anger at the employers' attacks and the union's lack of fight is translated into building the broad left, which can advance policies that defend our members and stand up to employer attacks.
- Reinstate the scheduled executive elections.
- For a full debate in the union over future structure.
- No to biennial elections in the telecoms constituency.
- For a fighting democratic union.
In The Socialist 2 February 2011:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party Marxist analysis