CWU conference: We need a fighting trade union

Clive, a CWU member

This year’s Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) conference will be the last with Billy Hayes as general secretary following his recent election defeat to Dave Ward.

On balance, Socialist Party members gave Hayes critical support because it has been possible on occasions to move him to a more fighting position. But we have criticised him for not being sufficiently firm industrially and particularly over his support for Labour.

Dave Ward’s election material struck a critical tone about the relationship between the union and Labour: “No more something for nothing, blind loyalty to Labour.” He criticised Hayes for “acting as a liaison officer for the Labour Party”. This would have undoubtedly registered with many CWU members, particularly postal workers. Labour’s leadership has ruled out renationalising Royal Mail, even though the party’s conference voted unanimously for it in 2013. But Ward wants to reform the link rather than break it.

Ward was able to pose as the ‘change’ candidate. However, many members feel that the union is at a crossroads, unable to significantly improve either working conditions or pay in the face of hardnosed bosses.

Yet, as postal-sector deputy general secretary, he was incapable of organising the serious industrial struggle necessary to prevent Royal Mail privatisation.

Now that the election is over, beginning with conference, the union should confront key workplace and political issues. Delegates should use conference to let Ward know they expect him to deliver on the more assertive stance that his election campaign indicated.

Many motions criticising the Labour link should be supported, they include changing union rules to allow donation of money to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC); organising a left-of-Labour activist conference to discuss improving working class political representation; and one calling for the Northern Ireland political fund to finance anti-austerity candidates. The leadership opposes the last motion even though the Labour Party doesn’t organise in Northern Ireland.

Conference should also support motions backing the £10-an-hour minimum wage campaign, and to urge the TUC to prepare a major campaign against austerity and in support of workers in struggle.


Delegates should support a Socialist Party members’ motion on fighting austerity whoever wins the election. It calls for “mass coordinated industrial action… including preparations for a 24-hour general strike to stop any attempt by a new government to carry through these cuts” and demands “that the TUC supports the CWU claim for any future Labour government to commit to renationalisation of Royal Mail”.

The issues of the day are finding a reflection in the conference agenda. Socialists in the union should demand that Dave Ward campaigns on the union’s progressive policies and gives members and reps the confidence to stand up to management.

The executive elections produced no real change which reflects inactivity in parts of the union, coupled with rigid control by executive members and their supporters in many branches. With a new general secretary and a largely unchanged executive, militants in the union still need to campaign to defend members in the workplace and hold the leadership to account. There is an urgent need to build the left at both branch and executive level.

CWU conference official National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) fringe meeting

Lunch break, Sunday 26 April

Branksome Suite, BIC Conference Centre, Bournemouth

Speakers: Tony Kearns CWU senior deputy general secretary (invited), Rob Williams, NSSN national chair and Clive, CWU activist

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Come to the NSSN national conference Saturday 4 July, 11am-4.30pm, Conway Hall, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL. Put the date in your diary now! Speakers include PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka and BFAWU general secretary Ronnie Draper