CWU’s right to defend members is on the line

  (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Rob Williams, Socialist Party industrial organiser

The High Court on 28 November dismissed the appeal by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) against the scandalous decision to stop the postal workers taking national strike action in Royal Mail, despite winning its strike ballot with an incredible 97% yes vote on a 76% turnout.

This dispute, and indeed the very right of the CWU to be able to organise and defend its members, is on the line.

Gary Clark, Socialist Party member and branch secretary of CWU Scotland no.2 branch said:

“The whole labour and trade union movement must immediately come to the aid of the CWU. There should be an emergency TUC General Council, which Jeremy Corbyn should attend. It should discuss solidarity demonstrations and action.”

This decision is in the same week as Boris Johnson is threatening to go even further than his Tory predecessors – Thatcher, Major and Cameron – by wanting to bring in new anti-union legislation. His threat is targeted at the rail unions but would be rolled out to all unions.

Jeremy Corbyn needs to go the extra mile in showing he’s on the side of postal workers. He should appeal directly to the 110,000 CWU posties and their families and the many other workers who are furious about the strike ban.

Corbyn needs to shout from the rooftops that he will repeal all Tory anti-union laws as well as bring back Royal Mail into public ownership on election. This would include the removal of Royal Mail’s bullying and anti-union management.

The CWU’s ‘National Gate Meeting Day’ on 22 November sent a strong message to Royal Mail management and the Tories that a boss-supporting High Court judge can’t stop the anger of posties.

Thousands of postal workers stood by their gates or met in canteens, rest areas and offices to hear updates as the union looked to respond to the initial court ruling.

The ruling completely exposed the class bias of the judiciary which has acted to prevent a strike in the run-up to Christmas and during the general election when postal workers have greater leverage to pursue their legitimate claims against Royal Mail.

It also reveals that Boris Johnson is no ‘anti-establishment’ politician. No wonder he is in favour of the judgement when last Monday it was announced that Royal Mail has given a record £68 million payout to its shareholders.

A strike now would bring all these issues to the fore and enable Jeremy Corbyn the opportunity to drive home his policy of renationalising Royal Mail. They’ve got the money, yet they still want to renege on the ‘Four Pillars’ agreement – which established employment, standard of living and retirement security, and a shorter working week.

Corbyn’s manifesto policy on Royal Mail would be a big step forward for postal workers. But it would be a mistake to give any impression of relying on the general election.

Friday’s gate meetings were an important step by the union. But they did show how much needs to be done at this crucial time for the CWU. The turnout was impressive at many depots, but we need to ensure all Royal Mail workplaces are covered.

Clear, fighting strategy

Socialist Party members in CWU in Royal Mail have warned that a clear fighting strategy has to be discussed and agreed, so that a vacuum isn’t created that raises the danger that the dispute drifts.

We think that a national reps meeting should debate planning well-organised action in the near future, alongside a possible re-ballot. It is not an either/or situation. Such action should be prepared on a national scale, perhaps around another national gate meeting day, where workers refuse to go back to work. Or a London protest outside Royal Mail HQ, where an appeal could go out to other trade unions to support. This would give a focus to the fight, and deal with any dangers of CWU members watching on passively while an appeal goes forward. It would also be a concrete demand to go to the TUC for support.

Already the University and College Union, whose members are currently on an eight-day strike, has invited CWU members to join its London protest on 29 November. The retail workers union, Usdaw, whose national president is Socialist Party member Amy Murphy, has already sent a solidarity message.

The best way to get a response from the Trade Union Congress and the other unions is to organise concrete action rather than just a general appeal.

Posties need such a clear strategy. While they are angry about the court ruling, they may be unsure how to overcome such a barrier.

Postal workers have a proud record of localised walkouts to defend members and reps. National action needs to be considered, but it is a big step up and needs to be prepared for. The gate meetings showed again postal workers’ potential power, if CWU leaders give members the confidence that the union has a clear way forward.

The above article is an updated version (following the 28 November High Court decision) of the article carried in the Socialist issue 1066.

Solidarity from South West NEU

Following my request to support a motion in solidarity with the CWU, the South West regional council of the National Education Union (NEU) invited Kevin Beazer (CWU regional secretary) to speak at our meeting on 16 November.

Unfortunately Kevin was held up on the M5 but I put in a few words on his behalf and our regional council circulated the solidarity motion to all South West districts. At my district in Plymouth I spoke to the motion and we agreed unanimously to donate £100 to the Plymouth CWU strike fund should the strike go ahead.

Kevin from the CWU will have another chance to address a meeting of NEU South West secretaries on 3 December where he will update us on the legal ruling against the CWU and how their union will be responding.

Alex Moore, NEU South West regional council member (personal capacity)

‘Their fight is a fight for all trade unionists’

On a day off from work I visited the Debden delivery office, Essex, to give a message of solidarity to the CWU.

I got there about 8.15am and asked for the CWU rep who I expected to be out on delivery, but a fellow worker went off to get him.

I introduced myself and handed over the trade union council and Socialist Party support leaflets I’d brought along, and asked if he’d had a union members’ meeting earlier this morning? “We’re about to have it now upstairs in the canteen,” he says. He then calls his divisional full-time CWU official to ask if it’s OK if I come along. He says yes.

The divisional officer gave his report, and the mood among members was upbeat. I then gave my message of solidarity, emphasising the potential power of the trade union movement and why their fight is a fight all trade unionists must support.

I also recounted the successful Whipps Cross Hospital strikes of low-paid, outsourced workers I helped organise, and pointed to the improvements in working conditions the CWU has won since I was a rep for the posties’ union in the 1980s. I received a round of applause from the meeting and we all filed out of canteen then for a group photo in the yard. What a start to a day off work!

Len Hockey Unite union branch secretary
(personal capacity)

South Western Railway strike: “We’re up for the fight”

On the eve of a month-long walkout by train crews on South Western Railway, Geoff Kite, SWR guard and RMT transport union executive council member, addressed a recent Southampton Socialist Party ‘Tories out’ election rally. The RMT is resisting attempts by SWR to axe the vital safety-critical role of train guards and move to driver-only operations.

“Most accidents happen during the dispatch of trains”, Geoff explained. “I could tell you of hundreds of incidents, passengers trapped in doors and dogs left on platforms. We want to keep the guard on the train because that is the safest way to run our railways. Our members have taken 42 days of strike action and are up for the fight.

“The company has said this is not a political issue, but it has now written to every prospective parliamentary candidate promoting the company lie that they have ‘guaranteed a guard’.

“If that was the case we wouldn’t be on strike. We have written from the RMT to make our case.

“Politically, where we are, is to back Labour’s call to renationalise the railways and the manifesto pledge to guarantee a second safety-critical person on every train.

“We are preparing to take 27 days of strike action through December, though not on election day. This will be the longest strike in national rail history. We have set up a hardship fund for our members and ask trade unions to support us.

“Recently we have recruited another 100 guards to the RMT, taking our membership density to over 90%. We are strong.”