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CWU conference: Fighting for jobs and working conditions
The national CWU conference this year was set against a backdrop of a Labour government attempting to part privatise Royal Mail and the CWU London Division returning a massive yes vote of over 90% for strike action.
Gary Clark, Sub Area Rep Scotland No2 branch CWU
This is on the back of a wave of East of Scotland offices already balloting and many having taken action over the last few weeks. We have seen the management attempting to break the dispute by flying in managers to scab in these offices.
The postal executive committee of the union moved an emergency motion at this year's conference calling for a three month moratorium on any industrial action for the union to enter negotiations with the management.
This was seen as a stalling tactic by many at the conference to keep the public on the union's side. But it will be seen by the membership as retreat, as the management keep on attacking or terms and conditions.
The union leadership did have to say that if there is no movement by Royal Mail by 2 July, there will be a national ballot for industrial action.
The question many members are asking is why are we waiting? We are leaving the fight to London and the Scottish offices when a national ballot should have been called months ago.
The Labour government seems to be stalling on the question of the sell-off. But the union must still be prepared to meet it with action if needed.
The CWU Telecoms section conference was dominated by two issues. The major one was the wholesale attacks on the jobs and attendance patterns of BT field engineers. Due to a collapse of work, mainly caused by the housing crisis, BT want to shed 3,000 jobs.
The union leadership wanted to ballot the members, recommending that they accept the job cuts with no guarantee of no compulsory redundancies. This would also involve swingeing changes to attendance patterns, including working until 9pm and the right of the company to vary their working day by up to two hours depending on workloads.
CWU members at meetings up and down the country have overwhelmingly rejected such proposals and this was reflected in the debate. Only one speaker supported the union executive's proposition.
In the mover's right of reply Socialist Party member Clive Walder was singled out for attack, with the claim that the Broad Left and Socialist Party were 'unrealistic'.
The proposition was heavily defeated and conference went on to pass a proposition committing the union to recommend rejection of BT's proposals and an industrial action ballot.
The other issue was the increasingly oppressive management style. BT have set targets for the number of people they want to sack on performance grounds to save money.
Some managers have set targets for these 'manager exits' and this has been accompanied by increased bullying of 'low performers' and reluctance to coach them.
If there is not significant improvement in this, an industrial action ballot will be held.
The union faces a testing period ahead.
The new hardnosed BT management realise that the union has embraced 'partnership'. They believe they can attack jobs and working conditions. On the other hand a growing section of the members believe that the union is too close to the company.
The Socialist Party meeting at the CWU conference had the best attendance for some years, with sizable delegations from Glasgow and Edinburgh CWU branches.
The meeting discussed the need for the union to have a fighting left-wing leadership that would stand firm against the bosses' and the government's attacks.
Talk moved on to how and why the CWU should be a combative trade union, as well as the need for political representation for communication workers. No one at the meeting believed that the CWU's link with the Labour Party provided such representation.
The No2EU-Yes to Democracy European election campaign was discussed, as was the need to build upon this campaign for future elections as a step towards a broad political party to represent working-class people.
Two people objected to this, saying that trade unionists should concentrate on building the union movement. Most of the other people at the meeting agreed that the focus should not just be on building the unions or just building workers' political representation, but that the two go hand-in-hand.
In The Socialist 17 June 2009:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party editorial
Lindsey Oil Refinery construction workers
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party review