This is a SOLIDARITY leaflet which discusses the strategy of the CWU in its current dispute with Royal Mail. You can downlaod a PDF of it.
Royal Mail Dispute – strike against ‘liberalisation’ and cuts in jobs and services
“In our view the union needs to make a decisive break from the very idea of an alliance with management to ‘win’ in the marketplace. It should oppose all cuts and campaign against liberalisation….”
In his open letter to Alan Leighton, Dave Ward said that “by refusing to negotiate you are revealing that your real motivation is about destroying the union rather than working with us to make the Royal Mail a success.” This was underlined by newspaper reports of comments from senior management figures saying that the company is prepared to sit out six months of industrial action.
If the management is intent on breaking the power of the union then the only response of the union can be mobilising the power of its members to force the management to retreat. But to do this the CWU requires a clear strategy. For any industrial dispute to be successful it has to have clear objectives and a membership which understands and supports them. What are the objectives of the CWU? Is this a struggle against job and service cuts, or to negotiate more ‘acceptable’ level of cuts? What are the immediate aims of the dispute: the abandonment of the strings or a re-negotiation of them?
At the recent CWU Conference Dave Ward said: “The key issue in this dispute remains the unacceptable cuts in postal services – cuts in postal jobs – and attacks on our members’ terms and conditions.” He said he wanted to see Royal Mail “returning to our previously agreed approach”. But the 2006 agreement was based on the CWU accepting that liberalisation could not be fought, and that an alliance with the management was necessary in order for RM to ‘succeed’ in the new market. An extra 1% was agreed in return for the CWU collaborating with cuts. Branches were left to negotiate these locally. However, the management saw this as a green light to press for even more cuts.
In his open letter to Alan Leighton, Dave Ward said: “CWU want an agreement on automation that genuinely helps the company face up to the challenge of competition, maintains the public service, looks after those staff who choose to leave and improves the terms and conditions for those who stay. This would mean the company returning to our previously agreed approach and working with the union.” However, in reality, RM cannot “face up to the challenge of competition” and maintain the public service. Liberalisation will undermine the public service and threaten the survival of the Universal Service Obligation. The CWU is trying to square the circle.
The CWU should learn from the experience of the privatisation of the public utilities and the railways. Those unions that accepted privatisation and formed partnerships with the privatised companies identified the interests of their members with commercial success for the companies they worked for. This resulted in a jobs massacre and the worsening of the service. Their members’ interests were subordinated to the profitability of the companies. In contrast the RMT refused to identify the interests of its members with the private companies and determined to campaign for re-nationalisation. The union was not strong enough to stop privatisation and it lost a great many members in the jobs cull which followed it. However, because it maintained its independence and its hostility to the privatised companies, it was able to survive and reverse the decline in membership. It has maintained its combativity and campaigned to expose the reality of the privatised network and to press for the re-nationalisation of the railways, which is popular with the public.
Whatever the differences between this experience and that of postal services today, a similar approach to that of the RMT is the only way in which the CWU can defend its members and preserve its strength. Once you accept that the interests of the union lie with Royal Mail ‘winning’ in the marketplace, then the profitability of the company will come first, and the discussion is only over what is an ‘acceptable’ level of cuts.
The CWU’s attempt to work in alliance with Royal Mail management to achieve ‘success’ in a liberalised market has been a disaster for the union and its members, as well as the service it provides. The 2006 agreement was seen by management as a means of weakening resistance by the union and preparing for a battle to break its power. The CWU cannot defend its members and their industrial strength with appeals to management to be reasonable.
The management needs to break the power of the union if it is to compete in a rigged market in which its competitors do not have to bear the cost of the infrastructure needed to deliver the mail. One day strikes will not break the determination of such a management. It will be necessary to step up the action. In our view the union needs to make a decisive break from the very idea of working together with management to ‘win’ in the marketplace. It should oppose all cuts, and campaign against liberalisation (in alliance with other European postal unions) in defence of the Post Office as a public service. This is no easy struggle. But as the RMThas shown you can survive and grow under the most difficult conditions provided that you defend your independence and reject ‘partnership’ with the employers.