The election of Dave Ward as General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union is a step backwards.
Liberalisation of the postal sector and privatisation of Royal Mail should mean the priority for the CWU is building the union across the communication industry, but this has happened very slowly. In telecoms, where privatisation and competition arrived 30 years ago, workers with union recognition are a minority. More focus and resources need to be put into this work to take the Union into unrecognised areas.
Though under Hayes the union could have done more, he at least recognised the need for the CWU to be a union for all communication workers.
Dave Ward's track record is much more limited and his “business unionism” approach is pulling in another direction.
Under Ward's leadership there is a real danger that the Union will become even more inwardly focused than it currently is — a club for activists not a campaigning Union that leads its members.
Ward, as Deputy General Secretary and leader of the postal executive, has led the union through many strikes. However this is not necessarily an indication of his militancy — industrial relations in the postal sector have been like trench warfare and the CWU is a lay led democratic Union, any leader would have to take this stance.
In fact, Ward has been accommodating of a “partnership approach” with Royal Mail, the biggest company in the postal sector. The other industrial officers who have backed him in the campaign (and of course his post is now up for grabs) are, in most cases, even more right wing industrially.
Hayes was one of the CWU leadership most committed to fighting racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia and prejudice against people with disabilities in the Union and in society. Billy was progressive on these issues a long time before the consensus in the CWU accommodated any positive action on equality and diversity. Ward has only latterly accepted that these are legitimate Union issues, and that has coincided with him standing for election.
It is ironic that during the campaign Ward positioned himself as more “left wing” than Hayes. One of his slogans during the campaign was “no blind loyalty to Labour”. Yet Hayes has much more progressive politics on the Labour Party and on wider social issues. He is not “blind Labour loyalist”, rather a supporter of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, and can fairly be described as a socialist of a Livingston hue.
In many ways Hayes’ politics are more “left wing” and political than that of most CWU activists. Hayes was an original member of the UCW Broad Left and, after the merger with the NCU to create the CWU joined the CWU Broad Left. The CWU Broad Left is at present a depleted force but it backed Hayes for General Secretary.
The fact that Ward is sceptical about the Labour Party and trade union link is evidence of his lack of political focus not of a more left approach. In many ways he has ridden an anti-progressive, anti-political tide in the Union (fuelled by an appropriate criticism of Labour’s dealings with the Union at the height of the New Labour days). In reality he can not even be described as a proper syndicalist — more of a sub-syndicalist.
It is concerning for the future of Royal Mail that the instincts of Ward and his supporters would be to seek unprincipled deals rather than fightback. This makes him qualitatively different from Hayes who, when faced with Mandelson as Labour Business Secretary attempting to part privatise Royal Mail, immediately fought back on the political front and won.
The lack of political trade unionism that is prevalent amongst Ward's supporters is worrying. In the new political challenges that will inevitably arise for the Union we may have to reinvent the wheel.