After the tremendous “Yes” vote in the national ballot, there can be no doubting the resolve of the membership to take management on and see the dispute through. The next step is to ensure that the strike is as strong as possible and organised so we can stand up to the tough trials ahead.
The way to do that is to keep the membership in the driving seat. A strike is stronger if the members are informed and active, rather than passively waiting on instructions coming from the executive.
One reason the 2007 strike ended the way it did was because much of the membership was in the dark about the decisions made at the top about the deal; and being kept out of the loop saps members' confidence. The tactics and the demands of this dispute need to be discussed and decided by postal workers and their directly-elected reps, not by largely unaccountable national negotiators.
The national reps’ meetings are the obvious focus for rank-and-file debate and control of the dispute.
Reps’ meetings need to be held more regularly, and on a regional and city-wide level, not just a national level. London and Bristol Divisional Committees have organised area-wide reps' meetings. This is good and should be built on — and repeated in other regions! These meetings need to be a place where real decisions are taken — where written motions can be tabled, discussed and voted on, where there is time for a discussion.
The proceedings of these meetings should be made public, with reports going up on the web and reps reporting back to their branches, so all members are in on the facts and can have their say. When meetings of workplace reps make a decision and pass it up to the executive, the exec should either carry out that decision or give the membership a reason why not. These meetings should make decisions on demands, and also monitor the negotiation process, and hold our negotiators to account.
On the offensive!
In the letter from Dave Ward to Royal Mail bosses where he offers a “peace deal”, Ward lays out the CWU’s core demands in the strike: against bullying, against management unilateralism, for management to honour their 2007 promise that “change will be introduced by agreement”.
Now, Royal Mail bosses already say that they plan no more job and workload changes this year. But purely defensive demands against management attacks are clearly not enough — we need a clear idea of what we are striking for as well as what we are striking against. Postal workers need to go on the offensive for a positive vision of a public postal service run by workers and users. Most posties have a very clear idea of what they want changed in their workplace: let’s draw these demands up into a clear, positive programme for change. Democratic reps’ meetings should draw up the precise demands — shouldn’t the call for a 35 hour week be one of them?
The tactic of taking rolling, selective action, with part of the service out on one day and another part out the next, is a tactic which appears to have the advantage of hitting the bosses for two or three days with each worker only losing a day’s pay.
But some workers have expressed the concern that this tactic creates a situation in which it becomes normal to cross the picket line of another group of workers. This is a debate which our movement needs to have out at the grassroots level.
Call for solidarity
As the national strike develops, wider labour movement solidarity will become essential.
Trade unionists and socialists are organising in different towns and cities to support the CWU. They are organising different groups which will collect money for the strike fund, get out on the street and counter management propaganda, hold meetings and generally co-ordinating activities with their local CWU.
London CWU has produced a collections sheet; other regions should produce similar materials and contact activists in other workplaces to ask for solidarity. Postal workers should be pro-active in calling meetings with trade unionists from other workplaces and helping bring solidarity committees into being.