By CWU members
The Annual General Meeting on 10 January of the Communications Workers Union Broad Left (CWU BL) had several heated debates around the accountability of union National Executive Council (NEC) members who have been supported by the Broad Left to the activists of the BL and to the wider membership.
The principle that the policies of BL-supported NEC members should be subject to the endorsement of the BL AGM was lost on a close vote. We won two other votes.
The first asserted the right of the AGM to demand the reinstatement of BL NEC members to the Head Office caucus.
Maria Exall had been suspended from the BL group at Head Office on the basis of her opposition to the SMT/Project Watford productivity bonus scheme in telecom. The scheme was supported by the other BL members, but opposition to the scheme was in line with the policy of the Broad Left. The scheme had also been rejected in ballots of the membership, including one ballot for industrial action that was thwarted by a court judgement.
The AGM voted for reinstatement for Maria despite the pleas from the other BL NEC members that they had the right to conduct their own affairs.
The AGM also decided that subsequent exclusions from the Head Office group will be subject to endorsement by the BL Steering Committee.
On all these issues, members of the Socialist Party (the largest organised group in the CWU BL) argued against the accountability of NEC members to BL activists and for the NEC majority.
The CWU BL has had considerable electoral success in the telecom engineering section of the Executive over the past few years. The main thrust of policy in the telecoms section of the union is still driven by senior negotiator Jeannie Drake. A "company union" agenda is still the main response to many of the attacks on jobs and terms and conditions in BT and O2, the two largest areas of membership.
The AGM committed the BL to fight the proposed job cuts and changes to terms and conditions in the "BT Transformation" programme.
The AGM also urged caution on proposals for the Rules Revision Conference of the union due later this year. The AGM voted against the creation of a two tier Executive which would reduce the accountability of NEC members.
On the postal side, the CWU BL AGM carried a motion opposing the "Major Change" deal with Royal Mail which the union is currently balloting on (12-26 January) and pledging its support for a branch-based campaign against the deal. The BL is still weak on the postal side, which may explain why neither CWU general secretary Billy Hayes nor his loyal sidekick Steve Bell (previously the BL's "postal co-ordinator") felt the need to speak in defence of the deal at the AGM, though they were at the meeting.
In December the Postal Executive "left" unanimously accepted the "Major Change" deal, further demonstrating the weakness of the organised left on the postal side of the CWU. The militant posturing of left Executive members such as SWPer Jane Loftus and ex-London Divisional rep Norman Candy took a back seat to "unity" with Dave Ward and Billy Hayes.
There is an urgent need to organise the left in the CWU across the industrial divide. The best immediate prospect for doing this would be for rank and file postal activists to help build the Broad Left as an organisation that responds to the needs and concerns of rank and file postal members.
The ballot by the postal workers' union CWU on its deal with management on pay and "Major Change" closes on Monday 26 January.
The agreement boasts of a "30% reduction" on previous cuts targets. That works out at 8,000 jobs going.
Its supposed £26 per week increase in return for achieving Royal Mail targets includes up to £5 from existing bonuses and supplements.
On London Weighting, it gives only a £300 increase in April 2005, and then a "formal review" every two years. Inner/ outer London inequality will remain. Postal workers should reject the deal.