An activist from the CWU union spoke to Colin Foster about the issues in the post following the London and Edinburgh strikes over job cuts on 19 June
There’s no decision yet made about the next lot of action, but there will have to be further action, because Royal Mail have not moved.
The problem is, these are local fights over a national issue, arising from the poor deal made after the dispute in 2007. That deal gave Royal Mail bosses a national commitment to “flexibility”, which has allowed them to do things they could never have done office by office.
There have been some mail centres closed. It has been difficult to mobilise over that, because the workers in mail centres being closed start looking for their individual redundancy terms, and the workers in other mail centres are not affected.
Changes in conditions have been much more severe in delivery. There is relentless speed-up. A delivery span used to be delivering two bags of mail in two hours. Now it is delivering five or six bags in three and a half hours. The bosses are still pushing for longer delivery spans, and they are bringing more and more part-timers.
To be honest, it can be difficult to mobilise members, because they still feel sold out from two years ago. You say we need a fight, and they say “what? With this leadership?”
The 2007 deal also left the issue of pensions not sorted out at all. The final-salary pension has gone for new starters, and workers have to work to 65 — and the delivery job is now so arduous that a lot of people just can’t do that — and still the scheme is not balanced financially. I think the union’s answer should be simple: the Government should put the money in to fund the scheme, and we should demand the reversal of the pension cutbacks already made.
There’s a problem in elements of the CWU leadership of illusions in the Labour leadership. Mandelson caught them by surprise by going forward with the part-privatisation of Royal Mail.
You have two factions in the leadership, both of them wrong in my view. I don’t align with either camp: I take the issues as they come. Billy Hayes (the general secretary) is very much for affiliation to the Labour Party, but he sees political campaigning in terms of talks behind the scenes and lobbying MPs.
Dave Ward (deputy general secretary postal) is basically for disaffiliation of the union from the Labour Party, though he seems to have decided that this is not the best time to come forward on it. His approach is a sort of non-political syndicalism, and some of the people behind him are worse.
And, as in all other unions, the bureaucracy has an enormous weight in shaping how campaigns and policies actually turn out.
So the campaign against Royal Mail privatisation has been weaker than it should have been. It looks as if the part-privatisation could be abandoned now, but if so, it’s not really because of our campaign, but because Gordon Brown reckons that he has just too many other political problems.
Could Dave Ward’s talk of “a joint Royal Mail/CWU vision of modernisation” and “a sustainable business model for Royal Mail that could survive a change of government” lead to the union backing a modified part-privatisation plan on the grounds that it is better to seal a deal like that now than stand out and see a Tory government push through full privatisation? I don’t know. Until the crunch comes, it is very hard to see how it will all go.
But we should remember one thing. I think public ownership is very important. But if part-privatisation is abandoned, it doesn’t mean that our problems are solved. Royal Mail bosses will go on running the post as a business rather than a public service until we stop them.
• The London Divisional Council of the CWU (a stronghold of support for Dave Ward) has followed up the 19 June strike by announcing: “We in London will give them [the Government] till the end of this month [June] to force Royal Mail to agree a National Agreement or we will start to ballot London members on whether they fund the Labour Party. We know this will bring us at risk of discipline from the National Union...”
Another CWU activist told Solidarity: “I’m not sure this means a lot, rather than posing. The London Divisional Council has a political fund, but it doesn’t pay any affiliation money to the Labour Party — that is done by the national union, or by branches — so this is not a disaffiliation measure”.