Postal workers throughout Britain voted for strike action by 97.6 per cent, with 77per cent turnout over Royal Mail's 2 per cent pay offer. The offer comes with wide-ranging changes that amount to a fundamental re-organisation of the business to the major detriment of its workforce and promises a bonanza for shareholders.
The strike vote was the largest ever and represented not only anger at Royal Mail’s attack on their pay and conditions but shows frustration at the CWU bureaucracy by postal workers. Postal workers still remember the last huge strike vote that the CWU deliberately ignored while they used it as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Royal Mail. Again it would appear that the union has no intention of calling a strike.
Rather than call immediate strike action, the CWU has launched a second ballot over the changes Royal Mail want to activate. Dave Ward, CWU Leader, refused to call the strike saying, “it would be right to allow the company to think again on pay.” The CWU’s suppression of the strike is to stop the struggle of the postal workers from being linked to that of other striking workers. Instead of mobilising postal workers against Royal Mail’s vicious attacks, Ward reached out to shareholders and pleaded, "We're saying to shareholders, you shouldn't be supporting what these people are doing and what they're paying themselves, and you should be getting behind the workforce."
The CWU bureaucracy has admitted being surprised at Royal Mail’s actions. To what degree the bewilderment of the CWU leadership at Royal Mail’s vicious attack on pay and conditions is real is open to conjecture. Ward’s found the company's so-called sudden turn "Very difficult to understand. How did we get to this situation, with the same people in charge?".
In a recent speech, Terry Pullinger echoed Ward’s disbelief "The attack we're under now has no rational explanation. Things were going well, but then suddenly they disengaged, and nobody has explained why they've done that." Maybe it should be clear to Ward and Pullinger that this was always Royal Mail’s intention to reorganise the business fundamentally, and to Amazonisation the business.
The CWU openly bragged that they were able to prevent this plan with the Pathway To Change agreement. They told the new Royal Mail leadership they could implement the changes it wanted without strike action. The CWU wanted to deepen its corporatist relationship with Royal Mail.
Royal Mail saw things differently. While reluctantly agreeing to the Pathway to Change agreement, Royal Mail wanted to suppress strikes and give themselves time to implement their plan. After the union sa econd time refused to strike, CEO Simon Thompson issued detailed plans to decimate postal workers’ pay and conditions and reorganise the business.
One day after the CWU announced that they would give Royal Mail time to reconsider their position Royal Mail published a seven-page document called “The change we need”. The first thing Royal Mail wants to bring in is a system of yearly Flexi hours. This means postal workers would be at Royal Mail’s beck and call instead of working a fixed week. Annualised hours will be the norm, and cuts to supplementary payments. Many workers will have a huge cut in sick pay and compulsory Sunday work for all new starters. The creation of a two-tier workforce, with "the next generation of postal workers coming in on 10 per cent less."
Royal Mail chairman Keith Williams stated the company was making a loss of £1 million a day and needed these changes to fix the business. If this is the case, workers should demand to open up the books. He threatened to break up the company if workers didn’t accept these changes. While not contained in the company’s recent statement, they intend to run down the letters business to concentrate on the more lucrative parcels business. This would be based around the international parcel delivery operation called GLS. GLS’s appalling wages and conditions make Amazon look like an enlightened employer. Also, it is only a matter of time before Royal Mail bosses start to cut to the Universal Service Obligation, which means they must deliver letters to every address, no matter how remote or inaccessible, six days a week.
Since Royal Mail was privatised in 2013, it has been an unmitigated disaster for postal workers who have seen their pay and conditions eroded. Now Royal Mail wants to quicken up the process. From day one, postal workers and the public were fed the lies that privatisation would benefit society. The reality is a looted pension fund with two tiers, much to the detriment of new starters. A large-scale closure of offices and a land sale that echoed the American wild west.
Every attack that Royal Mail has launched on the pay and conditions of postal workers has happened with the intimate collaboration of the CWU. The CWU has openly boasted that it had delivered unprecedented increases in productivity and revisions through the Pathway to Change. It also boasted of its close relationship with Royal Mail. So much so now that it invites Royal Mail Group to observe its union meetings.
At a recent National Briefing meeting In Liverpool, current CWU deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger explained that there were RMG observers in the discussion, saying, "We must remember that we cannot allow them to set the agenda. The deal we want is a pay-only no-strings deal, and this is what you and the members need to remember when management speaks to you in the workplace. Even today, the 2% deal with no strings is a derisive offer and nowhere near enough to what we want, and you deserve. It may be a step from the 3.5% with all the strings, but the deal is still unacceptable. The Pathway to Change Agreement is there to deal with the strings they want to discuss in the pay deal, and that is where they will stay".
There you have it. The Pathway To Change has led to unprecedented change, increased productivity, cut in hours and duties, led to redundancies and forced workers to work through a pandemic that has cost many lives, left some postmen with long-term sickness due to long Covid and has led to massive disruptions in delivery offices up and down the country.
The latest episode is no different, with the union saying it has bent over backwards to facilitate the changes Royal Mail wants, saying, “We’ve delivered more change than ever in a short period and embraced more automation.”…and so, therefore, this union needs no lectures from the Royal Mail senior leadership on the nature of this current period, the changing needs of customers, what is necessary and what must be done.”
The CWU’s treachery and cowardice is mirrored by several pseudo-left groups organised within the union. They play a crucial role in isolating and hindering the number of postal workers prepared for a fight. Many of these pseudo-left maintain high positions within the union.
To take their struggle forward, postal workers must take the struggle against Royal Mail out of the hands of both the CWU bureaucracy and the pseudo lefts and form rank and file committees based on a socialist programme for the renationalisation of Royal Mail under workers' control.