‘This is an important fight, it will define the future of our members, whether we stay full or part time, or even employed at all’ Camberwell Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) Deputy Unit Rep Adam Gebbett told News Line at a 150-strong South East London CWU strike rally on Wednesday.
He added: ‘It’s not just a London fight, it’s a national fight. We need the whole union involved.
‘Our union leaders need to be clearer with both the members and the outside media. The olive branch has been offered but it’s a no-brainer. Our action will continue but things can only be resolved through negotiations. Royal Mail don’t want to negotiate, but they will have to eventually.’
Addressing the meeting, Roy Vargeson, South East London CWU Post and Counters Branch Secretary, said: ‘You should be proud of yourselves, the way you’ve dealt with the bullying and harassment. You are under great pressure. Royal Mail is trying to out you out on unofficial strike.
‘This is the most spiteful dispute I’ve ever known. Royal Mail is tearing up agreements. The only way to combat that is to use your industrial strength, and you are. If you want to keep your job, keep your conditions and be represented in the workplace, you have to fight. We have to win this dispute.’
South East London CWU Area Delivery Rep Steve Beadle said: ‘This dispute is right across London, right across the country.’ He added: ‘Royal Mail are trying to make you work harder, faster and longer.
‘They want to take you backwards, agreements that were signed two years ago are being broken. There are no negotiations. It’s about decisions from the top – executive action. There’s derecognition of local, area and national agreements. That’s totally unacceptable to us.’
He stressed: ‘All management are saying is “you are going to do this” or do that. All the notice you get is what you are going to do on the day. Royal Mail are ripping everything out of our agreements – no discussions, no negotiations.
‘A senior manager said, “You have until September to break them”. Well, we are getting somewhere, we are having an effect. There are 1,500 people in south east London, only 20 people have crossed the picket line.’
CWU General Secretary Billy Hayes also addressed the meeting. He said: ‘Privatisation has been pushed back. I’m not saying that’s the end. We are at the cutting edge of where we are in terms of the dispute. London has a tremendous record of standing up to the employer.
‘Where we are now is to fight for what we want. The union is about defending members’ terms and conditions. When the union’s future is involved, it is my responsibility to get involved. The message we have to get out is modernisation for the CWU is about making improvements.
‘It took years to get the five-day week. What we mean by modernisation is improving terms and conditions and the service to the public. Royal Mail’s idea of modernisation is about “you do as you’re told”. It’s all about arbitrary changes to pay and conditions.
‘We are no going to have it, we are not going to stand by. They’re taking on London because they see you as strong, that is why we are having a national ballot. It’s essential we deliver a massive ‘Yes’ vote.
‘What they do in London today, they will do in Luton and Birmingham tomorrow.
‘In Stoke, they closed the distribution centre. Our members are so enraged they decided to remain out.’
CWU rep Kevin Callaghan asked Hayes from the floor: ‘How long are we going to pursue our obscene love affair with the Labour Party that no longer exists? How much are our union paying?. I’m fed up to the back teeth with hearing that Mandelson attack this union.’
Peckham CWU rep Billy Colvill asked Hayes: ‘Why was the annual conference decision to hold a national ballot on July 2 not adhered to? Referring to the CWU postal executive’s decision to launch a ballot on September 9 for a national strike, Colvill continued: ‘By September some of our members will be out of work, why wasn’t the decision adhered to?’
Hayes evaded Colvill’s question and replied to Calllaghan’s questions. He said: ‘I’m subject to election. We’re subject to the decisions of national executive council and annual conference. I understand the anger towards Gordon Brown.
‘One of the jobs of leadership is making decisions. You expect us to use our intelligence and judgement in deciding what we do. He added: ‘We were affiliated to the Labour Party by the decision of the members of this union. If we are disaffiliated, it will be by the decision of the members of this union. People tell me there is no difference between Labour and the Tories. That is not the case.’
He claimed it is the relationship and funding that the CWU provides labour that ‘made sure privatisation was pushed back’ He said that breaking from Labour, ‘at this particular point would give succour to those who are against us’.
Hayes added: ‘It’s a question of tactics and circumstances.’ He went on to say: ‘The reason we are under attack is we are the strongest union, bar none. Under (CWU deputy general secretary, postal) Dave Ward’s leadership we’ve seen progress. Our union is under attack from Mandelson, to (Royal Mail boss) Crozier, to Brown. But we’ve knocked them back on privatisation, we knocked them back on what they want to do to London. I’m confident we will deliver a “yes” vote in the national ballot.’
Greg Charles, CWU South West London branch secretary told the meeting: ‘Last week, management took a number of individuals into the Wimbledon office and presented them with a letter saying they have to transfer to vans. They refused on the basis that it was in breach of the national agreement.
‘Five members a week later were told either they do changeover training or come off pay. On Monday everyone was taken off pay.
‘We’re on strike today and we’ve assured them we will protect those individuals. But this is not just about the Wimbledon office, this is a letter that will go across south west London and probably across the London Division. Royal Mail are embarking in a vindictive way in taking people off pay. It is purely and simply to undermine the union’s strength in that office. This is a fight for us all. We must win. We cannot afford to lose.’
London Divisional Rep Mark Palfrey said: ‘Issues at Wimbledon and other parts of London may drag us into unofficial dispute. This is a bitter dispute. You can’t chose your battleground. We chose we had to fight. The dispute has grown and it is growing. We must deliver a “yes” vote in the national ballot.
‘The other disputes are not ended by the ballot that is to take place in the future.’