POSTAL WORKERS FACE BIGGEST EVER ATTACKS – new leadership needed

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Postal workers take part in last month’s massive TUC demonstration against the cuts, showing their opposition to privatisation and Mail Centre closures
Postal workers take part in last month’s massive TUC demonstration against the cuts, showing their opposition to privatisation and Mail Centre closures

STATEMENT BY THE ALL TRADES UNIONS ALLIANCE POSTAL WORKERS COMMITTEE

POSTAL workers and their union are facing the biggest ever attacks upon their jobs, wages and pensions.

This Tory-led coalition government is determined to finish what the last Labour government started, by privatising Royal Mail.

Under the euphemism of modernisation, tens of thousands more jobs are to be lost. Already over the last six years, 60,000 jobs have been lost in Royal Mail. To this will soon be added the jobs lost through the closure programme for Mail Centres.

In London, the announcement that two major Mail Centres – East London and South London  along with the closure of the Rathbone Place delivery office – was made via the media, such is management’s hostility to its workers and its contempt for the CWU postal union leaders.

These closures have been described by the London Regional Committee of the CWU as unprecedented in that for the first time it is clear that they cannot be achieved without the massive loss of jobs, making compulsory redundancies an absolute certainty.

The closure programme will see 1,136 posts (one in three postal jobs) going in London with no hope of redundant staff being absorbed into other posts.

The response from the CWU leadership was summed up in a press statement made by the CWU on the day of the announcement (21st March 20011) which complained that these closures are ‘not in accordance with the existing national agreements we have with the company’.

The spokesperson for the CWU went on:

‘In 2010 Royal Mail accepted that the overarching objective of business transformation was to avoid compulsory redundancies. Given the number of staff in London, today’s announcement threatens this commitment. We have tabled alternative proposals and are insisting that Royal Mail returns to talks to resolve this issue.’

This refers to the now notorious Business Transformation Agreement agreed by Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, and his deputy Dave Ward in 2010.

CWU members will recall with bitterness that in December 2008 they called off a 24-hour official strike against closure plans for Mail Centres with only a few hours notice, on the grounds that ‘some progress had been made’.

That ‘progress’ turned out to be the Business Transformation Agreement which has certainly transformed the lives of postal workers by making their working conditions completely unbearable.

Under the terms of this agreement the CWU abandoned its opposition to the mail centre closure programme, accepted the lifting of the previous cap on the amount of junk mail postal workers had to deliver, and agreed to their being no upper limit on the delivery span – this was the nationally agreed time spent on the streets actually delivering mail.

In return for this capitulation, management agreed a no compulsory redundancy clause and better transfer terms for those staff forced to move offices due to closure.

Under the terms of this agreement – sold to CWU members by the National leadership on the grounds that it was the best that could be achieved and represented a real protection for those wishing to stay in employment – the working life of postal workers has become a complete hell.

Under the drive for greater efficiencies, management has set completely impossible targets for workers to meet, with postal workers being forced to spend hours on delivery, working until they drop.

Anyone failing or refusing to carry out all this extra work and the physically impossible demands placed on them faces the threat of disciplinary action as Royal Mail management has imposed a ‘rule by fear’ regime throughout the service.

Coercion, harassment and downright bullying are now commonplace in the ruthless drive to prepare the ground for privatisation.

Under these conditions, for the CWU leaders to talk about the necessity of getting back round the negotiating table with Royal Mail is nothing short of treachery.

Management is clearly intending to break even the modest concessions they made to the union over compulsory redundancies with these latest closure proposals.

They are throwing down the gauntlet to the CWU, secure in the knowledge that Hayes and Ward have a long history of running from any kind of fight.

The time has come for this rotten agreement to be completely repudiated by the CWU, it cannot be re-negotiated. It can only be torn up and notice given to management that the CWU and its members will no longer co-operate in speed-ups, job losses or any closures.

This is a management which, driven by the government, has ripped up every agreement when it suits it. The position of the union leaders is to demand that management return to talks as the only way of avoiding compulsory redundancies, talks that involve management accepting the union’s own plans to ‘save’ the Royal Mail by negotiated speed-up and productivity measures.

Management has made it quite clear that it intends to cut jobs and impose compulsory redundancies on the union for the first time as part and parcel of the break up and privatisation of Royal Mail.

That London is in the forefront of this deliberate attack is no accident.

London contains the highest concentration of CWU members and is seen as a battleground by management and by the coalition government.

Their logic is simple – break the CWU in London by imposing compulsory sackings and then move on to the rest of the country.

What is at stake is the very existence of the CWU as a union fighting for its membership.

In this fight both the government and management have received their biggest boost from the passivity and compliance of the CWU leaders.

All they do is moan that national agreements are being torn up and that no one is listening to their alternative plans.

This is a complete evasion of their responsibility.

Every postal worker knows that management is breaking national agreements on a daily basis at local level and that this is only a reflection of the national contempt for which managers hold the union leadership.

This is a leadership that has consistently run from any fight for jobs, pensions, pay and against the destruction of the industry through privatisation.

The reaction of both Billy Hayes and Dave Ward to the passage of the Postal Services Bill is most instructive in this respect.

After the Bill – which paves the way for the privatisation of Royal Mail – was passed, several amendments were proposed dealing with the  Universal Service Obligation (USO).

These amendments, which simply provided for new powers for the regulator Ofcom to monitor the USO after privatisation, was greeted ecstatically as some great victory by Hayes and Ward who revealed that they had been in ‘dialogue’ with government ministers continuously on this issue.

This dialogue apparently has consisted in them begging the government for ‘fairer regulations’ after privatisation.

These leaders accept completely that Royal Mail will be privatised, that thousands of jobs will go and that compulsory redundancies are inevitable.

The call for a ballot on industrial action to prevent Mail Centre closures is, as far as the leadership is concerned, just a sop to members who are prepared to fight for their job and the mail service.

Any vote for strike action will be treated by these leaders in the same way that they treated the strike action in 2008 – call it off at the last moment on spurious grounds and in the  hope that the membership will eventually be fed up with being marched up and down the hill over and over again.

Ward and Hayes have shown time and again that they have no stomach for a fight against management and a government hell-bent on the destruction of all public services and the entire Welfare State.

Their sole strategy is to beg for some crumbs from the coalition while telling the members that salvation lies in the hope that any future Labour government will somehow improve conditions.

The complete bankruptcy of this position is absolutely clear.

It was the Labour government that proposed privatisation; it was under a Labour government that the final salary pension scheme was wound up in 2008 and replaced with a ‘career average’ scheme that cuts entitlement.

It was a Labour government that declared that bankrupt British capitalism could no longer afford decent pensions and that workers would have to stay on until they are 65, something almost impossible in a physically demanding job like the mail service.

To try and sell the idea that salvation lies in the hands of these labour traitors is a complete betrayal of CWU members.

With every section of workers in the public sector – from council workers to NHS staff, teachers and university lecturers – facing identical attacks on  pensions, jobs and conditions from a government determined that the full burden of the bankers’ crisis is dumped on the working class, there can be no room for compromise or ‘negotiated’ settlements, which in reality only serve to sell-out jobs and services.

The only way to defend jobs and conditions today is through mobilising the full strength of the unions in an uncompromising struggle against the employer and the government.

CWU members must demand that the union immediately adopt a policy of fighting for every single job.

The Transformation Agreement must be torn up by the union, there must be no collaboration between the union and management on job losses and speed-ups, and every threat to jobs must be immediately met with strike action on a national scale.

The threat to Mail Centres and delivery offices must be met with a policy of occupations to prevent their closure, while the fight against privatisation must be linked to the whole struggle to defend public services and the entire Welfare State from a government determined to smash it to pieces.

This coalition government has declared war on the working class and the gains of the Welfare State. This can only be answered through an equally determined fight by the unions.

What drives this government is the huge crisis of capitalism internationally and its devastating effect on the weak capitalist economy of Britain.

There is no way out for capitalism except by waging war on the working class and driving it back to the conditions last seen in the 19th century.

In the face of this onslaught, the only answer is the demand for an indefinite general strike that has as its aim bringing down this Tory-LibDem coalition and replacing it not with a Labour government that is equally committed to maintaining capitalism, but with a workers’ government that will go forward to socialism.

Those leaders like Hayes and Ward who refuse to lead such a fight must be removed and replaced by leaders who will fight for every job, every condition and for bringing down this government.

This means building a new, revolutionary, leadership in the CWU and throughout the trade union movement.

• Tear up the Business Transformation Agreement – no collaboration with speed-up

• No job losses – the threat to jobs to be met with national strike action

• Occupy to prevent Mail Centre closures

• Defeat privatisation through the organisation of a general strike to bring down the government and replace it with a workers’ government that will advance to socialism

• Build a new revolutionary leadership in the unions

• Join the WRP today.