At first sight the decision of Royal Mail management to sit
down at the negotiating table seems like a victory for the solid action taken
by union members in the national strikes and the widespread support we got from
the public. There is no doubt that Crozier and co. went into the battle
determined to smash the CWU. They have pulled back from the brink – for the
It has to be said that the interim agreement voted on by the
Postal Executive gives no guarantees to members who have lost a lot of money
and sometimes put themselves out on a limb in support of our conditions and of
the standards of the service. Not to put too fine a point upon it, it is a load
For instance in relation to section 2.3 (on Resolving local disputes), in cases where executive action has been taken to tear
up existing agreements and impose worse conditions, all that is offered is a
‘review.’ Local parties are to “engage in genuine negotiations to reach local
agreement.” This is so unclear that it gives the green light to local managers
to carry on their attacks.
And that is what is reported as going on up and down the
country. For instance local managers are refusing to scrap absorptions that
were imposed before we took national action. Workers are quite naturally
threatening local strike action in response. Essex
Amalgamated Branch have already served notice to Royal Mail for action next
Friday, 20th November, as local management after 2 days back have
reverted back to executive action. Other areas are likely to
follow suit. We have to say the agreement looks to be unravelling. The
Postal Executive was over-hasty in rushing to settle at the first sign that
management was having second thoughts. Hard and fast guarantees are required,
not just a vague commitment on their part to negotiate.
There is no doubt that some members will feel we have won
some important concessions. For instance Section 3.2 of the interim agreement
provides that, “traffic that has been diverted during the dispute will be
returned to its parent office.” But there is no indication as to when this must take place. This gives
management the opportunity to play around with us. At best the agreement is
just a return to the status quo, a state that management has made it clear they
think is unacceptable. In fact, the agreement has put off all the important
issues of the dispute for future negotiation. And what is the TUC playing at,
acting as impartial arbiters between labour and capital? They should be
mobilising support for the postal workers as a section of the working class
under attack and in order to save the postal service
What we gained and what we gave away.
Our show of strength in the national days of action showed
Royal Mail management that dismantling the union would not be an easy step. In
reality the Executive took far too long in calling a ballot for national strike
action. We could have shown our strength much earlier and got a resolution to
the dispute as a result if the leadership of the CWU had not dragged its heels
on this matter. The fact is that some postal workers (particularly in London) have been taking
action for nineteen weeks against unilateral executive action without any
obvious gain. When we finally took national action, which involved members in
just two days’ strike action, management drew back.
We believe it was a mistake to call off the national action
just when it was getting results. Local reps should make it clear to the Postal
Executive that the vague interim agreement is far from adequate as a basis for
a settlement. In fact it is a formula for continued guerilla war at a local
level. Local action gives local management the opportunity to pick off the
weaker areas. National action
maximises our strength.
Management made a temporary climb down. We all know why they
did it. They were at their weakest, and we were at our strongest, in the run up
to Christmas. They defused our action when we showed all the signs of winning.
They will feel much more confident now to have another go at us in the New
Year. We lost momentum, and that is crucial. Conflict with management is
inherent in the present situation within Royal Mail. Now we will have to build
up that head of steam all over again.
By in effect raising our little finger we got them back to
the negotiating table. National action means the stronger areas can carry the
weaker ones along with them. Un-coordinated local action and walk-outs against
management provocations risks dissipating the mood of unity and confidence that
has been generated by united national action.
The interim agreement seems to be unravelling. National
industrial action should be reinstated and stepped up before the mood is lost.
The pre-Christmas period gives us our greatest opportunity. Management has made
what they regard as a tactically astute climbdown in order to disarm us for a
The agreement (section 2.3) asserts that the aim of local
negotiations is to be “improved efficiency.” This is the mantra management have
always used to conceal speed up and job cuts. There is no genuine will on their
part to negotiate agreement on new technology such as walk sequencing machines.
Their long term aim is to smash or severely weaken the CWU as a prelude to privatisation. TNT and other
‘preferred bidders’ have made it quite clear that is a pre-condition of their
taking over the business. Both New Labour and the Tories favour measures of privatisation, and management has always gone along with that.
Whether immediately into the New Year or after a likely Tory
victory in the 2010 General Election, we will have to fight for our conditions
and for the good of the service. By signing the interim agreement the postal
Executive has given up a very
favourable position. The local attacks, and the response that they are
producing, mean that it is not too late to repudiate the agreement. That will
require a massive show of anger from the membership. Local reps should express
and channel that anger.