Has the CWU surrendered to Royal Mail?


“We will not be beaten, but Gordon Brown and the bosses will. One result of this strike is that the political levy is finished in our office, and so is the Labour vote.” – A postal worker from Middlesbrough

As wildcat strikes continue, Royal Mail wins a High Court injuction against the planned official strikes on Monday.

What does the leadership of the Communications Workers’ Union do in these circumstances?

They surrender to the enemy

An agreement has been reached that could lead to an end to strike action by postal workers.

The breakthrough came late on Friday after marathon talks between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers’ Union at the TUC in London.

Details are yet to be announced, but it is hoped the deal will end the dispute, which centres on pay, pensions and flexible working.

The terms reached will be considered by the union’s executive on Monday.

So, hopes of a one-day public sector strike are fading.

It wasn’t all that shocking – after all, the CWU had called off strikes in August to enter secret talks with management.

Who knows, perhaps the proposal is so bad it’ll be rejected? Perhaps it’ll be rejected because Royal Mail went to the courts to stop strikes going ahead?

Anyhow, here’s that Tony Benn article

Let us be absolutely clear. The Post Office is being systematically and deliberately destroyed. And the British government is standing by and letting it happen.

It was Charles II who established the General Post Office in 1660, and Rowland Hill who introduced the penny stamp (1840) and recognised that the cost of handling mail was not the distance the letters travelled but the number of times they were handled. The postal service in the 19th century was the equivalent of the internet. Local post offices were a public service too: in the early days, if you paid a shilling the postmistress would write a letter for you and explain how to deal with social security forms.

But now this great service is being challenged. First by the EU, which has insisted on liberalisation and demanded competition. If there were real competition, however, the competitors would have to put up their own blue pillar boxes, employ postal staff and open post offices, deliver to the most outlying areas at the same price, and deliver braille materials, free, for the blind.

Of course none of that is happening, and the “competitors” are being allowed to pass on their bulk post for the Royal Mail to deliver and being charged less than the 34p we pay for a stamp, thus being subsidised by the Post Office. Post office closures are going on apace and postal workers are threatened with the sack, a worsening of conditions, and the prospect of a reduced pension. Meanwhile the government does nothing, and that is why members of the Communication Workers’ Union are striking.

In the old days the postmaster general was answerable to the Commons, with parliamentary questions about deliveries. It was not a very good system because the Treasury collected the money for stamps sold and gave the Post Office a grant to run the service – which is why I, in my then position in that role, recommended it be turned into a public corporation. It was obvious it had to change and expand, which is why we set up the National Data Processing Service, the Giro, which was a public bank run through the Post Office and used its vans in the countryside as buses. The Giro was sold off by Margaret Thatcher, and the Post Office is now concreted in to the mechanical function of delivering mail, while urgent communications now go by electronic means.

The CWU knows better than most the need for change, but in its dealings with this management its members are back to the master-servant relationship that prevailed in industry 200 years ago. If they take action that is “unofficial” they risk being taken to court under Thatcher’s anti-union legislation, which New Labour promised to repeal but never did – and I would love to see stronger support for them from all unions, many of which face similar problems.

We are told the Post Office loses money – but so do the police, and if we are going to follow this neoliberal doctrine, what about establishing low-cost private police forces, to challenge the “police monopoly”? This is a big, big issue, and it is a test of our society as to whether we are to organise everything to make a profit, or see that needs are met.

If the Post Office is to be run on a competitive basis, it could charge pounds and not pennies to deliver in the Orkneys and Shetlands, and make those who depend on braille pay the huge charges that the heavy material would attract on a commercial basis.

And if Digby Jones, the former director general of the CBI, can work with the government, what about asking Brendan Barber from the TUC to be postmaster general in New Labour’s big tent, which now appears to include Thatcher herself?

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