Last Tuesday evening, the Communication and Workers Union (CWU) held an online meeting, dubbed as ‘the most important union meeting ever’, for its members working in Royal Mail Group (RMG). The meeting was called after the RMG bosses ramped up their attacks on its workforce, having served notice on the CWU of their intention to effectively rip up a raft of national agreements that have been in place since the service was privatised. This signals the biggest attack on terms and conditions that have ever been seen in the company, which is all part of the bosses’ plans to break-up the service, move to a franchise model for deliveries and ‘Uber-ise’ the workforce.
The bosses have also announced that they will tear up the current industrial framework, including the removal of shop floor level industrial relations reps and imposing new working conditions without trials – a de facto de-recognition of the CWU on the shop floor.
Speaking about these latest attacks, the CWU general secretary, Dave Ward, said: “This represents a new step in a plan to turn Royal Mail into something more like Uber. But this country’s postal workers are made of stronger stuff than the people currently running Royal Mail. They won’t accept such an historic institution being turned into a gig economy employer.”
Huge anger and willingness to fight
Whilst the member meeting was online, the anger amongst the workers was palpable, with various commenters calling for a vote of no confidence in the Chief Executive of RMG, Simon Thompson, and some for all-out strike action until Christmas Eve. Across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, 25,000 tuned in and these were overwhelmingly rank-and-file CWU members.
After setting the story straight on Thompson’s latest round of lies about the union, which were circulated as an open letter to the workforce, a further 19 days of strike action in October and November were announced. There will be three all-out national strikes on 13th, 20th and 25th October, which will be followed by rolling action across RMG in November. In total, each member will be taking 9 days of strike action, which is a considerable escalation to the dispute. The strikes will also impact on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
There was an overwhelmingly positive reaction amongst the members who were tuned in to the meeting, with a general acceptance that they had no choice but to escalate the action. Some were even demanding an announcement for further strike dates in December, in the run-up to Christmas.
Role of Unite
Towards the end of the meeting, there were some veiled criticisms of Unite when RMG’s attempts to buy off scab managers were discussed. Scandalously, RMG is offering managers vouchers worth £150 and an extra day of annual leave if they are willing to break the strike and do the work of striking workers.
Most of the managers are Unite members, who were set to strike for 72 hours in July until being postponed to allow for negotiations to take place. Given the fact that the RMG bosses are intent on de-recognising the CWU, tearing up national agreements and ramping-up its attacks on the workforce, it makes no sense for Unite to stand on the sidelines.
The action announced by the CWU is a necessary escalation of the dispute. But Unite really must get building for action amongst its members, clearly oppose the divide and rule tactics of the RMG bosses and coordinate with the CWU. Such action, coordinated amongst CWU and Unite members, would likely bring the RMG bosses to their knees and strike a decisive blow in this dispute.
Coordinate and escalate – towards a general strike!
There will also be tens of thousands of other workers taking strike action over October and November. BT and Openreach workers, also part of the CWU, are engaged in an industrial battle around similar issues, while train drivers and workers on the railways will also be on strike.
Furthermore, unions in education and the NHS are currently balloting members over industrial action, meaning that the number of live disputes is likely to increase significantly. It is in this context that demands for a general strike are beginning to gain an echo, because workers in struggle are stronger when they take action together.
The leaderships of the unions involved in these disputes must work together and coordinate strike action, to cause the biggest impact possible. If the leaders aren’t prepared to organise this, then rank-and-file trade union members and activists will need to go round them and make plans to coordinate disputes on a national and local level, starting with local solidarity demonstrations and delegations to each other’s picket lines.
Solidarity with the CWU! Victory to all striking workers!