How the CWU shaped the manifesto and why members must back LabourNovember 29 2019
Postal workers like workers in many industries are currently on the front line of the attacks on terms and conditions. The world of work is rapidly changing but currently we are faced with what me and many of my colleagues believe is an existential threat from what will be, if we are not prepared to fight tooth and nail, a demise in workers’ rights to conditions akin to what you might see in a Dickens novel. Whilst the world rapidly transforms with advancing technology, higher demand for quick cash from shareholders and more companies fighting over the same market ground. Consumers may have more options, shareholders and company directors might rake in more profit. But it is the average person, the man or women who pays rent, collects the kids from school and goes to work every day of the week who is being left behind in this dog eat dog environment.
What we see is an increasing world of data capture, not just on a workers productivity but on an office plan overall. Demand on workers to work harder, faster and longer for less as well as a demand on junior managers to hire as little employees as possible hovering just above breaking point for a company to operate. And when it hits breaking point, workers are often expected to work past their paid hours for free to stop a sinking ship from capsizing by threat of dismissal or in the case of zero hour contract workers. Simply the end of the phone call inviting them to work each day. Data capture has seen Amazon workers having to urinate in plastic bottles so as not to trigger a productivity warning by taking the long walk to the toilets. It has seen Asda staff be forced to sign away their terms and conditions by threat of instant dismissal if they refuse. And it is seeing an increasing demand on delivery workers to what resemble slave labour conditions.
Royal Mail has long been recognised as a respectable employer in the UK. We enjoy terms and conditions above the industry standards. This is for 2 reasons. We had long been a public owned company operating as a service for the public, and we still have a trade union density of around 90% of the staff. Postal workers have made sacrifices throughout the years. Striking for periods in the past to ensure that their job remains one that provides for the family and pays the bills. Nothing is given by bosses. It’s earned through trust earned by the union and solidarity and community amongst workers. And after 500 years of this public service in October 2013. Royal Mail was sold by George Osbourne and the Conservatives. Undersold by 1 billion pounds according to a select report. In a continuation of Margaret Thatcher’s failed privatisation project which has become so ingrained on the national political narrative that it’s now deemed communism to undo these failed projects.
So it was inevitable in the eyes of posties that our terms and conditions would be under attack in a way never previously seen. Now that the emphasis to provide a public service had become an emphasis to increase shareholder profit. We feared rightly that no amount profit would be enough as the demand for success was renewed financial year after financial year. And as always in this world. Once the innovation proves not to be enough. The answer is to increase demand on staff until they are worked to breaking point and the company is run on a skeleton crew. Well in 2018 this union decided to take action and to cut a long story short, we were able to protect jobs in spite of a court injunction exploiting the unjust anti-trade union laws meaning that we were stopped from striking during the company’s biggest financial period. 89.1% voted to strike, to walk out with no pay in a show of defiance against the company plans. This meant we secured an agreement without a single day of strike action. It meant that when we stood together we were able to have our voices heard in a way that many rarely do today.
However fast forward 18 months and the then CEO left the company and a new man was brought in. He was bought in on his record of starting a parcel company which operates across Europe and has been investigated by multiple Panaroma style programmes for what they described as employment models which resembled ‘slave labour’. This man has already earnt a reputation from workers as another Mike Ashley and by his own colleagues as ‘Mr Greedy’ however in my opinion he is much worse than Ashley. He would never be seen on a football terrace proudly in a jersey as he prefers to keep a low profile never appearing in front of the workers or even the Unions negotiators.
He dictates the attacks on workers terms and conditions from a multi-million pound pad on Lake Geneva coming to the UK once a week and after a 5.7 million pound golden hello he rakes in nearly 3 million a year plus whatever other bonuses he might award himself off the back of these slave labour employment models. And his sights are set for Royal Mail now. Early indications warn of a loss a minimum of 20,000 British jobs if he is allowed to implement his plan however this union quickly geared itself with the armoury needed, after Royal Mail refused to take part in any meaningful negotiations with us. We balloted 110,000 members for industrial action and a record breaking 97.1% voted in favour of standing up. However this time the laws designed to cripple trade unions have been exploited to a whole new level. No sooner than a member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet came off the phone with secretive talks with our CEO did Royal Mail run to the high court with the weakest court case you had ever seen. It was claimed that members were bullied into voting yes for strike action. So you would assume that out of 110,000 members they must have had many complaints about this. However out of 110,000 members there were a total of ZERO complaints. Zero to the union, zero to Royal Mail and Zero to the independent watch dog which scrutinises trade unions. All evidence was presented in the Royal High courts of Justice by one senior director from Royal Mail and on the 13th of this month one judge accepted it and imposed an injunction on strike action. These laws are designed to cripple workers. To make sure that rich people hold power and it cannot be threatened no matter how unpopular their actions are.
So here we are, a general election which is apparently supposed to be about Brexit however for 20,000 postmen, for the thousands of nurses, teachers, firefighters and people living in poverty. This election is about every aspect of their lives. It’s about Jobs, it’s about schools, it’s about housing and it’s about our national health service.
For our trade union we cannot ignore the change Jeremy Corbyn wants to bring but more than that… Our trade union, the CWU has played a huge role in what this once in a lifetime, life changing manifesto looks like. From the renationalisation of Royal Mail, from the creation of the Postbank to the rolling out of super-fast fibre optic broadband to everyone. And to the destruction of these crippling anti-trade union laws which stop workers from being able to make a stand. Labour wants to introduce sector wide collective bargaining meaning that it doesn’t matter which delivery company you work in, you will have a decent minimum standards for everyone negotiated with trade unions. Labour wants to ban zero-hour contracts so that holiday, sick pay, paternity and maternity pay, remain a right. Also Labour will introduce a 20:1 pay ratio for all public sector jobs meaning companies will not be throwing unlimited amounts at bosses, and Royal Mails CEO could only pay himself £450,000. If he wants more he will have to pay his workforce more.
This really is the manifesto needed to kick start our economy with thousands of jobs created and tax for the super-rich just as the small business owner down the road has always paid his. This is a manifesto for the ordinary man in the street and not the people who want to call themselves patriotic without contributing to Britain through taxes. And this is a manifesto that the CWU is incredibly proud to be a part of.
We need this manifesto in Britain because what we are faced with otherwise is a continuation of the politics which is crippling communities. Imagine the NHS with even less cash. Imagine homelessness at an even higher level. Imagine the norm for workers everywhere being what we see in Amazon and Sports Direct. And imagine even more children growing up in poverty. These are all problems created by the kind of disaster capitalism that Boris Johnson wants to increase. But we can win this election if we all make sure that young people turn out. They are relying on us keeping our heads down but this is our future. By encouraging everyone we know to register to vote before the deadline on Tuesday. And by getting out and taking part in all your local labour initiatives designed to win this election. In spite of any court injunction the workers at Royal Mail are still as ready to fight as ever and will win the dispute in our industry because they know they are the many and united they will always defeat the few. But with Jeremy Corbyn in number 10 Downing Street working class people won’t just be stronger in the fight, they will thrive an be the driving force behind the economy now that the corporations have failed to be responsible in this role.