“Your mission is to stand up”, Turner tells CWU

Union Matters

CWU members were encouraged to “fight the good fight” by American socialist leader Nina Turner at conference today.

The prominent American politician and former Bernie Sanders campaign organiser flew out to Bournemouth to address delegates.

Introducing Turner, general secretary Dave Ward described how in the past few years, he has come to know her as someone “who really understands how you can connect political and industrial work.

“Some people prefer to do one or the other, but the answer of how you take working-class people forward is that you have to do both.”

Opening up her speech, Turner referenced the footage she had seen from America of disgraced Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson’s many media gaffes during the 2022-23 postal workers’ dispute.

Laughing while referring to Thompson being caught reading lines from a whiteboard during a breakfast television interview, she said: “He didn’t even know what he was talking about – he didn’t even have conviction in his bullshit”, adding that figures such as Dave Ward don’t need a whiteboard since they have conviction.

Addressing delegates over their recent fights, she congratulated them over their fight in the 2022 “strike wave”, while also reflecting that “these things are going on in America – that people from all backgrounds, walks of life, ideologies, political beliefs – whether they are here in the UK or in the USA, South America, the continent of Africa”, are all fighting the same cause in a “global struggle”.

Quoting the legendary African American trade union leader A. Philip Randolph, who said that trade unions are a “haven for the dispossessed, the despised, the neglected, the downtrodden and the poor”,  she urged members to “not lose sight of what your fundamental task is.

“You stand in the ready position, just as your foremothers and forefathers who were in support of unions stood in the ready position.

“We fight against corporate forces that do not want people like you or people like me to live a good life.”

Randolph’s quote, to Turner, was “the essence of trade unions and the naked truth.”

“You’ve got to hold political power accountable.”

Turner also said that the subsequent election will mean that the CWU will be “uniquely positioned” to “hold Labour to account and take them to demand for what is just and right.”

Summarising, she said: “your mission is to stand up – and fight the good fight.

“We who stand on the side of justice must constantly make sacrifices for that justice – I know it is not pleasant but it is real.

“Evil never sleeps, so good can never take a vacation.

“Be the real force – hold politicians to account – because their job should be to work for your interests not for theirs.”

Telling delegates about the “three bones” her grandmother said you needed – the wish bone, the jaw bone, and the back bone – she said that while all are needed, the back bone was the most important.

“That back bone will keep you standing through your trials and tribulations.

“In this life we are going to go through stuff, we need people with back bones who in adversity will not bend or be moved.”

“That is what the CWU is about – it is about having a backbone in the face of adversity.”

Following her speech, outgoing president Karen Rose said that her speech was “the most energetic this conference have ever had”, while Dave Ward returned to pledge to Nina that the union will “continue to work with you” in fighting global injustice.

Farewell, Brother Joyce

Delegates also gave a standing ovation to Dave Joyce, who at the age of 70 is standing down as the union’s national health and safety officer after 21 years in the role.

Movingly describing the dreadful conditions experienced by his mother and father – a garment worker in London’s East End and a subway inspector respectively – Joyce described their fight to improve their working lives under the threat of death or blacklisting, which inspired him all his life.

As well as the voluminous number of health and safety awards the union achieved under him, Joyce also referred to the major victories that have changed the face of work for our members – victories borne of campaigns he had pushed on.

Before Joyce began his campaigning on the issue, workers in Britain didn’t have any more legal right to protection against dog attacks while working inside private property than trespassers or burglers.

But it was Joyce’s intervention with the Tory-led government that forced David Cameron to give workers protection in the 2014 Dangerous Dogs Act.

He reminded delegates, “postal workers – as well as BT workers – are now protected against dog attacks on private property while in the course of their duty.

“It’s a protection which applies to workers in every field and changed UK legal history.”

Joyce also forced the government to introduce minimum height standards on letter boxes in newly-built housing, as a way of preserving postal workers’ physical health on the job.

Saying goodbye to delegates in what will be his last conference as an officer, he said: “Carry on the work.

“We’re going through rough waters but we’re on the right course.”

In parting words following the standing ovation to Joyce, Dave Ward saluted him, saying: “Dave’s got such a passion – if only you could bottle that passion and give it out.

“I’ve often told him – on health and safety grounds! – to slow down, but he never listened.

“Dave, your energy is unreal and if only every single person worked as hard as you – we’re sorry to see you go.”


Today’s conference day was related to rules-based motions, in which each of the various decisions taken yesterday were formalised into the rule book.

Some matters took up further debate, but all motions approved by delegates instructed the NEC to take action on a wide array of constitutional matters. Several issues were discussed on an in-camera basis, due to their sensitivity and confidentiality.

The final motions approved by delegates authorised leadership to submit special strategic reports to relevant conferences, with these being open to amendment from branches, regions and any other relevant bodies.