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CWU's link with Labour hotly debated

 

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) conference met from 8-13 June, under the threat of huge attacks on its industries and its members.

 

In telecommunications, BT wants to renegotiate pensions by September, jobs are increasingly threatened by 'offshoring'. Pay and an increasingly harsh management style are also growing problems.

 

But it is in the postal sector that the union faces a huge battle. The entire post office network is under threat, with one in three delivery offices threatened with closure.

 

The government and Postcomm, the 'independent regulator', opened up the British postal market before other countries. The cherry picking of services and asset-stripping by private companies has led to a race to the bottom and an unsustainable position for the Post Office and Royal Mail.

 

The union had already agreed to ballot members for industrial action over the company's imposition of pension reforms. This will be expanded to include other aspects of Royal Mail's wrecking plan. The CWU faces a crucial six months to fight back against the ruin of the post office.

 

There is anger and shock that a Labour government is presiding over these attacks on public services and their workers. In 2007 the union agreed: "...that unless the union achieves the removal of Postcomm in its current form and the protection of the post office network by June 2008 then a ballot of the membership will take place on whether the union should contribute future monies to the Labour Party."

 

Since that conference, the union was forced into a major strike against company attacks. The government has voted to close 2,600 more sub-post offices, and scores of Crown (city centre) post offices have been closed in a short-term asset-stripping exercise.

 

Now, at the end of May, the same Postcomm and Royal Mail management submits privatisation of Royal Mail to the Hooper Review of postal services!

 

Emergency motion

An emergency proposal instructed the union's national executive (NEC): "to launch an immediate unprecedented campaign... to maintain Royal Mail as a 100% publicly owned company. To apply pressure on the government to force them... to protect and maintain the final salary pension scheme... (and) protect the post office counter network."

 

"If the government fails to agree to the full terms of this motion by March 2009 then the CWU membership will be balloted on whether they believe the union should fund the Labour Party at the next general election."

 

Moving the motion, London divisional rep Martin Walsh talked of the post office being "under the greatest threat it's ever been." He said the union must "use the link (to Labour) or lose it."

 

The following day a proposal, resolution 101, from Coventry to "...end funding of the Labour Party and to campaign for a new workers' party" was on the agenda.

 

But as well as expressing their anger with Labour, a series of speakers, including general secretary Billy Hayes and deputy general secretary Dave Ward, used the first debate to oppose that resolution. They argued that carrying it would undermine the emergency resolution that was preparing the union for battle.

 

Before Judy Griffiths moved 101, it had already had six speeches against!

The proposal created a heated debate but was overwhelmingly defeated.

Delegates clearly hoped to try to exert any remaining influence with Labour to stop the destruction of the post office, and felt disaffiliation would undermine that tactic.

 

Billy Hayes spoke again, asking delegates not to be pessimistic given a publicly owned post office was in Labour's manifesto, and he referred to the Hooper review into the effects of 'liberalisation' as "our review".

He pointed to splits in the Scottish Socialist Party and Respect, while other delegates said it could be 40 years before a new workers' party was in government.

 

Some claimed that disaffiliation would force the CWU into the political wilderness and that Tory leader David Cameron would welcome disaffiliation.

 

Many delegates hoped against hope they can pressure Labour to stop the ruin of their industry and jobs.

 

They don't see how remaining silent about New Labour's Tory policies is helping, but at this point they do not see a viable political alternative.

 

But the pressure is unmistakeable and the 'elephant in the room' was that, if put to a ballot, it is extremely likely that communication workers would vote to end the link with Labour. The NEC themselves spoke of limiting spending on Labour to the "minimum necessary".

 

Referring to the unacted-on threat to cut funding over Postcomm last year, delegates complained: "It's not a threat if you don't do anything". The terms of the emergency motion to defend the postal service will need to be energetically pursued until March 2009.

 

The conference also overwhelmingly passed a motion that called on the TUC to organise a national demonstration to oppose spreading NHS privatisation.

 

At the rules conference, NEC-led rule changes that would diminish democracy in the CWU were consistently rejected.

 

 

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