Victory to the Posties!

October 21, 2009 at 10:24 pm (Champagne Charlie, unions, workers)

Tomorrow and Friday are the first two strike days for the CWU’s dispute. The Government and the employer are doing everything in their power to defeat this strike.
It is an enormous test for the union movement and solidarity will be
important.

For Unite members it is particularly important that we show support as many of our CMA  (Communication and Managers Association) members will be scabbing (and organising the scabbing).

This Thursday 22 October: nationwide mail centre staff and network drivers
(around 42,000 postal workers)

This Friday 23 October: nationwide delivery and collection staff (around
78,000 postal workers)

There will be picket lines at every sorting office from around 5.00am. It
would be great if there were groups of Unite members there with flags, etc.

Money is important as this dispute may be on for a long time. Collections
can taken to your local picket but there is also a National Hardship Fund:
c/o Tony Kearns, Senior Deputy General Secretary, CWU, 150 The Broadway,
Wimbledon SW19 1RX. Cheques payable to ‘Postal Workers Support Fund’. or by
transfer to Unity Trust Bank – account no: 20194129 – sort code: 08 60 01.
In London, money can be given to the London division hardship fund c/o CWU
LDC, Second floor, 33-41 Dallington Street, London EC1V 0BB. Unity trust
account 20232065 sort code 08 60 01.

A victory for the CWU will increase confidence for every worker facing
attacks on their jobs, terms and conditions.

Discussion within Unite:

Subject: : The Communication and Managers Association scabbing operation                                                                             

Postal workers up and down the country have made heroic sacrifices in the
last few months to stop the Royal Mail and this scabrous New Labour
government carving up the service and carving up their hard won conditions.
I believe that if we allow the CMA managers, members of our union, to
continue to organise what is now a well publicised major scabbing operation
without a serious attempt to bring them to book,  we will not only be
letting the CWU postal workers down badly we will be letting ourselves down
as well. IF THE BOSSES AND THIS GOVERNMENT MANAGE TO DEFEAT THE POSTAL
WORKERS WE WILL ALL PAY THE PENALTY.

***** *****’s main point is that as part of the old Amicus structure,
the CMA have been operating in this way for years without let or hindrance
and it is time it was stopped. Derek Simpson cannot be relied upon to take
on the task as he and his executive (with honourable exceptions) have
condoned it for years, and unless there is sufficient pressure brought to
bear on the executive it is likely that this do-nothing attitude will
continue, so I think the motion that is being proposed engages the branches
in bringing that pressure to bear and encourages them to mobilise in
support of the picket lines, organising solidarity rallies etc
I would like to conclude by saying that I think this matter is of such a
serious magnitude that it would be better debated at a meeting where all
the issues could be debated in a democratic manner, and an outcome reached
which we can all sign up to, and if we are talking about disciplining not
just individuals but a whole section of the union, I think it is important
enough to warrant calling such a meeting.

 
***************************************************************************

 

An article just published in the Times says the Royal Mail is now forcing
SMA members to scab on the CWU dispute. Up to now managers volunteered! <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6882940.ece>

 

Paul Reuter (Unite’s CMA national organiser) is quoted thus:

Mr Reuter said that although his members were expected to cross the picket
lines on Thursday and Friday, there was great sympathy with the CWU’s
concerns about Royal Mail management.

He said that Mr Higson’s letter to Royal Mail managers was an “unreasonable
instruction”, adding: “To force our members into such an invidious position
would be inappropriate and potentially dangerous. This unilateral action by
Royal Mail undermines its responsibilities.

“Our members have never had a problem in the past with covering other duties
but this is a veiled threat: if you do not do this you will be disciplined.
Mark Higson is only igniting the flames, not damping them down.”

Reuter seems to be conceding our members had volunteered to scab in the past
and is only complaining that it is now being made compulsory.

Why can’t we declare a dispute over the compulsion? We shouldn’t be seen to
condone scabbing.

It makes it more important that Unite members get to the picket lines this
week to show solidarity with the CWU.

 

******************************************************************************

Comrades

I was a member of the CMA previously (I worked for Royal Mail until they privatised the IT department 6 years ago) and can confirm that it is true that the scabbing has gone on for years, and has largely been unchallenged.  It has now reached a position where it can no longer be ignored, so it is great to see the debate kicking off.  I was also at an emergency branch meeting yesterday which was called to discuss the dispute (we have CMA members in our branch).  I can report from what is going on the ground in the big Royal Mail admin buildings in Chesterfield, and will throw in my own thoughts too.

There is definitely a high level of scabbing, with CMA members travelling to London mainly and lots of overnight hotel stays and overtime for some.  But there’s also also a high degree of anger at the orders from Royal Mail’s Higson that all management grades must scab 2 days per week as a minimum, and a degree of exasperation that the instructions coming from Paul Reuter have been far from clear and appear to sit Unite firmly on the fence.  This has to stop.  The letters from Reuter talk about ‘working normally’ and not doing anything to cause an inter-union dispute with the CWU, but fall very short of instructing members not to take on strike cover, or not to cross picket lines.  They say nothing about defending Unite members who do take a stand and refuse the scabbing duties, leaving those who do feel they want to resist isolated and scared.  I think the logic from Reuter (and no doubt the legal team who write his mealy-mouthed statements) must be – ‘they have scabbed in the past, they will scab in the future – we can’t challenge the members because we will not win the argument with most of them and if we issue instructions that they don’t like they will ignore us, so lets keep our heads down’.

Bullying has historically gone on to get a high level of “volunteering” uptake by management.  There are different levels of bullying in each area dependent upon the individual managers particular career aspirations – but I think it is fair to say that it is very widely spread. However those few members who have refused to take part in the scabbing have not been disciplined.  So it is clearly a certain amount of water testing by Royal Mail – and to create a 100% compliant management workforce.  Whilst I have no sympathy with anyone who lacks the backbone to say no to scabbing duties, it is an important point that Unite is failing the test of leadership in not doing all it can to prevent it, even some basic statements of trade unionism might be a start!

I think the letter from Higson to all managers is a gauntlet to Unite – Royal Mail knows that the scabbing operation is currently cosmetic in its effectiveness – it cannot shift the quantities of mail to maintain anywhere near a normal postal service, and is much more about the appearance of doing something to undermine the CWU.  It is also pushing Unite to be even more compliant than it has in the past – leaving it free to use it’s management in exactly how it wants with no union influence.  By accepting the logic of the current union position those Unite members who don’t want to scab are abandoned to the crazy priorities of a Royal Mail senior management bent on casualisation and privatisation – to be forced into doing work they are not trained for and undermining the effectiveness of the CWU action, and as a result prolonging the dispute.  Those members who are doing the scabbing are also left entirely unchallenged by the union – to our eternal shame.

***** is absolutely right that Reuter should declare a dispute over the compulsion action.  But it’s not as if there has been a lack of grounds over which to go into dispute – the 30,000 agency staff that Royal Mail has recruited includes a new layer of managers not organised by Unite despite past agreements; the bullying; the pensions issue; health and safety of getting untrained managers driving mail vans etc etc.  The stakes are high for the movement and Unite should start to create a strategy that rises to the challenge.  Royal Mail will likely look to remove CMA as well if it succeeds in it’s bid to smash the CWU.  Unite has to start acting and working much closer with CWU on this dispute as the impact of CWU losing will be catastrophic – even for most of the managers in CMA.  That’s another reason why we need to be seen to not condone the scabbing, and should back the CWU in any way we can.  Reuter, Simpson and Woodley and McCluskey should also get down to the picket lines as a start of a new direction that is so badly needed for Unite in the post.
 
==============================================================================

Comrades,

I agree with everything you say but saying “something must be done” is not
the same as doing something.

The problem of organised anti union activity as a career move by union
members is not confined to CMA or to the ex-Amicus membership in our
union. All the major bus companies use ex-T&G, Unite members to scab and
to organise scabs. This activity is not confined to “wartime” conditions.
These people who are active members of our union see a large part of their
day to day role as undermining union organisation in the workplace. They
rationalise this and consider themselves to be good “representatives” of
their grades protecting their members from “bullying” by stewards. We
saw a fair bit of that at Gatwick

What can we do?

We need to ensure that we do not have “white collar and supervisory
grades” in different Sectors from other workers in the same workplace, we
organise industrially. That is not to say that we don’t have proper levels
of industrial autonomy for different grades and trades in a workplace or
industry. We have failed to do this well enough and we must
reassign some members.

In order to take action against lay members we need a disciplinary
procedure to do it.

We do not have one. We need to put one in place and have failed to
do it. If we are not able to put a disciplinary process in place at the next EC we will just have to tolerate the presence of all sorts of scabs and bastards in our union.

As the CMA is the only bit of the Royal Mail that we have members in we
don’t have an obvious sector for it to go in. It was originally assigned
to IT and Communications, but eventually located in APMS. The Sector
which should be exercising control of the industrial agenda for this group
in the same way as among the other workers they represent has not met.
Nor have any of the others because we have allowed the timetable to slip.
Why is this? The EC is too big to operate properly and there are genuine problems with locating appropriate sectors for some workers. etc.

Questions.
Is it appropriate for Unite to be the industrial organisation for the
supervisory and managerial grades in the postal industry? Can we
represent them as workers against their employers?
If no, we should not have them in our union.
If yes, we have more questions.
Is the CMA as currently constituted the best way of organising them as
workers against their employer?
If no. What structures should we have?
If yes, we are all scabs.

As the Royal Mail strike is kicking off we will not be able to sort out
these problems at our leisure, whilst attempting to do all the
organisational things we must also make sure that the immediate solidarity
work is done.

We need a visible Unite presence,(flags placards etc) on picket lines and
on demos supporting the strike. We need the leadership to publicly declare our
support, hand over cheques and slag off scabs. We need to encourage and
assist the CWU in gathering evidence against identified managers so we can
apply disciplinary sanctions (if we have agreed them in time) in unite.

I agree that the debate should be conducted in a comradely and civilised
manner, but that is not the same as never saying that people are wrong, or
pointing out what that saying we want something is not the same as
organising to get it, and organising to get it is not the same as getting
it. Among the many reasons we have failed to get a proper grip of this
whole issue is a polite reluctance to tell each other when we are wrong.

6 Comments

  1. Jenny said,

    Can I just add that another blog blamed all this on the EU?

  2. Jim Denham said,

    Oh, how predictable! Just for the record, who are these idiots?

  3. Jenny said,

    Er, I’d rather not say, he’s a good fella. But erm, could be so kind as to give a counterpoint? His argument is basically that the EU privatised the post office and ended their monopolizing. But then another commenter said it wasn’t the same thing.

    Well……….all right, here’s the short piece: http://cloggie.org/wissewords2/2009/10/23/the-eus-role-in-the-british-postal-strike/#comments

    Just please, please, please, for the love of every deity, don’t slander the guy. I think this is just a difference of opinion.

  4. Jim Denham said,

    Thanks, Jenny, for that link. I’ve no intention of “slandering the guy”; I’m sure he means well… but this sort of rubbish…

    ” The decision to end the post office’s monopoly and (part-)privatise the mail service is not something New Labour thought up on its own –though they’re obviously not against the idea– it’s been an EU directive to “liberalise” the postal markets for years.”

    …must be challenged: the reason for the part-privatisation is *not* Europe…it *is* New Labour, and to suggest otherwise is to miseducate and m islead working class people. Thereare some very simple questions that need to be asked of the anti-EU nutters who seek to blame everything on “Europe” and demand the withdrawal of the UK:

    1/ Do you seriously think that the UK outside of the EU would be a *more* progessive, trade union-friendly place than it is now?

    2/ Do you seriously think that New Labour’s privatisation agenda has been forced upon the poor dears by the nasty Eureocrats? Or do you think Blair, Mandelson and Brown might just possibly have been up for it in the first place, without the need for any encouragement from Europe?

    3/ If you think this, that or the other progressive policy in the UK would be struck down by Europe, then why not simply advocate that a progressive UK government just goes ahead anyway – and lets the EU decide what (if anything) they’ll do in response? Why is it necessary to have withdrawal from the EU first?

    I have *never* had coherent answers from the anti-EU brigade to any of the above questions.

  5. Jenny said,

    Hm, good points there, I don’t know shite about current UK politics, but yeah, it’s a thing to consider.

  6. Martin Wisse said,

    Actually Jim, the role of the EU in these “liberalisation”/privatisation debates is fairly uncontroversial. As you say, it’s not the case of evil eurocrats forcing anything on anybody, as it has been neoliberal governments creating EU regulation and treaty obligations to be used to force their own desires through. The postal market is one example of it, another one was the “deregulation” of public transport, which here in the Netherlands almost meant the Amsterdam city owned public transport company had to be privatised. Luckily in that case internal resistance was string enough loopholes were found to prevent this.

    The EU in its current incarnation is a tool of capitalism, used by neoliberal governments to overcome opposition in their own countries. EU laws, regulation and treaties lay the framework within which e.g. the part-privatisation of the post office can be made inevitable, and often it is too late once these issues surface on a national level. One of the few unions to understand this have been the dock workers fighting against deregulation on an European scale, pressuring both their national governments as well as Brussels.

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