Last week, from 24-29 April, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) held its latest annual conference in Bournemouth.
The conference was attended by 700 delegates from across the country, representing 200,000 workers from postal, telecom, mobile, administrative, and financial companies – some of the biggest businesses in the UK, in some of the most important sectors.
This was the union’s first conference since 2019: before the pandemic, and before the cost-of-living crisis.
As a result, a running theme throughout the debates and discussions was: how can – and should – the CWU face up to the challenges its members face?
The answer given by delegates was: through militant action!
There was a clear mood of anger on the conference floor. In conversations with fellow delegates, the same topic came up again and again: workers are worried about the severe squeeze on their living standards.
Members were especially bitter towards the contrast between the attacks on their pay and conditions, and the profit that the bosses are making, who have been acting like pigs at the trough.
Royal Mail, for example, has been rolling in it, paying out £400 million to its shareholders in 2021.
Despite this, just one week before the conference, the postal company offered its employees a meagre 2% pay rise – in effect a massive pay cut, given runaway inflation.
This miserly offer also comes with strings attached: compulsory Sunday working; a cut to sick pay; and a slashing of other conditions.
Such a proposal is a slap in the face for posties who, as key workers, went to heroic lengths throughout the pandemic to ensure that letters and parcels were delivered, all at great risk to their health. They are the source of all the company’s profits.
Just a few days before the conference began, CWU members at Royal Mail rightly rejected the bosses’ insulting pay offer.
At the conference itself, an emergency motion was passed that gave the company a week to come back with a proper pay rise, with no-strings attached; otherwise, the union’s 115,000 members in Royal Mail will move to a formal dispute and ballot for industrial action.
Socialist Appeal supporters have been at the CWU's national conference this week ✊— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) April 27, 2022
This afternoon, the conference passed an emergency motion that unless Royal Mail offer a real pay rise by the end of next week, the union will move to ballot 115,000 members Royal Mail workers pic.twitter.com/OoXlH4X6zy
“Unbelievable degree of emotion, anger, and disappointment,” stated Terry Pullinger, the CWU deputy general secretary for the postal sector, in summing up the debate on this motion.
It has now been a week since the conference, and talks with Royal Mail have broken down. And so the CWU, reportedly, will be giving notice to ballot members for action within the next few weeks.
Postal workers will therefore have the opportunity to channel their anger into a militant fight back.
But Royal Mail wasn’t the only company to be put on notice by members at this year’s CWU conference.
Other motions passed – at the Telecoms & Financial Services sectoral conference, which took place at the end of the week – saw workers at BT Group rejecting a pathetic £1,200 per year pay rise.
As a result, the union, which has members across BT, EE, and Openreach (all included under BT Group), is set to ballot its members for industrial action as soon as possible.
These companies are “making massive profits”, noted CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr, “and the workers who create that profit for them are in serious need of a massive pay rise”.
One delegate – Miranda Stevenson from Tyne & Wear – ‘thanked’ BT for providing the union with “400 new members to date this year”, showing how previously unorganised workers are joining the union in order to defend their conditions.
The conference also came just prior to a strike of almost 2,000 Post Office workers at 114 Crown Post Offices across the country, who walked out on 3 May following a rejection of a 2% pay rise.
CWU members are clearly ready and willing to take action at this time of capitalist crisis, in order to defend our interests against the bosses’ onslaught.
By organising and mobilising, we are showing the way forward for others. Militant industrial action is needed to show the bosses that we will not take their attacks lying down.
Our union organises workers in key sectors of the country’s infrastructure. We are an integral part of the economy, and of society. If our strength was combined with that of workers across the trade union movement, we would be unstoppable.
In this time of deepening crisis and sharp attacks on the working class, we need our leaders to step up to the plate: to fight against the bosses and their system; and to fight for a clear socialist programme of nationalisation and workers’ control – of Royal Mail, the telecoms giants, the banks, and all the other monopolies that are currently profiting at our expense.