The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is on the offensive against multiple employers this month, taking the fight to the bosses in both BT Group and Royal Mail.
Should CWU members move to strike, both disputes could see thousands of workers come out across the country in defence of their living standards.
This follows on from the union’s annual conference in May, where the decision to call strike ballots was overwhelmingly supported by delegates. Workplace meetings and online rallies then ensued to rally the rank and file behind votes in favour of industrial action.
Now, workers in these important sectors are ready to go into battle.
Battle in BT
In BT Group (which includes BT, Openreach, and EE), CWU members overwhelmingly voted to strike across both Openreach and BT, with 95.8% and 91.5% saying Yes to action, respectively, on turnouts of 74.8% and 58.2%.
This is a huge mandate for strike action across the telecommunications conglomerate. This means that 30,000 Openreach engineers and 9,000 BT call-centre workers could potentially walk out in a fight over pay, following the rejection of a measly £1,200 a year increase.
This below-inflation offer was made despite BT Group CEO Phillip Jensen receiving a 32% pay rise this year, raking in £3.46 million. Such hypocrisy is not lost on the workers.
Unfortunately, the ballot narrowly failed to meet the anti-trade union threshold of 50% in EE – the third arm of BT group – by just eight votes.
“The bitter irony,” commented CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr, “is that, had we legally been allowed to issue ballot papers to the hundreds in EE who joined the union during the course of the ballot, we’d have comfortably exceeded that threshold.”
This is a clear example of how, when unions start to fight for their members, unorganised workers will become galvanised and pour into their ranks.
Despite this, the result in BT could still see almost 40,000 workers on strike in BT Group, disrupting phone and internet networks nationally.
Royal Mail revolt
At the end of June, CWU also launched a ballot of up to 115,000 workers in Royal Mail, the results of which are set to be announced on 19 July.
This is the second time in recent years the union has moved to ballot Royal Mail workers nationally. Last time, in 2019, the company won a High Court injunction to block the strike, following a successful ballot.
Like in BT Group, this is also a pay dispute, due to a disgraceful 2% pay offer made to the posties by Royal Mail bosses. Again, this is even more outrageous given that CEO Simon Thompson has received a tidy £140,000 bonus on top of his £753,000 annual salary and benefits.
Workers at depots across the country have joined large gate meetings to show support for a Yes vote in this ballot.
A strike by these workers will shut down the country’s postal service; yet another national strike that will cause major disruption to a key part of the UK economy, similar to the recent RMT strike.
Unite and fight
These disputes are part of a pandemic of class struggle sweeping across Britain, as workers move into action to defend their living standards from the bosses’ onslaught.
This is only going to continue to intensify, as both the economic situation worsens and striking workers inspire others to do the same.
This situation has also put pressure on the trade union leaders to come out fighting. Dave Ward, CWU general secretary, even recently commented on LBC saying: “I wouldn’t rule out a general strike – that’s the point we have reached.”
The CWU’s militant approach – fighting on multiple fronts in national disputes – is welcome. The task now is to link up all these struggles, coordinating action across companies and across the unions to maximise their impact.
The CWU and other left-led unions should play a leading role in doing this.
Britain is heading for recession. The government is imploding. And the capitalists are in a state of panic. The trade union movement must seize this opportunity to strike together to boot out the Tories – and the decrepit capitalist system they represent.