Industry matters: ‘Harmonious relations’ at the Royal Mail

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CWU fails to deliver ‘industrial stability’.

The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), after last year’s desultory PR campaign to try to keep the Royal Mail (RM) in public hands, eventually let privatisation go through with barely a murmur, hoping to negotiate a post-privatisation deal that would make the best of a bad job.

Regardless of the fact that speed-up, victimisation and management bullying were continuing to take their toll on staff morale, in December last year the CWU blithely signed up to something called the ‘Agenda for Growth, Stability and Long-Term Success’.

Royal Mail crowed that the agreement, “believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, includes legally-binding terms covering industrial stability and employee protections”. The company also declared that it would build “partnership and participation across the company”, with both parties working together “to develop and implement business strategies, respond to competitive challenges and develop new approaches to improve efficiency. There will also be joint Royal Mail/CWU training programmes to deliver industrial stability.”

And just in case this labour-capital love-in should ever prove detrimental to shareholder dividends, “Royal Mail also has the right to earlier termination of the protections in exceptional circumstances, such as a threat to the financial sustainability of the business.” Beginning as it meant to go on, Royal Mail elicited an undertaking that there would “be no disruption through industrial action during the ratification process of the Agreement, including the whole of the Christmas [2013] trading period”. (‘New deal agreed’, Royal Mail Courier, December 2013)

A year on, the ability of the CWU to maintain ‘industrial stability’ is being sorely tested. The recent sacking of a Portsmouth postman for refusing to carry out further duties after his shift was done made his workmates see red.

The man had 15 years of service, yet they simply kicked him out and threw his belongings after him. When this blatant injustice drove some 120 of his comrades to walk out in protest, the union stepped in, steering the sacked worker into the appeals process and persuading everyone to go back to work. (‘Royal Mail workers in Portsmouth take “wildcat” strike action’ by Michael Carr, Southern Daily Echo, 22 October 2014)

In another case, 80 postal workers went on strike for a day in Bridgwater after a female colleague was sacked over her sick record, despite mitigating factors. Everyone came back to work the next day after management waved the Agenda for Growth, assuring the staff that RM was “fully committed to the process of trying to resolve concerns of postal workers based in Bridgwater by following the national jointly-agreed framework with the CWU”. (‘Postal strikes in Weston-super-Mare and Bridgwater affect services’, BBC News Online, 17 August 2013)

In a third case, a postal worker in Plymouth was sacked because she had not been able to complete the delivery within the allotted time. Her co-workers walked out in sympathy, but the union soon steered them back to work again. (‘Plymouth postal workers walk out of work in support of suspended fellow worker’, Plymouth Herald, 27 October 2014)

What appears to be a series of isolated cases in fact builds into a pattern of intensified exploitation, with management demanding that workers handle a greater volume of deliveries than they can manage. Unable to cope, they either work beyond their shifts, doing unpaid overtime, or fail to complete the deliveries and so end up being disciplined.

The combined effect of all these pressures is to increase levels of stress-induced sickness, in turn leading to more disciplinary procedures. Driven to their wits’ end, workers’ patience snaps and they walk out. After a day or two, the union shepherds them back, and the whole process repeats itself.

Once a union embraces ‘partnership’ with the employer, the union’s whole reason for being dwindles to keeping the peace – or the ‘industrial stability’.

How the state snoops on workers

Ever since the blacklisting scandal in the construction industry blew up, there have been rumours that police collaborated with Ian Kerr’s ‘Consulting Agency’. Indeed, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) last year admitted that it was “likely that all special branches were involved in providing information”. (‘The police colluded in secret plan to blacklist 3,200 building workers’ by Daniel Boffey, Observer, 12 October 2013)

This view was denied by Detective Inspector Steve Craddock, who took a leading role in Operation Herne, an inquiry into the shady activities of undercover cops. Craddock maintained he had seen “no conclusive evidence” that Scotland Yard had pooled information with the blacklisters.

But now what everyone knew but could never prove has been dragged out into the light, with the leaking to the Observer of a document showing that, as recently as 2008, Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Mills, a senior officer in Scotland Yard’s National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (Netcu), was briefing members of Ian Kerr’s Consulting Association. (‘Police “covered up” links with union blacklisting’ by Daniel Boffey, 8 November 2014)

The leaked document, written by Kerr, contains minutes of a meeting between Mills and six representatives of construction companies, including Sir Robert McAlpine and Costain. Mills told the assembled captains of industry that Nectu was expanding and needed “to liaise with industry”. (Nectu has since been subsumed by the Met’s National Domestic Extremism Unit.)

An engineer who was blacklisted as a result of his work tackling health and safety problems on building sites, Dave Smith, told the Observer: “We have been saying for five-and-a half years that the state was involved in blacklisting and we have been told time and time again that is not true and been accused of being paranoid. It is a cover-up. We have a name of a senior police officer, not a rogue constable, who was meeting with them. There must be documentation held by the police and correspondence between the police and the association.”

Meanwhile, blacklisting is alive and kicking, as will be attested by the anti-blacklist campaigners who shut down the Carrington gas-fired power station under construction in Salford on 17 November because the contractors, DF Energy and Allston, were running a blacklist. In particular, the contractors stand accused of refusing to hire a local scaffolder because he is blacklisted as a Unite activist. (‘Campaigners shut down Carrington over bosses’ refusal to hire union activist by Peter Lazenby, Morning Star, 18 November 2014)

The struggle goes on.

Slave labour in Motherwell

The government’s latest ‘Big Society’ solution to unemployment – making claimants work for zero wages at various charities – is falling flat on its face as the charities themselves are baling from the scheme, fearful for their good reputation.

Charities turning their backs on this ‘Community Work Placements’ scam include Marie Curie, Sue Ryder, Barnado’s, Scope and the British Heart Foundation. The Department of Work and Pensions is trying to suppress information on where else people are being sent, for fear of scaring off other ‘third-sector’ would-be employers reluctant to be exposed as beneficiaries of slave labour.

John Arthur, an unemployed electronics specialist who was made redundant from his social enterprise job at LAMH Recycle in Motherwell, was astounded to be told by DWP that he had a choice: go back to the same firm and work for no pay, or see his dole suspended! For the past three months he has stood outside his works with a placard reading “Say no to slave labour”. (‘DWP orders man to work without pay for company that let him go’ by Shiv Malik,, 3 November 2014)

Slave labour in Qatar

Despite the international outcry that greeted last summer’s revelations about Nepalese construction workers in Qatar forced to work 14 hours a day in sweltering and unsanitary conditions, sometimes with no pay for months at a time, with an average death toll of one a day, migrant workers (on whom Qatar depends in the run-up to the World Cup) continue to suffer.

The Emir of Qatar told the world he felt “personally hurt” and hired a law firm to “investigate”. Yet migrant workers remain trapped in Qatar, thanks to the government’s use of exit permits to prevent exploited workers fleeing the country. This effectively treats workers wishing to terminate their employment as runaway slaves. (‘“World Cup slavery” is still rampant in Qatar’ by Tom Finn, Middle East Eye, 29 November 2014)

Greece: Communist leadership mobilises against unemployment

As we go to press, Greece’s communist oriented popular front PAME is gearing up for a mass strike on 27 November – part of a rolling campaign of protest about unemployment following on from a national rally of PAME in Athens on 1 November which pulled over 100,000 people onto Syntagma Square.

PAME reports that, even by conservative official figures, 30 percent of the general population is now unemployed, climbing to 50 percent of young people. What’s more, 800,000 have jobs yet have not been paid for months, whilst 300,000 have no social security.

Both the conservative/social democrat coalition government and the Trotskyite opposition are wedded to the EU and pretend that the future welfare of the workers must depend on the competitiveness of the Greek capitalists. PAME is stepping forward to give leadership, and workers are responding. The growing willingness of workers to fight back, given the necessary leadership, has been proven time and again by over 30 general strikes led by PAME over the past five years.

PAME’s jobless campaign focuses on bringing the unemployed closer to the unions, thereby strengthening the unions’ ability to “mobilise workers and unemployed against the common cause of their problems, but also for immediate measures for the protection of the unemployed”. (‘Greece: PAME escalates campaign against unemployment’,, 20 October 2014)

How imperialism infects the trade unions

The perils of trying to fight the good fight against capitalism at home whilst falling into imperialist traps abroad were in sad evidence in a recent statement on the Middle East issued by the FBU (Fire Brigades Union). The main theme of this statement was the repeated call for the British government to do something or other, serving only to obscure the fact that British imperialist meddling had already done far too much.

The statement avowed that: “We have no confidence in a US/British/French bombing campaign against IS”, but this caveat simply begs the question of what exactly the union is asking imperialism to do. The statement went on to demand “that governments (including the British government) act to prevent atrocities”, but gave no clue as to how this should in practice be done, other than by opening a “relief corridor” into and out of Turkey – a relief corridor policed by whom exactly, and allowing the infiltration across Syria’s borders of which forces? (‘FBU statement on Kobanî and the resistance to IS’,, October 2014)

In point of fact, the demand for a ‘relief corridor’ through northern Syria is an imperialist demand that its proxy armies should be given a ‘safe zone’ where they can collect their forces and terrorise the locals with impunity. And the porousness of Turkey’s border as far as jihadi mercenaries, weapons and supplies are concerned has been one of the major factors in prolonging the agony of the Syrian people and ensuring a continued high rate of atrocities against them.

Meanwhile, when Turkish President Erdogan yielded to pressure and opened up Turkey’s frontier to the passage of Kurds, supposedly to help the town of Kobanî (known to Syrian Arabs as Ayn Al-Arab) to defend itself against IS, he made quite sure to exclude members of the more militant, anti-imperialist sections of the Kurdish national movement.

Nowhere in the FBU’s lengthy statement was there any criticism of the ongoing violation of Syria’s sovereign territory by means of a proxy war engineered by imperialism. Yet it is this long-standing proxy war that has created the conditions for the suffering of all of Syria’s people, not least the Kurds themselves.

The right of the Kurds to self-determination is not an abstract question. It does not take precedence over all else, but must be judged in the wider context of the struggle against imperialism. If the FBU does not wish us to “passively fold our arms and do nothing in the face of a likely massacre”, as the statement puts it, then let it stand together with the Syrian Arab Army and all other patriotic forces defending the sovereignty of Syria against national oppression in a proxy war bought and paid for by the West.

And whilst we’re about it, let’s support the resistance forces mobilising against the militias deployed by the fascist junta in Kiev. When the RMT (Rail and Maritime Transport Union) submitted to this year’s TUC congress a motion in support of the anti-fascist resistance in Ukraine, the FBU’s Matt Wrack disgraced himself by objecting to the motion on the basis that it should also condemn Russia.

To be fair to the FBU, which has at least had the wisdom to disaffiliate from the Labour party, it hasn’t gone quite as badly wrong on Syria as TUC chief Frances O’Grady. In a letter to foreign secretary Philip Hammond, she called on the British government to put pressure on Turkey to relax border controls on the provision of (among other things) “military support”.

Bear in mind, this demand is being made of the same Turkey which – on behalf of its imperialist masters – has spent the last four years arming, training and supplying the very IS jihadis that have been butchering Syrian citizens for so long – including the Kurdish citizens of Syria. The hypocrisy of imperialism and its loyal labour aristocracy knows no bounds.

For firefighters battling to defend their pension rights, what exactly is going on in Ukraine or Syria may seem pretty low on the list of priorities right now. Yet the reason workers find it hard to achieve unity in the struggle against capitalism is precisely because of the unholy alliance of the labour-aristocrat leadership of the trade-union movement with British imperialism.

Supporting the anti-fascist resistance in Ukraine and supporting Syria against imperialist subversion is not about scoring ‘political correctness’ brownie points; it’s about breaking the link with Labour and social democracy, uniting with all those who are oppressed by our own ruling class, and changing the unions into real fighting organs of the class struggle.

>New Deal Agreed, The Royal Mail Newspaper – Courier

>Royal Mail workers in Portsmouth take wildcat strike action, Southern Daily Echo

>Postal strikes in Weston super Mare and Bridgewater affect services, BBC online

>Plymouth postal workers walk out of work in support of suspended fellow worker, The Plymouth Herald

>Police collude in secret plan to blacklist 3200 building workers, The Guardian

>Police cover up links with union blacklisting, The Guardian

>Blacklist protest hits power plant as union man denied work, The Morning Star

>DWP orders man to work without pay for company that let him go, The Guardian

>World Cup slavery is still rampant in Qatar, Middle East Eye

>PAME escalates Campaign against unemployment, World Federation of Trade Unions

>Statement on Kobane and the resistance to ISIS, Fire Brigade Union