Thank you for this opportunity to address your AGM. I want to makes some observations on the political situation, the unions work on organising, and our work on proportionality.
This year is dominated by the General Election. It looks as though Labour is on course to replace the Coalition Government.
But, if the current political situation in Scotland remains unchanged, then Labour is unlikely to achieve an overall majority.
At the start of February Lord Ashcroft’s poll of 16 Labour held constituencies in Scotland indicated that the SNP was ahead in 15.
Although this was a snapshot the Scottish Labour Party has an enormous task to turn this around before May 7th.
Doubtless there will be many different interpretations of the referendum campaign and its outcome.
But it does appear that the biggest impact upon Labour’s electoral standing has been the decision of the leadership to support austerity.
In 2012, in opinion polls, Labour was scoring 10 points ahead of the Tories.
In 2013 the Labour leadership endorsed economic austerity. This has been explained as tempered by a fairer approach than the Coalition.
Probably true. But working with comparable spending limits leads to comparable cuts in public services.
This was a disappointment, and a blow to Labour’s standing in the polls. The SNP and the Greens have benefited from Labour voters deciding to support a party that opposes austerity.
There is a simple answer for the Labour Party, and for Scottish Labour – drop the failed austerity policy.
An incoming Labour government needs to invest in the economy. This will stimulate and sustain economic growth.
We need a recovery that increases quality jobs. This week we learnt that the number of zero-hour contracts has risen to 1.8 million. Wages and benefits must be lifted to raise living standards.
When they do more tax revenues go to the Chancellor from both employers and workers. Full employment reduces welfare spending. This means the public spending deficit closes.
Rejecting austerity is popular, because it is right.
YouGov published a poll in January of people who were described as swing Labour voters – they’ve not yet made up their minds, but they haven’t ruled out voting Labour.
57 percent said they would prefer a Labour Party that:
* commits to spend more money on the NHS and other public services and does not make the deficit a priority.
51 percent said they would prefer a Labour Party that:
* is less subservient to the USA, does not get involved in American wars and instead is more positive about Britain’s role in Europe.
And finally, 56 percent said they would prefer a Labour Party that:
* does more to stand up to big business, supported ordinary people against over powerful corporations.
So, swing voters prefer a leftist Labour Party over a Blairite one.
It is important that we both elect a Labour government, and keep pressing for change in the economic policy.
Despite this, there is much in Labour’s campaign which we can support. Last year at the National Policy Forum, and Labour Party Conference, the Labour leadership committed to a range of policies that the CWU and other unions argued for.
- Closing the loophole in agency workers rights
- Making superfast broadband available to all parts of the UK
- Using government contracts to spread the payment of the Living Wage
- Abolition of exploitative zero-hour contracts
- Increased public reporting on equal pay to address the gender pay gap
- Additional resources to the Gangmaster Licensing Authority to ensure recruitment firms comply with employment standards
- Support for an international Financial Transaction Tax – also known as the Robin Hood Tax
- Full engagement by the British Government in the Irish Peace Process
- Equality and justice for the Palestinians.
These are commitment that the CWU was directly involved in securing. In addition, and of particular interest to branch members will be the commitment we secured on Royal Mail.
- a recognition that privatisation was wrong in principle
- a commitment not to sell the 30 percent shares still in public ownership
- support for a staff led trust for the 10 percent staff share
- ruling nothing out, an examination of the privatisation process, and its impact on the workforce
- secure the USO for the next Parliament and foreseeable future
- ensure delivery competition does not undermine the USO by introducing protection for Royal Mail from cherry picking
- protect the post office network by pushing for a substantial extension of the Inter-Business Agreement between Royal Mail and POL
- establish a suitable price control
- investigate whether competition is creating the need for protection against deteriorating conditions in employment and remuneration for the postal workforce.
That is a good set of commitments from an incoming Labour Government. We will have to provide appropriate lobbying to ensure that they are delivered.
Labour Conference – as you probably know – had previously agreed with the union that Royal Mail should be renationalised.
We do not have that agreement from the Labour leadership, but it remains our policy and we will continue to pursue in an appropriate manner.
The communications sector as a whole is changing and we are having to change the manner in which we approach organising as a union.
Royal Mail is changing fast. But then, so too is the whole post and courier sector. Parcels and courier deliveries have been highly competitive for many years.
Recently we’ve seen Whistl launch a competitive letter delivery service in a number of cities.
Overall the total number of jobs in the whole industry is about the same as 10 years ago.
But now Royal Mail represents a smaller part of the industry.
This has an impact upon the union’s bargaining position.
There are around 150,000 nonunionised workers in the Post and Courier sector.
That means only around 50 percent of post and courier workers are in a union.
CWU members, covered by collective agreements, have better terms and conditions than nonunionised workers.
Yet firms without a union exert downward pressure on your terms and conditions.
This is because Royal Mail shareholders, and the regulator, draw comparisons between Royal Mail’s wages bill and those of the competitors.
The gap can be very large. Whistl workers are supposed to be unionised by Community.
When you look at the condition of Whistl workers you have to question what coverage Community actually has achieved.
According to figures Whistl provided to the House of Commons BIS Select Committee, they currently employ 48 percent of their staff on zero hour contracts.
The basic wage of a Whistl delivery worker in Inner London is £7.37 a hour. That is well below the London Living Wage of £9.15,
A Royal Mail delivery worker in Inner London has an hourly rate of £12.35.
So the union has to develop a way of overcoming the weakening of its bargaining position.
In future, we must spend much more time organising in other post and courier firms.
In future, we must make a serious drive to establish minimum terms and conditions for the whole sector. This starts with the Living Wage.
We must organise and campaign to ensure that every post and courier company pays the Living Wage.
This is mostly a task of directly organising in the industry. But we must also seek protective legislation from an incoming Labour Government.
I noticed that the Scottish TUC is in disagreement with the SNP on the delay on the introduction of statutory Scottish Government Guidance on the Living Wage.
The idea is for the inclusion of a legal commitment that anyone delivering services to the Scottish government has to pay the Living Wage.
The SNP is missing a trick, given the contribution that government can make to promote living wage through contract compliance.
Now, the union has been engaged in an extended reform to try and achieve a more proportional leadership.
By this, we mean a leadership that more closely represents the actual make up of the membership – particularly the proportion of women and members of ethnic minority communities.
We are making progress on this. The NEC has a number of rule changes going to conference to improve this at the national and regional level.
One proposal is to seat all the chairs of the equality advisory committees at the NEC.
Equally, the NEC is proposing to introduce a reserved seat for women amongst the three principal officers in each region.
These are small steps to take – but each one helps to overcome the under-representation of women and black and minority ethnic members in leading positions.
We want every branch to become more conscious of these issues, and ensure an improvement in the balance of branch leadership. In general, branches are responding positively to this.
The vast majority of union activists recognise that the make-up of the workforce is changing, and that the union must adapt to this too.
87 percent of the new jobs created in Scotland in the past two years have gone to women.
The Scotland No2 Branch has a membership of 3240.
440 of your members are women – that’s one in seven members of your branch.
We don’t have full details of the ethnic origins of the membership. In Scotland No 2, we only have records of the ethnicity of 1429 members.
We are preparing the full UK wide census of the membership from CWU headquarters. We need to encourage all members to provide these details.
Of your Branch members who have provided details, we know that 54 are from black and ethnic minorities.
That means around four percent of your branch members are from ethnic minorities.
These details matter. The more the union leadership reflects the diverse membership of the members, the stronger the union is for everyone.
By way of interest, 215 branch members are under 30 years old – that is around seven percent.
You have 129 retired members – that is around four percent.
We have very little information on disability – only 3 branch members defined themselves as having a disability.
As I said, we are looking at ways to carry out a membership census. Such information will contribute to refining and improving our policy and representation.
I am happy to answer questions on any matters I’ve raised, or haven’t raised.
Thanks for listening.