Speech: Greek Postal Congress, Rhodes

I want to thank you for the privilege of addressing your conference.

These past few years we have watched with great concern the struggle of the people in Greece to deal with austerity.

Many people in the labour movement in Britain have been inspired by your defence of your basic rights and living standards.

I bring you best wishes from the CWU in this continuing fight.

The CWU in Britain has been campaigning against privatisation since the early 1990’s.

During this period, the CWU’s campaign has resulted in the defeat of 2 Parliamentary Bills in 1994 and 2009; the defeat of a management lobby for privatisation from 2004 – 2007; and the failure of other less public attempts to privatise the industry.

Last year, the Conservative-led Coalition Government succeeded in selling 60 percent of Royal Mail on the London Stock Exchange.

Obviously this was a great disappointment.

The union had been on campaign alert when the Coalition was elected in 2010.

Following a Government announcement, we commenced our campaign from 2011, which ran the Government very close.

The Government majority in Parliament proved too strong for the union to defeat the 2011 Act authorising a sale – they had a majority of 85 at the time.

But the strength of our campaign threatened to wreck the sale.

In 2013, we were utilising three main tactics:

  • continuing to engage with the government,
  • organising a political campaign against any sale
  • negotiating with the employer to secure protection for postal workers in the event of a sale.

We were meeting with government ministers regularly.  There were few concessions, but it did allow us to understand the issues better. This in turn allowed us to sharpen up our anti-privatisation work.

Our political campaign involved some distinct tactics.

We became part of an alliance of organisations in the “Save Our Royal Mail” campaign.

They could present the arguments free from the accusation that the union faced of being a “vested interest”.

At the same time the union took its independent political initiatives.  This was particularly true inside the Labour Party.

As the official Opposition to the Coalition Government, Labour could raise matters before a wide audience and really press the government.

So we discussed many tactics and policies which wouldn’t stop privatisation, but could secure the industry, and our members, in the event of privatisation.

This approach came to a head when we put forward a motion to Labour’s Annual Conference that an incoming Labour Government should renationalise Royal Mail in the event of a sale being carried through.

This was carried unanimously by delegates.

This position wasn’t supported by the Labour leadership, which didn’t come as a surprise to us.

At the same time, we were trying to negotiate a new pay and staffing agreement.

In order to carry this through, we had to organise a strike ballot. After an intense campaign, the membership voted for strike action with a 78% majority on a 64% turnout.

With this result management began to negotiate very seriously. The result also seriously rattled the Government. They could see a dangerous combination of our political initiatives alongside a campaign of strike action.

The Government therefore took the gamble, rather than risk them missing the tight timescale it had to set for privatisation.

On 11th October 2013, the shares were sold below their value.

The sale achieved £1.98 billion. The market immediately understood the shares were cheap and valued them at over £3 billion.

The scandal around this has continued for some time.

Earlier this year, the National Audit Office revealed that the Government sales strategy had failed in a number of ways.

These included:

  • the shares were sold nearly half their real value
  • investors that the Government had given priority to as long-term investors sold off shares within weeks at a huge profit
  • financial advisers to the Government did not defend the interests of the general taxpayers in the country.

So, even though successfully selling the company, the Government still paid a price for their unpopular policy.

We had hoped that a combination of political campaigns and a strike would defeat the sale. But this could not overcome the market’s rush for cheap assets.  The sale was oversubscribed 25 times.

Once the sale went through, Management were keen to settle down industrial relations.

Consequently, they made major concessions and came to an agreement with the union.

The agreement was very innovative – giving the workforce legal guarantees on its existing terms.  The agreement includes:

  • a 9.8% increase in pay over a three-year period
  • guarantees against outsourcing, selling or transferring any part of the business
  • no franchising out any part of the business
  • no introduction of self-employment
  • no two-tier workforce – new employees take up same conditions as established staff
  • existing staffing agreements maintained – only to be amended by agreement
  • no compulsory redundancies
  • employment model to remain primarily full-time
  • no zero hour contracts and…
  • a variety of guarantees on other benefits, including pensions, expanding the industry and the governance of the industry.

The legal protections are extended to the time of the first review in January 2019.

This agreement was carried by a 94 percent “yes” vote one in the members’ ballot. This was an extraordinary result for a complex major agreement and shows how strong it is.

Overall, our assessment is that the agreement does not solve all our problems – but it gives us an excellent platform from which we can defend the workforce in a privatised company.

Before finishing, I want to make some remarks about our defensive tactics in the run up to privatisation.

Privatisation separated the Royal Mail from the Post Office Counters, which remains a publicly owned company.

Post Office Counters is simply the local post offices, and their administrative centre.

It is loss-making service and receives a government subsidy to maintain the network of 11,500 branches.

In the run-up to privatisation, we campaigned hard to get a long-term commitment for Royal Mail to use Post Office Counters for its services.

Our concern was that a privatised Royal Mail would prefer to use commercial retail chains, rather than the publicly owned post offices.

Through a great deal of political campaigning, we got a 10 year contract to guarantee Royal Mail use of Post Office Counters. This runs until 2022. We will be looking to extend this when, as is likely, Labour is returned to government in 2015.

We also fought hard to ensure that the existing provisions of the universal service in the UK are not subject to an easy change by government, or management.

We have a six-day delivery service and a uniform tariff – even though these are not in the EU directive.

Again through our political campaigning, we got a commitment that the universal service could only be changed by an act of Parliament. We are considering how to further strengthen this in 2015.

Such defensive tactics are not a substitute, or a diversion, in the fight against privatisation.

These, and other safeguards we secured, mean that conditions in the industry for the workforce, and services for customers remain on a high level. This is better than if we’d simply accepted the market will now dominate all the functions and outlook of the industry.

Following hard on the heels of privatisation, we are now having to address the problem of delivery competition to Royal Mail.

Since 2004, we have been addressing the issue of competition in access mail. At that time, the regulator rigged the market, which resulted in Royal Mail subsidising competitors who had access to its network.

By long-term pressure we got some relief on this, but it took around five years work.

We now face similar problems with deliveries. The regulator is refusing to act while a competitor is selecting profitable areas in cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester within which to organise a delivery service.

The competitor – TNT – delivers three days a week, pays its staff the minimum wage rate, and hires on zero hour contracts.

We are engaged in a political campaign to press the regulator for measures which ensure that Royal Mail continues to be able to fund the universal service.  So we are raising questions like:

  • a cap on competition
  • customer protection which forces competitors to publish details of their quality of service
  • a living wage in the sector for all postal workers.

Doubtless this is going to be a difficult campaign – but we will press hard because that is what our members and the public need.

Thank you for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: CWU Black Workers Conference, Leeds

Thank you for this opportunity to address your conference. It is always a privilege to have this platform.

Last year, when I addressed this conference, I referred to the decline of the EDL – highlighted by the resignation of Tommy Robinson.

This year we must register the terminal state of the BNP, as Nick Griffin loses not only his MEP’s seat, but also is expelled from his party.

It’s been a long slog but we beat them.  Well done to everyone, inside and outside this hall, who stood up to these fascists.

The EDL continues to have some sort of life – wheeling around a few hard-core supporters from town to town. Rightly, alongside UAF, we must continue to mobilise against these dangerous remnants.

But, immediately, it appears that the outright fascist threat has been seen off. This is no small achievement.

In Europe, the children of Hitler’s legions continue to make too much progress for comfort.

I think the key reason that we registered success was because of the alliance between the black community, the Labour movement, and the whole antifascist movement to defeat the BNP and EDL.

We have defended multiculturalism, and firmly opposed Islamophobia.

Unfortunately these tactics have not been replicated elsewhere. Too many concessions to prejudice have been made, creating openings for organisations like the Front National, Jobbik, True Finns, and others.

In Britain, we must now concentrate on another problem – UKIP.

Because it is gaining support, too many mainstream politicians are panicking before it. Instead of standing up to this dangerous, populist, racist party, they are trying to appease it.

The first step in appeasement is refusing to acknowledge its racism.

This week, Mike Reid has made that characteristic obvious. But equally revealing is Nigel Farage’s enthusiastic promotion of this nastiness.

UKIP is Powellism for the 21st-century.

Farage cannot use Enoch Powell’s explicitly racist language – the antiracist struggles since 1968 have closed that option down.

But Farage’s coded language carries the same meaning as Powell’s.  At the UKIP Spring conference, Farage said:

“In scores of our cities and market towns, this country, in a short space of time, has, frankly, become unrecognisable… In many parts of England, you don’t here English spoken anymore”.

None of this rubbish was challenged by reporters or political leaders. Yet can there be any doubt about the ideas being conveyed?

Cities and towns becoming “unrecognisable” is because the people there do not confirm to the prejudices of Farage and friends – wrong skin colour, wrong accent, wrong religion and wrong clothes.

Even the stupid lie about English not being spoken in “many” parts of England, wasn’t taken up. Yet every mainstream politician knows that English continues to be spoken in every square inch of the county.

Equally, let’s note that in Mike Reid’s little ditty, the reference to “illegal immigrants” puts aside UKIP’s qualifications about East Europeans.

“Illegal immigrants” refers to non-EU citizens. The betting is that it doesn’t summon up the idea of white Australian over-stayers.

Now, it feels noxious doing this. But we have to brace ourselves for a very serious fight. We need to get the largest number of people to stand up to racism and UKIP.

For our part, we are having discussions with UAF and others about launching a broad-based initiative in the coming months. Certainly we need something because far too many politicians want to compete for racist votes rather than fight racism.

Of course, UKIP’s scapegoating tactics are registering progress because so many people are experiencing real economic distress.

Despite the Coalition Government claims, it is quite true that there is no recovery for the vast majority of the population.

Real wages have declined by 7.6% since 2010. Government policy has created economic stagnation and greater inequality.

We have the right to expect an incoming Labour Government to provide a new economic policy. We do not want to see Ed Miliband try to make Tory spending cuts more acceptable.

Austerity has failed to create a real economic recovery and expansion. It has succeeded in transferring wealth from the majority of the population to the wealthiest minority.

We expect Ed Miliband to promote government investment in the economy. We need a recovery based on the creation of real jobs, with rising wages and benefits.

There must be an end to the pretence of growth through zero hour contracts and fake self-employment.

George Osborne says that the Conservatives would cut public services by 25 billion pounds after the General Election.

Under no circumstances should the Labour leadership follow such a commitment.

The vast majority of the population need a lift out of stagnation – not to be pressed further down into it.

There is no doubt that we prefer a Labour Government in 2015 to a Tory Government or a Coalition with the Lib Dems.

But the Labour leadership has to grasp the opportunities power gives to expand the economy through government investment.

Certainly if they want CWU members to become involved in Labour’s election campaign, Labour’s leaders will have to do better than the proposal to freeze child benefits and freeze public sector wages.

Now, let us move onto internal matters.

Many of you will have attended the Branch Forum on proportionality that we organised at the start of this year.

If you did, you will have seen the enthusiasm amongst branch activists for finding a way out of the under-representation of women and black members in the union.

You will also have seen the commitment of the national leadership to tackle the problems.

The Forum had a big impact upon our Annual Conference. Including the proposals from the NEC, this year’s conference discussed 16 major resolutions on equality and proportionality.

Some of these are for continuing reviews, some are hard policy gains.

I want to draw your attention to a couple of resolutions which you need to make sure you branch is working on.

Firstly, the rules of the union now direct every Branch to elect a BAME Officer.

It is very important that this post is advertised along with other Officers as part of your regular branch election cycle.

I hope many of you will ensure this post is filled, by standing or nominating a BAME member to stand.

Secondly, the rules of the union now direct every Branch to ensure that sufficient Branch funds are allocated to allow for branch representation and participation at the Equality Conferences.

Has your Branch Committee discussed this and made decisions?

Next year’s budgets will be drawn up soon – so make sure that allowance is made to improve branch representation at the Equality Conferences.

The whole campaign around proportionality remains a priority, until we achieve a generally proportionate leadership at every level of the union.

The national union is undertaking a review of the functioning of all our equality structures. We are preparing a report on the failure of some branches to attend and support the Equality Conferences.

Take it from me, the national leadership regards these problems as crucial for our survival as a national union.

The workforce has changed and we have been slow to respond – that is very dangerous for us.

Here’s one example, we recently received some figures from Royal Mail on workforce monitoring.

Royal Mail has better figures on the ethnic composition of the workforce than we do.

They know the ethnic origins of 81 percent of the operational grades.

The CWU only has the ethnic origins of 44 percent of our members.  That’s something we need to address in future.

From Royal Mail’s figures we learn that 12.2 percent of the operations grades are from ethnic minorities. We also learn that 14.2 percent of the same grades are women.

From those figures alone, it becomes obvious that we have a long way to go to achieve such figures in the leadership of those grades.

What is true here is also true across other employers and grades, to a greater or lesser extent.

But there is a general determination to make progress from the national leadership.

These issues are being regularly assessed at the NEC, and industrial executives are making their own initiatives.

I believe we must be confident about our ability to resolve these imbalances. It is right and necessary to do so.

One thing is certain. We must not relax our efforts.

And here, your contribution as black activists is crucial.

Your experience and knowledge are needed to help the Branches, and the National union through the changes necessary.

Your greater involvement should create greater change than in the past. I urge you to keep up with your contribution to make this union stronger for all.

I hope that your conference goes well – good luck in your debates. Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: TUC’s Britain Needs a Pay Rise demo, London

The Coalition Government’s austerity policies have failed :

  • It has not created a real recovery in the economy
  • It has not closed the public spending deficit
  • It has not lead to a revival in manufacturing
  • It has not lead to new wave of private sector investment.

Yet, according to Osborne – austerity was going to do all those things.

Instead, we’ve seen the slowest recovery out of recession, ever.  We have seen real wages drop by 7.6 percent since 2010.

We have seen cuts in the benefits offered to the unemployed and disabled.

Austerity has not worked for the vast majority of people in the country.

But it has worked very well for the big financiers, employers, landlords and landowners. They’ve increased their share of the income from the national wealth under the Coalition Government.

We have had enough.  Today we are saying Britain needs a pay rise.

Economic policies should raise living standards by expanding investment in the economy.

We need a recovery that is led by job creation, rising wages and benefits.

Increasing employment and rising living standards leads to more money coming into government through increasing the amount of tax paid.

That’s how the public spending deficit can be closed – with more, not less, economic activity.

Austerity is not acceptable from any government.

If the Labour leadership wants to see what happens to a left government that implements austerity – then look at what happened to PASOK in Greece, or look at what is happening to President Hollande in France.

Labour must break with austerity. Public investment is needed to renew our infrastructure. Even the IMF now recognises that.

Public investment is needed for our public services. We cannot accept that schools, hospitals, nurseries, and libraries must all decline.

Government can borrow at nearly nought percent interest rates, to invest in renewing our economy and society.

Labour must commit to resolving the problems, not continuing the Tory and LibDem austerity policies.

Congratulations to all the workers who took strike action this week. You are the real champions.

Together we will win. Keep organising, keep fighting.

Thanks for listening

Posted in Speeches, TUC |

Speech: SIPTU Health Division Conference, Dublin

Negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have been going on for just over a year now.

The TUC was sceptical when the talks began and now we are outright opposed.

Why?

The TUC is not against trade, we know jobs and growth depend on our ability to trade with other nations.  But we won’t support trade at any cost.

TTIP sets out to not only lower tariffs –which are on average low between the two areas in any case – but harmonise standards.

There are real threats here.

The US has significantly lower labour standards.

It has not ratified all of the ILO core conventions and in some ‘right to work’ states like Tennessee, it is effectively impossible for trade unions to operate normally.

The US also has lower levels of standards on health.

While the EU uses the precautionary principle (where tests must prove substances are not harmful) the US approach is to assume that something is safe unless proved otherwise.

And in reality, even after harm is conclusively proved, corporate lawyers keep worker protections tied up in legal challenges for years.

The TUC and unions across Europe have made clear that trade deals cannot be allowed to lower the levels of protection we have secured in the EU.

TTIP must not be a race to the bottom on standards.

As well as lower standards, though, TTIP also specifically threatens parts of the public sector, including education and health.

Don’t believe the European Commission when they say the health sector would be protected in TTIP.

We know from the UK’s trade and investment minister Lord Livingston’s comments in September that UK health sector will be included in TTIP and it will be included for Ireland too.

We know that it is not protected from being opened up to privatisation under a general exemption for public services that the EU applies to trade deals.

This is because this exemption only covers services provided ‘in the excercise of government authority’.

Well, it’s been a long time since the whole of the NHS in Britain was run solely by the government.

In fact, the Health and Social Care Act introduced last year in Britain intends for the majority of the NHS to be run by private providers.

This raises the question as to why trade negotiators get to decide what is classified as a public service rather than the public?

The strict definition of what counts as a public service means that the majority of the NHS would not count, and would open up the UK health service through TTIP to US investors on the same terms as EU investors, which is likely to result in increased pressure for privatisation for other parts of the NHS.

The same applies to education, water and sanitation, energy, transport … every public service you can think of.

And negotiators want TTIP to lock this privatisation in.

What is known as a ‘ratchet clause’ in TTIP would mean that all privatisation of public services that takes place after the deal is concluded is irreversible.

TTIP also contains a provision which would allow EU and US investors to use to sue governments in special international courts if they feel their profits are threatened.

This is called Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ‘ISDS’.

Companies are very broad minded when it comes to what counts as a threat to their profits and have made liberal use of ISDS to protect their business interests over the years.

Egypt has been sued by the French company Veolia under ISDS for increasing its minimum wages.

The Canadian government has been sued through ISDS by the American company Eli Lilly for failing to grant the pharmaceutical company a drug patent on the spurious grounds that the drug was veryu expensive and didn’t actually work!

And Slovakia has been sued through ISDS under its bilateral trade deal with the Netherlands when it renationalised its health service.

It had to pay $22 billion dollars in compensation to the Dutch insurance company Achmea.

And this isn’t – any more – an unusually large payout for an ISDS case.

Even where the state wins, the legal costs will usually run into the millions.

When lawyers are paid that much, you know that they will make creative use of any trade rules.

We’ve even seen spread betting markets develop to provide third-party funding for a range of ISDS cases, dropping the ones where the tribunal looks unlikely to grant a win, and pocketing the resulting prize money for the rest.

This is why the European Commission and politicians are naive when they say there is a good kind of ISDS where society will be protected.

ISDS will lay countries open to being financially crippled by law suits.

Yet in Britain, we are told that there isn’t money to fund the NHS anyway.

Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has forced the service to undergo a cruel £20 billion of efficiency savings which is putting lives at risk and pushing staff to the limit.

Health staff have been denied the 1% pay rise they need to get by – which is why many of them have gone on strike this week, including even the midwives for the first time in their history!

If the British government doesn’t have enough money to run wards or pay staff a decent wage, where does it think the money will come from to pay a big American investor $22 billion in an ISDS case?

While the current British government might embrace privatisation with open arms, Labour have pledged to reverse the Health and Social Care Act if they win the election next May.

This would be very difficult indeed if ISDS in TTIP meant they would be sued for doing so, or if the government were frozen into inaction by the so-called ‘chilling effect’ where civil servants are reluctant even to risk an ISDS case.

ISDS freezes policies just where they are, stopping services coming back into public ownership.

But ISDS is chilling too because it undermines our democracy.

ISDS stops democratically elected governments from doing what voters want about health and public services.

This is unacceptable.

And the really worrying thing is that public services and health aren’t only threatened by TTIP but other trade deals too.

The EU has just finalised a trade agreement between the EU and Canada.

This deal contains all the same dangers that TTIP poses to the public sector – ISDS, the ratchet clause, the lot.

And don’t think Canadian investors are somehow nicer than American investors.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, a Canadian company called Lone Pine set up a letter-box company in the USA so they could use ISDS to sue their own government for Quebec’s fracking laws.

So we must be alert to the dangers of the EU-Canada agreement too and not let it be, as the ETUC call it, a ‘trojan horse for TTIP’,  quietly cementing a precedent for trade agreements to include public services and ISDS while everyone is busy campaigning against TTIP.

Unions have a fight on our hands to keep public services and health out of the EU-Canada agreement, out of TTIP and out of trade agreements full stop.

As you know, the fight is well underway in Britain, Europe and America.

The ETUC and AFL-CIO, the federations representing trade unions in Europe and America, issued a joint declaration in May which called for public services to be excluded from TTIP and ISDS and ratchet clauses to be scrapped.

They have made this call to negotiators in the EU and USA and are campaigning jointly.

At the TUC’s recent Congress in Liverpool we had representatives of the AFL-CIO and ETUC share a platform and pledge common actions to lobby on TTIP.

This is important because we will never win concessions from trade negotiators unless the pressure comes from both sides of the Atlantic.

The TUC has been actively campaigning to raise union concerns on TTIP since negotiations began.

We have been in close contact with our Business Minster Vince Cable and with MPs to raise concerns.

The TUC has also played an active part in the All Party Parliamentary group on US trade and investment, making sure that when it held a session with the head of the CBI, the TUC General Secretary was on the panel with him.

We have also made sure that trade unions have been involved in subsequent meetings of this APPG that have considered the different sectoral implications of TTIP.

At the insistence of the TUC and its member unions, the APPG will hold a session on the impact of TTIP on the public sector this autumn.

Our General Secretary also raised concern with ISDS with the former Trade Commissioner De Gucht in Davos in January.

The TUC has worked with 38 degrees and other groups like Friends of the Earth and the Trade Justice Movement in their campaigns for the European Commission to scrap ISDS in TTIP.

This pressure is working.

The European Commission opened the Investment chapter and the proposed ISDS mechanism up for public consultation in March.

Over 150,000 people submitted responses, the majority of them saying there was no place for ISDS in trade deals.

Now we are calling on the European Commission, and the new Trade Commissioner-elect, Cecilia Malmstrom, to take these responses into account during negotiations.

If TTIP was truly in the public interest, the Commission would listen to the voice of the public when it says ISDS has to go.

Of course the Commission will say it’s just carrying out the will of Member States.

But some Member States are now beginning to express concerns about TTIP too, and we need to press national governments to go further.

The German union federation, the DGB, has signed a joint statement with the German Economic Ministry against ISDS in TTIP.

The French government secured an exemption for the Audio-visual sector from TTIP because they were worried about the impact of American imports on an industry that needed state support.

We need to tell our governments that public services, broadly defined to include health and education, must be exempted from TTIP in the same way.

Of course, business groups are working round the clock to lobby negotiators to keep public services in TTIP and governments like the one we have in Britain are only too keen to appease them.

So we need to put TTIP on the bargaining agenda to tell employers we won’t accept TTIP in its current form.

And we need to make sure that labour standards must not be lowered. Workers’ voices must be respected and extended in any trade deal the EU forms with another country or region.

We need to work with MEPs in the European Parliament.

The Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament have said that they reject ISDS in TTIP and the EU-Canada agreement.

S&D group MEPs have also raised the importance of protecting labour standards in TTIP.

We need to build strategic, stronger campaigns together.

British unions with Irish unions and other unions in the EU and USA.

And we need to secure a proper place for trade unions at the negotiating table.

It is an affront to democracy that trade unions have been denied access to negotiating texts and have had to rely on leaks.

Only one or two really privileged trade unionists get to glimpse the texts in a special reading room in Brussels and then they aren’t allowed to make copies of anything they see – maybe we should be looking for a trade union rep with a photographic memory to send in there!

Without proper access to negotiating texts and discussions around TTIP, trade unions are not able to have a say over the details of the proposals for the public sector, workers rights, health, consumer or environmental standards.

These aren’t technical trade details, these are matters of public concern that we have a legitimate interest in.

Negotiators cannot lock trade unions out of negotiations and expect us to believe that the deal is being negotiated in our interest.

We’ve seen too many trade deals to believe that.

Not only the recent EU-Canada agreement, but also the EU-Korea and EU-Colombia agreement, where there were no enforceable labour standards.

In Korea more workers have been imprisoned since the trade agreement took place. In Colombia more workers have been gunned down with impunity.

And by the way, as the chair of Justice for Colombia in Britain, can I wish you every success in getting that EU-Colombia deal voted down in the Dail?

Trade unions don’t believe the EU naturally has workers interest at heart.

That’s why we must make sure we are in the room and can influence the shape of the negotiations.

Negotiators and government must commit to protect our health, democracy and rights in trade deals.

These are not commodities, they are core values, and they cannot be traded away.

Let’s stop TTIP, CETA and any other trade deal that’s being done in our name but is not in our interest!

Posted in Speeches |

Myths, lies and untruths: The Scandalous Sale of Royal Mail

“There’s no way we will sell Royal Mail ‘on the cheap’”. That was the promise made by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills over a year ago in its Royal Mail: Myth-busters factsheet.

Yet we now know that is exactly what Vince Cable did. Indeed, most of the ‘myths’ the department tried to bust have now come to fruition.

Last October, Cable dismissed the share jump as “froth and speculation”. In the Independent last week he claimed, “it has taken a year for much of that froth to subside”. But even at the current share price (of 391p) Royal Mail was undersold by nearly half a billion pounds (£0.37bn to be precise).

That’s not froth, it’s scandalous.

Cable cannot just shrug off this substantial amount of money. He lost half a billion pounds on the way to the Stock Exchange. If a postman or woman had lost a valuable package so carelessly on their delivery round they’d be sacked. But not those in Government, or their City advisors, who have managed to dodge responsibility for the bungled sell-off for the past twelve months.

The sale of Royal Mail still remains deeply unpopular with the public, especially as the privatisation of a 500-year-old treasured public institution was at the expense of taxpayers and for the benefit of big corporate investors. And now we are seeing the effects of the Government’s ill-thought privatisation firsthand – the threat to the sustainability of the universal postal service.

Royal Mail has been vocal in the past few months on this issue, asking watchdog Ofcom how it is meant to continue to deliver a ‘one price goes anywhere’ delivery service when competitors are undercutting it on all sides.

This unregulated competition is making a large dent in the amount of letters and parcels going through Royal Mail’s delivery centres. With so much business going elsewhere, the Government’s assertion a year ago that “competition is beneficial, and should not undermine the provision of the universal postal service” has been proved to be utter nonsense.

Prior to privatisation Cable claimed Royal Mail was in need of private investment. But this wasn’t about transforming the business – which made £440m last year – but about the Coalition reducing much-loved institutions to monetary value.

Vince Cable favoured the 16 so-called ‘priority investors’ who were supposed to be there for the long-term.  They were allowed to buy shares worth £728m based on what was said to be a gentleman’s agreement that their investment was for the long-term.

Many of these priority investors were in fact hedge funds looking for short term profit – they reneged on their promise, and half of their share allocation was sold off within a few weeks at a substantial profit. Six priority investors sold all of their holdings in the first few weeks of trading.

The sale of Royal Mail was not about delivering the best value for the taxpayer but just to achieve a sale. Lazard advised government against raising the price of Royal Mail shares to investors even though the allocation of shares was more than 23 times oversubscribed.  Lazard’s investment arm Lazard Asset Management sold its six million shares within days of the IPO securing an £8million profit.

The assertion that privatisation was necessary for Royal Mail to maintain the universal postal service is simply wrong. Hedge funds aren’t well known for their public service ethos.  Not only are Royal Mail profits now in private hands, but we can expect more pressure from corporate shareholders to cut costs and run postal services down.

The sale of Royal Mail was wrong in principle; it was unnecessary and has cost the British taxpayer dearly. It’s not enough to get rid of a public institution at any price. In fact, it’s an insult, to the people who work there and to the great British public.

Posted in Columns |

Speech to Italian union’s job summit: Britain needs a pay rise

Years into the crisis there is still a misunderstanding on its origins:

European leaders and institutions prefer to blame excessive public debt to justify austerity policies; we trade unions remember all too well that this crisis stemmed first and foremost from the excesses of the financial sector, which was then bailed out on the back of workers and taxpayers.

This crisis has shown how no country is truly safe.

Our economies, inside or out of the eurozone, are so interconnected that beggar thy neighbour policies ultimately damage us all.

The UK chose to apply austerity without the diktat of the European Commission or the Troika, but was able to activate monetary policies that were not available to eurozone countries (QE).

Years of painful cuts have left our public services depleted and a privatisation agenda is undermining our health system.

Unjust reforms to the pension system mean that proper pensions have all but ended in the private sector and public sector workers now have to work longer, contribute more and receive less when they retire.

Despite the severity of these measures, even the Government say we won’t have a balanced budget until 2018, though the UK economy is growing again, albeit weakly – GDP per head still remains 4% below the pre-crisis level, and the economy is well behind trend growth since then.

And the magic simply isn’t working for all. Once again it is only the 1% that seems to be enjoying the recovery.

Exports are weak due to the strength of our currency, growth seems to be driven by household debt and house prices are rocketing.

We should remember what happened the last time private debt reached unsustainable levels…

The pay squeeze continues: wages have trailed behind inflation for the longest period on record – certainly since well before the 1870s.

Our unemployment rate is around 7% but its fall is mostly due to a 19% increase in the number of self-employed – whether that’s all genuine and spontaneous entrepreneurial spirit – or just people declaring themselves as self-employed but doing almost no work – is highly debatable.

The average income for someone declaring themselves to be self-employed is now well below the minimum wage for a 30-hour week.

Also there are high levels of involuntary part time or temporary work simply because there aren’t enough full time jobs available, and over half of the jobs that have been created are low pay.

In particular, we’ve seen a massive growth in what are known as ‘zero hours contracts’ – in reality just a return to the working conditions of the casual dockers and labourers of the 1930s.

Weak earnings growth has become a problem not just for hard-pressed working families – the working poor whose low wages are being subsidised by state benefits: in reality an enormous state subsidy for mean employers; but for the wider economy because of lower income tax receipts, and reduced demand.

These are all elements that in our analysis make our growth unsustainable.

We support the European Trade Union Confederation’s investment plan, the New Path 4 Europe, that offers the possibility of 11 million new, skilled, sustainable, well paid jobs.

We want to see governments across Europe, and the European Parliament and Commission, respond to the challenge we have set down for them.

We also want to see a greater voice for workers in the way the economy and their own company is run.

While our Prime Minister promises yet more tax cuts for the rich, we will be taking to the streets of London on 18 October demanding a pay rise for Britain, so that the recovery is real and the benefits are shared more fairly.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: National Youth Education Event, Edinburgh

Thank you for this invitation to speak to you at the 2014 National Youth Education Event.

As you can imagine I get asked to speak to many gatherings of CWU members, but this is one of my favourites.

To see the enthusiasm and hear the thoughts and views of so many of our young members is very important for all of the National Officers and headquarters staff who are here this weekend.

If we cannot understand the concerns and aspirations of you, the youngest section of our membership, then we really are in big trouble.

It is, of course, a very interesting as well as challenging time for us to meet.

And a stand-out success of the Scottish Referendum campaign was the way in which it mobilised and enthused young people; many of whom were voting for the first time or had not thought that voting was something they wanted to do.

Over 90% of 16-17 year olds participated in the referendum and interestingly 16-24 year olds narrowly voted against independence.

I think this awakening of the youth vote is going to be a major political factor in the forthcoming General Election and in the next Parliament.

As a union we believe that voting should be extended to 16 and 17 year olds, so we will continue to campaign for that.

But what the Scottish Referendum has shown is that young people are more than willing to get involved in political debate and in voting if they feel that what they are being asked to vote upon means something.

Our task is therefore to make sure that we talk to young voters in our own organisation and across the labour movement about things that are important to them.  To you.

And that is another key part of what this weekend and CWU Youth generally is all about.  How can we know what is important to you without a discussion and a debate?

I think it is also important to take a step back and look at who we are and why we do what we do.

I say that because I think it is helpful in getting us all to a common understanding of what the CWU is all about and why you should continue to be involved and encourage others to get involved in what we do.

Put quite simply, we are a force for good.  We are a force for good on an individual and collective basis.

On one level this is very easy to see.  We are a force for good on an individual basis because the personal representation we give to our members is second to none.

If you are in trouble at work and you come to the CWU our members can be confident of being effectively and fully represented in any dealings with the employer.

I am not saying we are perfect.

There is always room for improvement, but individual representation is one of the most important things that we offer our members.

And we are a force for good on a collective basis because we negotiate the best possible terms and conditions, and increases in pay that are possible.

We take the views of our members seriously.

We are not a top-down organisation, but a democratic bottom-up one.

And that is important not only in terms of accurately reflecting the wishes of our members, but in making sure that national negotiators and officials are acting with the authority of our members.

All of that is probably obvious.

But what is not so obvious is the role that we play in shaping the environment in which our members work and in which people in our country live.

Let me give you two examples.

First, dangerous dogs.

You don’t have to be a postal worker delivering letters to be familiar about the problem with dangerous dogs.

Used by some people as unstable fashion accessories or worse still as weapons, dangerous dogs cause horrific injuries to our members and also many innocent bystanders; often young and defenceless children.

It was only because of the CWU that the recent improvements in dangerous dogs legislation were framed, discussed and now enacted.

It was the union that put together the coalition of interest groups and it was the union that provided of the political muscle and influence to make this happen.

The result is clearly an improvement for our members, but that’s an improvement that is shared by the rest of society too.

Another example is our claim for high speed broadband to be available to everyone on a universal service basis.

Almost as part of the package you get for being a citizen in Britain today.

This is clearly a good thing for society, but it is also clearly a good thing for the CWU because it is our members who have the skills and are working for the companies that will do much of the work when such a policy is implemented.

It is a classic win-win situation.

It is remarkable how other groups have come running to align themselves with this policy position.

Just last week a meeting with a top table of TalkTalk, the Confederation of Small Businesses and Opensource Network called Tinder were all emphasising how much they felt that universal high speed broadband should be regarded in the same way as gas, electricity or water.

The CWU is not only on the right side of history; it is leading the debate.

There are many issues where our influence is telling, crucial even.

The continuing campaign to close the loopholes on agency workers, defence of the postal universal service obligation, groundbreaking new legal services for members which are not only good within themselves, but which potentially could provide income to safeguard the union’s future.

None of this happens by accident.

It is all as a result of the strength, breadth and knowledge of our membership.

Put bluntly – we make a big difference.

And I want to emphasise the “we”.

It is not us and them – “us” on the Executive or at head office and “them” in the branches.

It is “we” and “us” all the way through.

Having spoken about the importance of youth activism and the importance of the CWU, I would like to spend a few moments talking about the importance of this specific event.

For about two-thirds of you I know this is your first ever national CWU event.

That is a pattern that has stayed the same year on year.

And I am willing to bet that for a lot of the people who haven’t been to a CWU event before, the most striking thing about this weekend is the large number of people who have so much in common with you.

I believe that a sense of solidarity is important.

We talk a lot about solidarity, comradeship and joint struggle in our movement, but it boils down to simply knowing that you are not alone.

Knowing that there are likeminded people in similar situations to yourselves.

That is why we put such effort into bringing people together and ensuring that there are good networks to maintain communication between our young activists.

We use social media like Facebook and Twitter not only for campaigning, but also as a means for people to support each other.

People get involved in the union for many reasons.

Sometimes it is because their friends or family are already members.

Sometimes it is because they see something going wrong at work – an injustice – and they want to stand up and do something about it.

Sometimes it is because they, themselves, have been subject of an injustice and the union has helped them out.

But once your name has gone forward, things can change.

People will come to you for help – people will expect you to have the answers – people will come to you sometimes with criticism about what the union is doing.

And sometimes the employer will have unreasonable or unfair expectations of what union reps do.

In some companies the employer is downright hostile.

Where does this hostility come from?

Well, a workplace is not a society of friends.

Colleagues are not necessarily mates and your boss is certainly not your best mate.

They are there to run a business and to run a business at a profit.

So  what we are against is our members being exploited, being treated unfairly at work; being, to coin  a phrase, bled dry in order to generate more profits.

That’s why there are unions.

Working people recognise that they can get a far better deal, there are far more guarantees against exploitation by working collaboratively than individually.

But, of course employers generally have got a good reason not to like that.

They don’t like it because it is a block on them squeezing every penny they possibly can out of the workers.

It is not surprising, especially in a global economy, especially when there is every incentive for even good employers to behave badly to undercut each other, anything that obstructs that is going to be a problem.

But that’s capitalism.  That’s why capitalism ultimately cannot work in an unregulated way.

When you strip it all down what you are left with is a very simple notion.

The only thing that we as individuals have to sell is our labour power.

If we are selling our labour power we want to get the best return for it.

But the people who are buying our labour  power don’t want to pay us as much as we think it is worth.

So the stage is set for at best a negotiation and at worst a bitter struggle.

And we are also concerned about jobs and employment.  We are concerned because we think everyone has a right to work.

The law of supply and demand also operates within the labour market.  With full employment there is less competition over job vacancies.

When there is a shortage of any resource, you will know that the price goes up.  For workers this means rages rise with full employment.

And that is what makes this event so important.

Whether we like it or not, there is a tension between what we do and the interests of our people and what employers do and the interests of the wealthy.

And in practical terms that tension can sometimes be very bad news for our members and for working people.

So this weekend is about showing that there is an alternative and that in preferring the alternative and campaigning for the alternative – you as an individual are not a lone voice or are out of kilter with other young members in our union and with the trade union movement as a whole.

We have a lot a going on over the next year or so.

We currently have a campaign to keep our political fund – that’s a separate fund we must by law maintain to do any political work.

You will be getting your ballot papers next week and it really is important that you vote.

We will also be continuing our work on proportionality to make sure the voices of young people, women, those for ethnic minorities are properly represented and fully heard in our union.

I am delighted that Trish Lavelle will be running a session on that this afternoon which I hope you will get a lot out of.

We will be  working with other  unions and  group  to  tell David Cameron and his cabinet of millionaires  that Britain Needs a Pay Rise and  I hope to see many  of you on what promise to be huge demonstrations in Glasgow and Belfast and London on 18 October.

And then, of course, we have the General Election in less than 9 months time.

There the forces between working people and those who run big businesses will be the central debate.

We will be working hard to maintain the momentum that  the Scottish Independence Referendum revealed and make the argument to young voters about why voting matters, why it changes things.

I think it is fair to say that the costs have never been higher in terms of the outcome of a General Election.

So thank you for being here.  Thank you for being a member of the CWU.

Thank you for being active.  Without you and our thousands of other young members, it is not an exaggeration to say the CWU has no future.

Thank you.

Posted in Speeches |

Voice Column Sept/Oct ’14: Everyday People

The ‘Magic Bus’, you could call it, would comfortably seat 85 of the world’s richest people. That is the number of those whose combined wealth is more than the poorest 3.5 billion people on the planet, according to economist Larry Elliot.

We live in a world that can put a man on the moon and not enough food into children’s stomachs.

Inequality in the UK is at a record high. Real wages are 7 per cent lower than five years ago, according to Ed Conway, an economist at Sky.

And, contrary to popular belief, most people in poverty are in work, according to the Living Wage Commission. It is unacceptable that one in five workers are unable to afford a basic standard of living and that 6.7 million people are living in poverty in households where someone works.

The recent announcement by the Labour Party that an incoming Labour Government would legislate to increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour is welcome. Of course, the Green Party has suggested £10 an hour and even the Coalition Government has already floated the idea of increasing the minimum wage.

Yet the fact remains that it would take a person on the minimum wage 375 years to earn the annual salary of one of the top chief executives listed on the UK Stock Exchange.

Our union continually strives to defend and increase the living standards of our people. Doing so is tough, yet more important than ever, in these difficult economic times.

How well we do is tracked in the CWU Pay Handbook.

We also try to walk the walk. The CWU is now an accredited Living Wage employer – and we publish our pay scales, showing the ratio between the highest and lowest paid, both internally and against those we represent. Trade unions matter more than ever.

Nonetheless, the increasing focus on pay by the political parties is welcome and suggests – together with the progress being made by the Living Wage Campaign – that political recognition is growing that this issue has a deep resonance with everyday people.

That is why your union is supporting the TUC’s ‘Britain needs a pay rise’ march and rally in central London on Saturday October 18. Make sure you are there.

Thank you to all the people of Scotland for showing us all that politics matters and that trade unions matter as well.

Quote: “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great conflict.”

Martin Luther King Jnr.
Born – January 15,1929Died – April 4, 1968

Posted in Columns, Voice columns |

Speech to “Hard Up Festival” rally, Birmingham

Today, the people of Birmingham and the Midlands have said no to austerity. You have told the Coalition Government to stop attacking the living standards of your family, and your community.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, tells us “that we’re all in this together”. He wants us to think that everyone is suffering from the austerity policies.

It’s true that the majority of people are suffering – the real value of wages has fallen by 7.6% in the last five years.

But that’s just for people like you. George Osborne and his rich friends aren’t losing a penny.

They don’t rely upon wages and benefits. They have property, bonds, shares and funds to keep them rich.

Austerity is just another word for taking from the workers and giving to the wealthy.

What this country needs is investment in our economy and public services. We want to see a recovery which creates jobs – a recovery which raises wages and benefits.

So far, the Coalition Government, has created a recovery which boost the profits, dividends, profits and bonuses for the City of London. There is no cost-of-living crisis in the Square Mile.

For you, the recovery means zero-hour contracts or fake self-employment.  It means rising rents, or growing mortgage debts.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are alternatives to austerity – despite what the pundits say.

Of course, to get a different policy you have got to get a different government. The Coalition Government will die convinced that austerity is the right way.

I think we should get a Labour Government in May 2015, as the start of a better policy.

But we cannot accept that a Labour Government should continue with Coalition spending targets and policies. No, with a new government we want a different policy.

The Labour leadership has said that the Coalition’s economic policies are a failure and that they have created a cost-of-living crisis. I agree with that.

But, it’s not then credible to say that you are against a policy, yet you are going to be bound by that policy. That’s just a recipe for disappointment and despair.

We want a Labour Government that recognises that the unemployed need jobs – that the homeless need houses – and that the country needs a pay rise.

These can be achieved if the government:

* invests in building houses

* renews the transport infrastructure

* saves the NHS from privatisation

* revives our public services.

The CWU also has some demands for the industries we organise in.  We want to see the Labour Government guarantee access to high speed broadband for all.  And we want Royal Mail to be re-nationalised.

If the Labour Government invests in these policies – then the economy will grow, living standards will rise – and tax revenues will increase to government.

That means the public spending deficit disappears under the rising prosperity.

This is a better way to address the economic stagnation. By putting capital and people to work, a Labour Government can improve the lives of the vast majority of people in this country.

This is much better than worrying about what city bankers and investors think. Those people only think of themselves and their wealth.  They are the privileged few.  They must not be allowed to dictate government policy.

The best counter to the privileged few is the organisation of the many.

Today’s Festival is representative of the majority opinion of people in the Midlands and elsewhere.

Coming today is a good start. But if you want a better future, you have to keep fighting.

You must also join the TUC’s demonstration on October 18th.  That day many thousands of people will be saying “Britain needs a pay rise”.

Whatever the government in power, you get a better deal if you, and your community, stand up for your rights and needs.

By your activity you can shape the future – not let others determine what’s to become of you.

So take things further. After today, if you are not in the union, join one. If you are in a union, stand for election and take responsibility.

What you do matters.

The rich and powerful want you to leave politics to the professional politicians. The rich and powerful want to convince you that nothing can be changed.

But the secret they know is that people like you are capable of turning the world upside down.

Austerity is not our fate. We can overturn it – if we push together in united activity. So keep fighting and organising. Together we will win.

Thanks for listening

Posted in Speeches |

Speech to CWU Women’s Conference, Leeds

As always, it is a great privilege to address CWU Women’s Conference. Your expertise strengthens the union’s work in representing CWU women members. In so doing, you make the whole union stronger.

But these are difficult times for the working class and the poor.  The Coalition Government continues to pursue its austerity policy.  This is regardless of its failure by its own measures.

We were told that the public spending deficit would be closed within this Parliament. Instead, the target has been revised to adapt to Osborne’s failures.

So we have ended up facing nine planned years of fiscal austerity. We’re halfway through this program – yet we have around half of the pain still to come.

The main techniques used  have been to increase the contribution from those dependent upon wages and benefits.  Or, in other words a transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich.

By 2018/19 :

*£10.7bn extra VAT will be paid

*£30.7bn will be cut from spending departments like Education and Health

*£25.1bn will be cut from Social Security

All of these policies bear heavily upon the working class. All of these bear down disproportionately upon women. Yvette Cooper had estimated that so far woman had borne nearly 75 percent of the cuts. Presumably women will continue to be disproportionately disadvantaged for some time yet.

That is why we must not accept Tory spending plans from the incoming Labour government.

We want to see government money used to fund new jobs, new services and new infrastructure to our society. That means investment.

We need an expansion of the economy which will raise wages and benefits. This is the alternative to austerity.

The City of London may not like it. But we need a Labour government that will stand up for everyday people.  We want a Prime Minister, who can tell the obscenely wealthy to pipe down, while Britain gets the pay rise it needs.

I hope you will join with me on the TUC Demonstration on October 18th to insist upon fair play on pay and benefits.

Now, austerity is making all our social problems worse. For example, you cannot address domestic violence with an austerity policy.

Women’s Aid report that since 2010, 17 percent of specialist refuges have closed.

This is in large part due to local authority cuts. It was also partly due to the competitive tendering process, which focus’s on low cost rather than providing a  quality service.

But the women who require these refuges are being turned away. Women’s Aid has launched a campaign “SOS: Save Refuges, Save Lives”.

We must support this – but it is obvious that quality refuges need to be available to all the women that require them.

What is true of domestic violence will also be true of other women’s needs.

Incomes are being cut by inflation, wage and benefit freezes and cuts in housing benefit.

Shelter has just published research which shows that 900,000 working parents have been skipping a meal to pay for housing costs.

3.1 million working parents had to cut back on the amount they spend on food.

Nothing can justify such a situation. But the source is very clear-incomes for millions of people are being cut.

According to the Fawcett Society, one in four of all female workers are now classified as on low pay.

Of these women, 10 percent were forced to take payday loans – and one in 12 are using food banks.

Nor is it surprising that in austerity Britain, the full-time gender pay gap has increased to 15.7% in 2013, up from 14 .8% the previous year.   This means a loss for women full-time workers of £5000 a year.

The House of Commons library material estimates that equal pay for women is 60 years away.  This will place it 100 years away from the promise of Equal Pay in Labour’s Equal Pay Act of 1970.

Before returning to internal union matters, there is one other issue upon which I want to touch.

We’ve all been horrified by the terrible abuse of girls and young women in Rotherham.  Such criminal activity must be punished.  Equally  those in positions of responsibility who failed to act should lose their jobs.

What is true for Rotherham is also true of the Jimmy Saville scandal, and similar instances of criminal abuse covered up by authority.

We certainly must reject any attempts to suggest that these problems arise from only one community. Unfortunately it happens in all communities.

But prevention is always better. That’s why we must support the initiative to make Sex and Relationship Education compulsory in all schools.

This is a campaign led by the End Violence Against Women coalition, the Everyday Sexism Project and supported by the Fawcett Society.

The aim is that such education will also address issues of sexual consent and respectful relationships. It will doubtless make a contribution to averting the type scandals we have witnessed.

It will also, I believe, help to change the atmosphere whereby 84,000 rapes are committed in England and Wales every year.

Now, these are incredibly difficult times. How is our union measuring up?

Since the last CWU Women’s Conference, we have had the first real ways to measure our initiatives on proportionality.

Many of you will have been at the Branch Forum in London, early this year. Clearly that was a successful meeting, which demonstrated overwhelming support from branch activists for the initiative.

Annual Conference in April also demonstrated this. The NEC was given direction by 17 motions and rules which addressed proportionality and were carried by branches attending conference.

The NEC is working through these

Rule changes have been implemented and bear upon your branches immediate work.

These include:

  • the establishment of a Woman’s Officer and a BAME Officer, as part of your branch officer compliment
  • the obligation of your branch to allocate sufficient funds to ensure branch representation at Equality Conferences and events.

The NEC itself is directed to take measures, including:

  • prepare a report for next year’s conference on branches failing to attend Equality conferences
  • carry out a complete review of the equalities structures
  • bring forward a rule to conference to ensure that at least one regional officer in the compliment of three is a woman.

These are a few of the decisions of our last annual conference. We certainly had a breakthrough on policy.

But the composition of Conference brought more mixed results.

Women in attendance rose to 17.8% , about one percent up on the previous year and closer to the figure of 19% of women’s membership.

The BAME representation went down by half a percent to 6.6% – still well short of estimated BAME membership of around 14%.

However, I want to reassure you that the NEC is completely committed to pursuing this policy.

One expression of this is the growing co-ordination between the Advisory Committees and the Industrial Executives.

We have continued with the branch visits by Trish Lavelle, Linda Roy and myself. In addition, we are looking to promote greater coordination at a regional level. We are carrying through an initiative with women members in Northern Ireland.

Overall, I’m confident, that with your help and leadership, we will transform the union’s representative structure in favour of women and BAME members.

Good luck with your debates today. Keep up your important work.  Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |