Thank you for this opportunity to address your branch meeting. The Glasgow Amal branch is seen as one of the largest and most influential branches in the union. Your contribution to the national union is important, and strengthens the whole CWU.
Perhaps the biggest impact upon the working life of postal members in the recent period has been the privatisation of Royal Mail.
Some people have suggested that privatisation makes little difference. This is untrue. The public sector offers accountability through the mediation of elected politicians.
Before privatisation, the union was meeting regularly with government ministers. Immediately after the sale, the ministers informed us that they no longer wish to meet with the CWU.
Now we can organise a lobby of the shareholders AGM. This we will do when necessary. But this is a much more difficult way to apply the pressure of the workforce on the direction of the company.
We’ll use all available tactics to promote our members interests in the privatised company. Yet we are also supporting the campaign for the re-nationalisation of Royal Mail.
No one should be in any doubt that this is a longer term perspective. Re-nationalisation has been rare in the UK in recent decades, usually as a result of a market failure in a private firm. The East Coast line on the railways is an example.
Incidentally, it has returned to profit in the public sector.
The national leadership remains convinced that this is the best way to run the postal industry in support of the public, and the workforce. Perhaps this is the only way we can guarantee the universal service.
We took a first step last September when we got the Labour Party conference to unanimously agree our motion on re-nationalisation.
The Labour leadership is most concerned about its credibility with business, so is refusing to promise that it will act on this policy.
We will continue to press on this issue including in discussions around the General Election manifesto.
It is unlikely Miliband will be willing to give such a commitment in the manifesto. But we may get a commitment from an incoming Labour government to examine options, or something similar.
Our anti-privatisation campaign was very strong, and may well have succeeded, but the government took a very risky option.
It found itself forced to engage in a fire sale of Royal Mail, rather than risk losing the possibility of selling.
As a result, we had Royal Mail sold at a scandalous price. 60% of the shares were sold for £3.2 billion.
17 of the 21 banks asked for an estimate placed Royal Mail’s value considerably higher.
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, put it well when she described the sale as the equivalent of “selling tenners for fivers.”
We will continue to draw attention to this mis-selling. We believe that the political careers of the ministers involved should be end abruptly. That applies to the Lib Dem Vince Cable and the Tory Michael Fallon.
Despite this setback, the national union has concentrated on defending members interests in the privatised firm.
The new agreement covering wages and conditions is terrific achievement. This was recognised in the extraordinary 94% vote in favour in the members ballot.
Securing the continuation of existing staffing and negotiating agreements was a big win. Getting above inflation pay rises is also a big win.
Some unions would be happy to secure an agreement covering just one of the policies of no zero-hour contracts, no outsourcing, no two-tier workforce and no compulsory redundancies.
So, well done to the national negotiating team for this. Of course, the agreement is not going to guarantee that management will not be difficult in future. But it has given us a very good platform upon which to defend ourselves.
Undoubtedly, the union’s campaign against privatisation played a crucial role in ensuring such an agreement could be reached.
Difficulties remain across the working class today, as a result of the Coalition government’s policy of austerity.
Despite all the talks of recovery, the British economy is not yet as large as it was in 2008 when the crisis first began.
With continued cuts in public services and benefits, and wage freezes many workers – there will be no “feel good” factor for the Coalition government before the General Election.
All the opinion polls indicate the likelihood of a Labour government in 2015.
Lord Ashcroft, former Treasurer of the Tory party, conducts the most comprehensive polling of anyone. He is very wealthy, and uses large amounts of money to support the Tories.
His opinion polls cover up to 25,000 people whereas YouGov or Mori may only poll 1 or 2 thousand.
His poll of the marginal constituencies indicated that Labour is on course for an overall majority of around 85.
That’s a very strong basis for government – if correct.
His most recent poll of 8000 gave Labour a lead over the Tories of 7% amongst men and 11% amongst women.
We will know for certain 2015 – but signs are strong for Labour.
I understand that many CWU members have mixed feelings about the prospect of an incoming Labour government.
Probably very few people will want a continuation of the Coalition.
But many CWU members have been disappointed by some of the Labour leadership’s policies.
A Labour government will be better for the working class – but it won’t be everything we need or deserve.
Our aim to be to organise around the issues and policies which are in line with the needs of the poor and the working class.
You only get the rights and concessions that you are prepared to fight for.
So, for example, we cannot accept that Labour should continue with the Tory cuts.
We want Labour to expand the economy, not shrink it. It is investment that will bring the economy out of stagnation.
An expanding economy means that living standards are able to rise. We want a jobs and wages led recovery.
All the Coalition is promising is, according to George Osborne, permanent austerity.
But this is only austerity for us. The Tories rich friends are doing fine from austerity with profits and dividends to shareholders growing very strongly.
The incoming Labour government must invest to ensure that the next generation is educated, employed and housed.
This has been done in far worse conditions that today – that was the great achievement of the 1945 Labour government after the Second World War.
We are a wealthy society. Our wealth needs to be used to raise living standards of the majority, not just a few rich people in the City of London.
As you will have seen in the press and media, there is going to be change in the relationship between unions and the Labour Party.
These changes are not welcome, and reflect a strong lobby that wants to end any influence that organised workers have in Labour politics.
But, we will work with these changes. We refuse to give up on defending our members, and the working class.
The new constitutional arrangements are complex. But every CWU member who pays the political levy will get an opportunity to say whether they wish to contribute to the Labour Party in the future.
We will continue with the political fund – assuming we get positive vote in the political fund ballot later this year.
There are many important issues which require a political solution. We cannot do without a political fund. I am sure your branch will strongly support its retention, as your branch leaders follow these questions carefully.
With the changes inside Labour we will have to look at more ways to exercise our influence.
That means that we will support progressive think tanks, websites, social media, etc. We will also have to concentrate of training up a new generation of working class political leaders from amongst our members.
However the rule changes work in the Labour Party, we will get our message out, and defend the needs of CWU members in the political arena.
Finally, the union is undertaking a major programme to ensure that the CWU leadership is more proportionate to its membership.
The workforce and the union’s membership is changing in composition.
We have a growing proportion of women in membership. This is also true of members from black and ethnic minority communities. A higher percentage of the union is under the age of 30.
Union headquarters commissioned a report which identified a gap between these changes and the balance in the national and local structures of the union.
We are therefore changing the way in which we do our business. We want to ensure that any obstacle in the way of women, black members and young members becoming reps are removed.
A more diverse leadership gives us better decisions – as it reflects all the different experiences of CWU members. We want to make the union stronger for everyone.
In the Glasgow Amal branch the balance of your membership is:-
4644 members of which 697 are female that is 15% or 1 in 7.
We only know of the ethnic background of 2001 members of which 97 are from black and ethnic minorities. That is nearly 5% or 1 in 20.
433 branch members are under the age of 30. That is 9% or 1 in 11.
Your branch leadership, like every other branch, will be engaged in discussions around this question. It is a matter of changing our organisation by discussion and agreement.
A more representative union makes us stronger – whether that’s in dealing with the employer, the government or any organisation that affects the lives of CWU members.
Now I know that the referendum is as controversial as any issue can be. But the union has an obligation to help clarify the debate, where it can.
The union is engaging in a substantial consultation of membership.. Our work has been headed up by Andy Kerr., Deputy General Secretary (T&FS) and a former member of the Scotland No 1 branch.
To date the union has organised a launch meeting in Perth, 6 branch forums at different locations around Scotland, and a summary meeting of the branches in Glasgow. All of these meetings have taken speakers from both of the major campaigns.
The NEC is taking representation from all branches in Scotland, and will propose a motion to CWU conference in April. Whatever decision is made, branches in Scotland will still be free to campaign in support of the position demanded by your branch members.
Thanks for listening.