Speech: American Postal Workers Union (APWU), Chicago

Thank you for the invitation to address your convention. A special thank you to your new President, Mark Dimondstein, for his hospitality. I am sure he will measure up to the problems you face.

I understand that your biggest campaign at the moment is against the decision of the USPS to locate counter facilities in Staples stores.

In the UK we are very familiar with such moves. Management have been transferring Crown offices facilities to WH Smith – a private retailer.

It results in fewer services and poorer working conditions. So, good luck with your campaign.

I also note that the USPS is dogged by the requirement to make large annual payments to pre-fund future retiree health benefits.

This sounds like an arbitrary attack on a public service. I assume someone in Congress had the idea of creating an artificial financial crisis, in order better to justify privatisation.

Equally, I understand you are pressing for the introduction of postal banking. Again in UK, we are campaigning for the establishment of a Post Bank.

Many postal services throughout the world have one, and they are usually very profitable. But you will be competing against private banks – and they are such delicate creatures that they can’t take the competition.

But let me explain more fully the struggle that we have been having in the UK.

You may have heard, but in October last year, Royal Mail was privatised.

It came after a long battle. The first suggestions were made in the early 1980.  Overall, we faced four major public fights on the issue.

In 1994, the Conservative government led by John Major, attempted to get a Parliamentary Bill through for the sale.

The government was vulnerable – it was towards the end of its’ elected mandate. It had a small Parliamentary majority.

And it was seriously divided following the bitter recriminations after Margaret Thatcher was dumped in an internal coup.

So the union played on these divisions in our campaign.  We concentrated our lobbying on the rural seats of the Conservatives where they had a small majority. We argue that these constituencies would be the most seriously disadvantaged if Royal Mail was privatised.

We went very deep into the enemy’s camp – hiring a lobbying firm that was associated with Thatcher.

We did this alongside our more traditional campaigning.

But playing on the internal party divisions worked wonders. The government withdrew the Bill because of a revolt by rural MPs.

In the late nineties and early in 2000, we had to deal with the Labour government under Tony Blair, which had a strong affection for private markets.

Unfortunately, the Blair government did not allow for Royal Mail to make the investment in modernisation it needed. That government preferred to see the market liberalised and Royal Mail be subjected to competition.

Of course, this was in line with the rest of the European Union, where Postal Services Directives were implemented which removed the state monopolies.

Consequently, Royal Mail was in an ambiguous position. It was forced to compete, but was not allowed to seriously invest, as other European postal providers were able to do.

Inside Blair’s government, there were many politicians who approved privatisation, including of Royal Mail.

At the same time, senior Royal Mail managers were being directly recruited from private companies and were anxious to see it privatised.

So our next major public fight began in 2004, when the Chair of the Royal Mail at the time, Allen Leighton, began a public campaign for privatisation, which he suggested should include distributing shares to postal workers.

His campaign took the form of a public lobby.  He had excellent platforms in the media – as he had worked for Rupert Murdoch’s company.

The Labour government was divided on the issue. Some senior figures were definitely in favour.

Our key tactic, this time, was to win the majority of Labour Party members and Ministers to our support.

So, we lobbied consistently amongst MPs and supportive Labour Ministers.  We won the vote at Labour Party Conference. And we negotiated a policy for Labour’s 2005 General Election manifesto which ruled out privatisation.

When Labour was re-elected in 2005, Leighton continued his campaign suggesting that Labour’s manifesto had “wriggle-room” for privatisation.

We stepped up our campaign to make sure there would be no wriggling.  But this was a long, sustained fight which involved almost non-stop lobbying to get politicians to uphold party policy.

Management’s proposal was not explicitly rejected by the Labour government until January 2007.

This three-year campaign was successful – but still the government refused to allow the amount of investment required.

After the onset of the great economic stagnation in 2008, the funding of Royal Mail became critical.

Instead of allowing the necessary investment, the responsible Minister attempted in 2009 to launch another Parliamentary Bill for privatisation.

The minister concerned was Peter Mandelson – a very close associate of Tony Blair. His preparedness to break Labour traditions had earned him, in Labour circles, the title of “Prince of Darkness”.

Mandelson placed his Bill before parliament in 2009. Once again, our tactics had to take into account the precise political situation.

The Labour government have recently seen a change of Prime Minister – from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown.  The party had a Parliamentary majority but not too large – and, it was coming to the end of its term.

Mandelson was a divisive figure, and was regarded by many in Labour as part of leadership whose time had passed.

Our major aim was then to simply split the party on the issue from top to bottom, including inside the Cabinet.

We did all the usual campaigning – meetings, rallies, demonstrations, petitions, etc

But our sharpest edge was organising the opposition inside the party – both in parliament and in the party structures.

We were very successful in this – we had senior ministers arguing our position inside Cabinet meetings; we had a majority of Labour backbench MPs signed up to oppose the Bill.

Of course, under pressure politicians sometimes promise one thing and do another. But we knew that the opposition was strong enough to create problems for the Prime Minister.

It could be anticipated that there would be sufficient Labour MPs voting against the Bill to mean that it would only get to be carried with Conservative support against the Labour rebellion.

Wisely, Gordon Brown decided against this and the Bill was allowed to` drop.

Our most recent struggle began shortly after the 2010 General Election, which resulted in a Coalition government of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

This is a right-wing government where both parties agreed from the beginning that Royal Mail should be privatised.

The Coalition was elected with a Parliamentary majority of 85 – this is a strong position in British parliamentary terms.

The Coalition also decided to tackle the issue early in its government term.  It had also immediately launched a big attack upon the working class in the form of a harsh austerity policy.

This amounted to big cuts in wages and benefits, alongside reductions in public services.

Shocked by this assault, many people were very preoccupied with managing their declining living standards. Our campaign had to compete with a myriad of other issues.

The political situation for our campaign against the Parliamentary Bill launched in 2011 was then difficult from the outset.

Again, we tried a variety of tactics – including working in the marginal constituencies of the Coalition parties.

But the Parliamentary arithmetic was completely merciless. The government was able to secure the authority to privatise the company in passing the Postal Services Act 2011.

Bearing in mind the difficulties, the union spent a lot of effort getting amendments to the Bill that would protect the interests of workers, and the future of the industry.

We organised with supportive MPs to table and get carried, a variety of amendments. These included:

  • Strengthening the position of the Universal Service Obligation in law
  • Naming Royal Mail as the USO provider for 10 years
  • Resolving the outstanding pension deficit and maintaining the pension scheme.

There were other problems with privatisation that we had to address.  Royal Mail was to be sold, but Post Office Counters network was to remain a separate company, wholly owned by the government.

Clearly, there was a danger that a privatised Royal Mail would not wish to use a public sector network.

So, we campaigned for the establishment of a binding business agreement between these two bodies. This was successful with a 10 year inter-business agreement being signed.

This at least gave some guarantee that the Post Office network would not suffer widespread closures.

Our campaign ran the government close.  By the middle of last year, the government was desperate to get the sale in before the run-up to the General Election in 2015.

Opinion polls continued to show how unpopular privatisation was – seventy per cent opposed the sale immediately before it happened.

We also commenced a set of negotiations with the employer to protect the terms and conditions of postal workers in the event of privatisation.

To add bite to this, we organised a strike ballot. It is not legal to strike against privatisation, but you can ballot in defence of terms and conditions.

We got a 78 per cent “Yes” votes on a 63 per cent turnout.

Royal Mail and the government knew they would have to make serious concessions to settle the dispute.

But they were so rattled that they brought forward the sale, and offered a very low price for the shares.

The sale was in a panic, and badly mishandled. Because of the low price of the shares offered, it was 25 times oversubscribed.  By the end of the first day’s trading the share price had risen dramatically.

The fire sale price meant that the taxpayer lost nearly a billion pounds immediately on the sale.

The scandal of this continues to rumble in British politics.  The Coalition government has been seriously embarrassed by its blunder.

The settlement of the dispute was very favourable. In order to settle things down management made a range of concessions. These included:

* Maintaining all existing staffing agreements

* A commitment to no outsourcing or franchising of work

* Above inflation pay rises for a three-year period

* A commitment for the industry to remain primarily a full-time employer –with no zero hour contracts.

The deal was so good that when put to the membership it was carried by 94 per cent of members voting.

Disappointed as we were, we continue to pursue the defence of postal workers interests in the privatised company.

Immediately, we are facing new threats.  Direct delivery competition is being introduced into a number of major cities.

The competitor, TNT, plans to deliver to 42 per cent of addresses by 2017, but covering only 8.5 per cent in the UK’s geography.

They are simply cherry picking profitable urban areas. The assumption is that Royal Mail will continue to provide the universal service and pick up the losses.

We have commenced a campaign against this both to defend the USO, and to secure terms and conditions for all the workers in the sector.

TNT delivery workers are on zero hours contracts -  that is, no guaranteed hours, only what the boss offers on a day to day, or a week to week basis.

They also only pay the minimum wage or just above this.

Clearly, this is a threat to all workers in the sector. So we are pursuing this with a lot of energy.

I greatly value this opportunity to share our experience. Good luck with your deliberations at your Convention.

On behalf of 200,000 UK members of the Communication Workers Union, I offer you our solidarity and friendship.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: Parliamentary briefing on the effect of end-to-end competition on Royal Mail

Welcome everyone to the CWU’s parliamentary briefing on The Effect of End-to-End Competition on Royal Mail.

Ofcom is relaxed about the impact of direct delivering completion upon Royal Mail. It sees no threat to the Universal Service Obligation. The CWU regards this as a dereliction of duty, as Ofcom is legally bound to prioritise the U.S.O.

Our Previous Experience of postal regulations makes the union wary of Ocom’s “do nothing” approach to delivery competition. The Previous regulator, Postcomm believed that there was no special need to protect Royal Mail from unfair competition in “access” mail.

Indeed, Postcomm supported a system which meant that Royal Mail subsidised the competition by 2p per letter. Postcomm was convinced that an open market for access mail would create balanced competition. It believed that the market would deliver a more efficient Royal Mail alongside healthy competitors.

Instead, the lack of effective regulation meant that Royal Mail faced a parasitic form of competition. It had to open its network to competitors – but it could not charge market prices for the use of its network. This unfair competition regime handed 47% of the total volumes to Royal Mail’s competitors. This didn’t create efficiency in Royal Mail- but it did create serious financial problems.

Just like Postcomm, Ofcom is refusing to consider any protection for Royal Mail or the Universal Service from direct delivery competition. This is the same “do nothing” approach as Postcomm. The market will sort out the problems it creates. The CWU does not agree, the threat to Royal Mail’s funding of the U.S.O is very real. By selecting only profitable, urban areas TNT aims to cream-off all Royal Mail’s valuable work. TNT knows that Royal Mail has to deliver to loss making areas under the USO. Any problems will be felt by Royal Mail alone.

TNT delivery volumes trebled during the course of 2013, by 2017 TNT aims to cover 42% of addresses – but in only 8.5% of the land area. If this happens, Royal Mail will still have to cover 100% of addresses but at massively reduced volumes.

TNT’s methods of staffing are aimed at driving down the terms and conditions of all postal workers. TNT is using zero-hour contracts and doesn’t even pay the living wage on hours worked. We expect parliamentarians to press the government for action. The government is still the largest single shareholder in Royal Mail and as such has considerable influence over the direction of the industry.

After the findings of the National Audit office and the BIS select committee reports it is evident that the government blundered the sale of Royal Mail. We must ensure that they are not allowed to fold their arms while Ofcom fails to defend the U.S.O. There are things that politicians can do.

  • Sign the EDM initiated by Katy Clarke (EDM 141)
  • Consider the establishment of a universal service support fund.
  • Introduce greater consumer protection by directing TNT to publish comprehensive quality of service figures.
  • Support the establishment of a living wage in the postal and courier sector. There must be safeguards against driving down living standards. Sectoral bargaining would ensure all postal workers get a fair deal.

These and other options need to be debated. We must act now to defend the U.S.O. After today we will be continuing our campaign. Make sure you take part, thank you for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: Marxism 2014

I am delighted to be able to address you at “Marxism”.  There are too few opportunities for socialists to discuss in depth the key issues of our time. Your event is an important forum.

Given the events in the West Bank and Gaza, these past days, there can be few more opportune topics to discuss than our role in supporting the Palestinians.

In my contribution, I want to look at why it’s important for the union’s to take their place in the broad international alliances supporting the Palestinians.

You are probably aware that the trade unions in Britain are strongly supportive. All of the major unions are affiliated to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.  The TUC’s Congress regularly carries motions of support, and is planning an official delegation to Gaza later this year.

Most unions have carried a number of supportive motions at their conferences. Many unions have good records of involvement in meetings, demonstrations and delegations to Palestine.

As is usually the case, the implementation of these policies has often not been drilled down to the branch level.  But many branches are affiliated to the PSC, and prepared to give practical support.

The position in the international union movement is often not so good. Unusually, on an international question, the union movement in Britain is ahead of most of the union movement in the European Union.

It is easy to take this support for granted, ignoring the efforts of many activists.  And it is particularly important to register that a huge change has taken place.

Until relatively recently, support for the Palestinians was very much a minority position.

The Balfour Declaration committed Britain to support the setting up of a “Jewish home” in Palestine.  Nearly 3 months before this, in August 1917, the Labour Party adopted a nearly identical policy in its “War Aims Memorandum”.

The Memorandum was adopted in December 1917, at a specially convened conference. That decision was carried with the support of the unions.  Indeed at the time there was no individual membership to the Labour Party.

The Memorandum’s proposal for a “Jewish return” was, of course at odds with the Arab population in the Ottoman Empire of the time.

Some leaders of the movement were enthusiastic for the project.  Ramsay MacDonald toured Palestine in 1922 visiting Labour Zionist projects.

The colonisation was presented by its Labour and union advocates as a form of trade unionism and co-operatives. It was suggested that it brought progress to Arab workers and was only opposed by Palestinian landowners and notables.

This support for the Zionist colony was not in conflict with anti-Semitic prejudices held by some leaders.  Sidney Webb told Charles Ashbee, – “French, German, Russian Socialism is Jew-ridden.  We, thank heaven, are free!”

Building the Zionist community and state was carried out under the political direction of Mapai – a party formed from two Labour Zionist parties.

The main institution of state building was the Histradrut – a trade union, whose key task was to ensure that only Jewish labour was employed by Jewish employers.

Even that was presented in a leftist manner, as a defensive measure by workers against the attempts by capital to lower the price of labour-power.

In May 1945, Labour’s annual conference saw Hugh Dalton call upon the Allied Powers to agree an increase in Jewish immigration to Palestine, and support the setting up of a Jewish state.

From the left, outside the Labour Party, the Communist Party, after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, supported the implementation of the UN resolution on the establishment of a Palestinian Arab and a Jewish state.

But the CP mostly campaigned for the British government to recognise the state of Israel. This was entirely in line with the positions of the Soviet Union, who were the first government to recognise the Israeli state.

This history is needed to stress how popular the Israeli project and state were in the labour movement.

In the seventies, you could readily encounter pamphlets and material explaining the socialist character of the kibbutzim.

Support for the Israeli government in the 1967 and 1973 wars was the overwhelming majority position in the labour and trade union movement.

Things began to change in the early eighties. The occupation of parts of the Lebanon; the terrible massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, and the expulsion of the PLO from Beirut all registered with a larger number of movement activists.

But we are still talking about a minority.

The Camp David Treaty, and later, the Oslo Accords, appeared to carry the implication that the Israeli government and state would in the end deal justly with the Palestinians.

As the years passed, it becomes obvious that that was not the case. The impact of the anti-war movement from 2001-3 was to create a climate more critical of foreign policy in the Middle East.

The subsequent actions of the Israeli government finally repelled the majority in the unions.  In particular, the war upon the Lebanon in 2006, and the war in Gaza in 2008/9 – Operation Cast Lead – were so obviously examples of disproportionate and oppressive actions.

I believe the attack upon the Mavi Marmara, and the siege of Gaza, have also played a role, burning off support for the Israeli government.

There have been changes in the generation of Labour trade union leaders since the 1980’s.

In addition, the growing diversity of our multicultural society has created a greater questioning of the Israeli government’s behaviour.

But, however you analyse the process, there’s been a major shift.

Now, as I’m sure you’ll agree, the trade union movement in Britain is very slow to change.

It takes a long, long time to win a policy.  But, equally, it takes a long, long time to lose one once established.

So, this huge shift towards the Palestinians is unlikely to be reversed in the foreseeable future.

Our task is then to make the policy of the TUC, and our own unions, an essential part of their daily activity.

If the union movement is to contribute to broader social change it will be because it looks outward.

Union activists and members need to be won to actively identify with the plight of oppressed people.

We need to have strong unions, capable of raising living standards. But that is not enough.

The forces that are promoting austerity are the same forces imposing oppression in developing countries.

It is in our own interest to challenge oppressive behaviour by governments – at home and abroad.

The cause of Palestine is important because it is one of the most serious violations of human and democratic rights in the world today.

We must ensure that our policy is not just pious. We need activity.

To that end, it is vital to win the Labour Party, the trade unions, the student unions and community organisations to actively work for the Palestinians.

In this struggle, there is no shortage of things to do. Right now, we must join the protests against the crackdown in the West Bank and Gaza.

We need to promote the case of the Palestinian prisoners. We need to support the campaigns for disinvestment.

We need to oppose trade with illegal settlements.  We need to join and build the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

All of us can make a contribution. Together, we can play a part in securing a just peace for the Palestinians. The Palestinians aren’t giving up and neither should we.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: CWU Equality Officers’ Seminar

I am delighted to be able to address you today. Branch equality officers have a vital role to play in the development of the union’s work.

Our equalities agenda is not an add-on. It is a central part of building the union in the modern workplace.

The workforce is more diverse than ever.  A dynamic union has to be alive to the different demands amongst the membership.

Equality cannot be a blanket to smother the precise demands from what may be only a tiny section of the workforce – for example, transgender members.

Promoting and acting upon all those different demands is our equality agenda.

So, the union requires a greater range of expertise than ever in order to fully represent the workforce.

As equality officers, you have to ensure that the diversity of the membership is reflected in the policy and work of your branch.

This is not an easy job, and some members will see your work as divisive.

But we must stand up to prejudice. By answering everyone’s needs we allow for the strongest unity of our organisation to be achieved.

Now, some key figures on the make-up of our membership. These figures are from yesterday.

The CWU has a membership of 201,377.

Of that, 37,917 are women. That’s 19 percent – nearly one in five of our members.

We only know the ethnicity of 88,251 members – 13,840 are BAME. But assuming the same proportions for the whole membership, 16 percent of the members are BAME – that is nearly 1 in 6 of our members.

We have 17,365 members under the age of 30 – that’s nearly 9 percent – or around one in 12 of our members.

When you add 19% women, 16% BAME and 9% youth that makes 44 percent of our membership.

That means that nearly half of our leadership, at both national and local levels should be made up of women, black members and youth.

Clearly we have a long way to go.  But the signs are very encouraging.

Many of you will have attended the first Branch Forum in January on proportionality. I have to say that the branches contribution on that day had a big impact upon the NEC.

The seriousness of the delegates’ contributions strengthened the determination of the national leadership to embrace this issue.

And, I believe your debate laid the basis for a very successful Annual Conference in April, where a number of strong motions on equality were carried.

One of these was the rule change which added to the complement of Branch Officers -that is a Women’s Officer and a BAME Officer.

You will need to ensure that appropriate changes are made for this, by the time of the next branch annual elections.

But, you also need to consider how these will impact upon your role as an equality officer.

In my view, it is crucial see this as a very positive development. Having these officers work alongside you should ensure that the branch has a comprehensive set of equalities policies and activities.

We also need to consider the rule change, which directs every branch to allocate “sufficient funds to ensure Branch representation and participation at Equality conferences and events”.

You need to discuss this now at branch committees. We have a broad aim to double the attendance at Equality Conferences. I believe this new rule gives you an effective tool to bring that about.

Not everything at conference was positive. The Conference monitoring figures will shortly be published.

We made a little progress – women delegates went up from 17 percent last year to 17.9 percent this year. Yet still 42 branches sent entirely male delegations.

On BAME representation, we went backwards from 7.1 percent last year to 6.6 percent this year. 94 branches had no BAME representation.

We made a little progress on under 30’s – up from 4.2 percent last year to 5.1 percent this year.

We also organised Monday of the conferences as a Youth Day with special events to highlight the contribution of young members. We will continue this idea for other equality strands at future Conferences.

The CWU’s decision to prioritise proportionality recognises the changing composition of the workforce in the communications sector.

Promoting women and ethnic minority members at every leadership level isn’t just morally right, is also a matter of practical survival for the union.

So far, on the proportionality tour we have visited 22 branches and it is our objective to visit every single branch.  Both Linda Roy and Trish Lavelle have been playing a pivotal role, supporting me in ensuring that the dialogue with branches remains constructive.

We have seen what is working well, as well as areas where some branches might require assistance.

Equality Officers role in the branch hasn’t always been fully appreciated. But you are helping to bring about the mainstreaming of the equality agenda.

The CWU has been a keen advocate for getting Equality Reps statutory time off, in line with Health and Safety Reps. It is a shame that when the new Equality Act came into force in October 2010, the Coalition government did not grasp the opportunity.

Not surprising. But it’s not something that we have given up on, and we will revisit this issue.

Today’s Seminar is for you to raise your problems, and offer solutions. I hope that you get a great deal from the day because you certainly have a great deal to offer the union.

Along with Linda, I want to thank you for your continued support in the push for equality and proportionality.

Thank you for listening and good luck in your deliberations.

Posted in Other, Speeches |

Speech: London Pride parade

My name is Billy Hayes, and I’m speaking today as the representative of 6 million trade union members who are affiliated to the Trade Union Congress.

The trade unions are proud to support LGBT Pride because, as organisations, we are committed to equality.

We believe that our workplaces, and communities, must be free from homophobia and fear.

We organise for LGBT rights in the workplace – seeking agreements with employers to ensure workers are able to work free from harassment and discrimination.

We believe rights at work must include LGBT rights.

The Trade Union Congress has comprehensive equality policies – for both here in Britain and internationally.  We defend the rights of LGBT people across the globe.

In the Pride Guide, we are called upon to support the “Freedom to” campaign.

Such an approach is at the heart of what unions do.

We believe that an injury to one is an injury to all.

So that we must have the “Freedom to”:

  • love who we choose

So the trade unions have supported the campaign for equal marriage.

We have supported the major LGBT campaign for equality since the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Today, we want our workplaces to be safe spaces with the “Freedom to”:

  • work without fear
  • and express the identity we have.

As trade unions, we are also concerned that the government’s austerity policy is cutting social support those in need.

We know that cuts in – the NHS – local government – voluntary organisations – and cuts in carers and support for people with disabilities hit LGBT people particularly hard.

We want a policy which supports economic recovery and supports people here today  – not just the rich.

Equality is a long struggle – and the unions are here to support it.

If you work – join a trade union. It offers you protection – and power – in the workplace.

Together, let’s fight for a fairer future.

The TUC pledges its continued support for Pride, and the struggle for LGBT equality.

Thanks for listening

Posted in Speeches |

Speech: UGT International Conference

I want to thank the UGT* for organising this conference.  As national unions, and federations, we face very serious and complex problems. This conference is an opportunity to exchange our insights and create a more effective union response.

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 the missing the tight timescale it had to set for privatisation.

On October 11th, 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 £3billion.

The scandal around this has run 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
  • 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 a loss-making service and receives a government subvention 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 universal service support fund
  • 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.

*The Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT, General Union of Workers) is a major Spanish trade union.

Posted in Speeches |

June/July ’14 Voice column: ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’

“Music is better than words, because it is more precise,” someone once wrote.

Certainly, like a smile, its universal reach is powerful.

At CWU Annual Conference this year we used video and music to celebrate the union’s campaigns and many remarked how chuffed they felt to see our tireless work on behalf of our people represented in such a way.

How we represent members and how we can reach more people and make our union more diverse is a continuing focus for the CWU.

Our National Executive Council has been focusing on CWU membership density and diversity.

Both are interwoven and inseparable. The better the density the more CWU people we’ll have and the more power we can exercise. The more diverse we are, the better our decisions.

This is also true of wider society. According to figures obtained by CWU research, trade union membership density in Norway is at 54.7% – and Norway is the world’s richest country.

Of course the link isn’t automatic, but surely Norway’s creative use of its oil wealth owes something to the pervasiveness of the unions in that country.

Recently, the CWU circulated to CWU branches a report from Government on the position of unions within the UK. Trade union density in the UK stands at 25.6% and women are more likely to be trade union members than men.

The trade union wage premium is still 19.8% for the public sector and 7% for the private sector. That is, if you are in a union you are likely to be better paid.

Of course, similar is true for health and safety and equal pay in terms of protection.

The CWU continues to track our own density in the sectors where we are recognised.

Much good work has been done, but more is needed. In the not-too-distant future we should be at a point where every local rep is aware of the density and diversity of their workplace.

We want to represent everyone and speak for all.


“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”
- Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist 1879 – 1955

The July/August 2014 edition of Voice will be out for home delivery to all members at the end of June.

Posted in Columns |

Speech: TUC TTIP Conference

Two weeks ago I met with Ignacio Bercero – the EU’s Chief negotiator of TTIP* with other members of the TUC Executive at Congress House.

Ignacio told us how TTIP would be good for the UK.

He told us TTIP would create growth.

TTIP would improve efficiency.

TTIP would be good for the automobile, manufacturing and textile sectors.

And he told us we could trust him to deliver a deal that wouldn’t cause us any concerns.

He was a very nice bloke, he engaged with us, he took our criticisms on the chin.

But you’ll be glad to know that his nice cop approach (guess where that leaves his boss, Commissioner de Gucht!) didn’t entirely calm our concerns.

We said that for us, TTIP will only be good if it benefits the public and workers.

It must create decent jobs with fair pay.

It must raise standards in chemicals and  health and safety at work.

It must raise workers rights–so American workers to have the kinds of rights protection and worker representation found in Europe and so that our rights, guaranteed under the European social model, wouldn’t be undermined.

It must exclude public services from negotiations, including those privatised parts of the economy which future governments decide to return to the public sector (not just Royal Mail, but the railways and bits of the NHS, too).

It must scrap ISDS which is undemocratic and gives corporate interests the power to dictate public policy.

We told him TTIP wouldn’t be able to deliver a deal that works for workers unless it involves trade unions in negotiations.

We know that negotiations so far have taken place mostly behind closed doors with business given access that unions have been denied.

As I said, Ignacio nodded and smiled a lot.

But it is going to take more than nods and smiles to get TTIP that delivers for us.

It will take a planned trade union campaign to take on organised business interests.

And that is what today’s conference is all about – at least making a start.

We need to take on our opponents.

We need to build coalitions.

We need to engage with our employers to find out what they are up to, and where, occasionally, we can make common cause.

We need to build strong campaigns and mobilise.

We need to capture the public interest and promote our demands of TTIP.

And we need to make the worker voice heard, not just in Congress House but at the negotiating table.

The opportunities TTIP offers are too important not to get involved.

So you have an important task – good luck!

*TTIP: Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Posted in Speeches |

Article in LabourList: Standing up to the UKIP threat

My piece in LabourList, 11th June 2014

There are signs of panic among some Labour politicians in the face of UKIP’s European election results. Triangulating towards UKIP’s policies, such as they are, or “apologising” to UKIP voters, are initiatives guaranteed to bleed Labour’s electoral support.

Such panic fails to address the fact that UKIP plays upon, and promotes, prejudices dangerous to the future of our society. Doubtless some readers will be wagging metaphorical fingers to point out it’s insufficient to call UKIP racist.  Insufficient perhaps, wrong, definitely not.

Nigel Farage in his keynote address to UKIP’s Spring Conference 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 hear English spoken any more.”

Either the good citizens of Leeds, Lincoln, London, etc are waking up saying “Where are we?” Or this is racism. Perhaps the same citizens are no longer permitted, or able, to ask that question in English? Or this is racism.

The brave politicians in this debate are not those saying “we need to debate immigration”, and “UKIP has a point”. The brave politicians are those like David Lammy and Diane Abbott who are nailing this racism.

Now, let’s debate how to defeat UKIP.  We can already see the bandwagon slow at Newark, and slower again as the most recent Ashcroft poll has them down to 17%.

Indeed, the very detailed analysis of the Ashcroft poll of 24th May showed how vulnerable their votes are. 60% of the voters were “sending a message” to other parties. Already 20% said they would return to the Tories at the General Election, 10% will vote Labour, and 14% are “uncertain”.  Are these really the voters who will define the agenda in 2015?

According to Ashcroft UKIP’s votes were composed of 50% ex-Tories, 20% ex-LibDem and 14% ex-Labour.  This demonstrates the folly of stampeding towards the conclusion that Labour is losing huge numbers of votes to UKIP.

In the run-up to the General Election UKIP are getting weaker not stronger. We must toughen up our opposition to them while they are vulnerable.

We are “at our best at our boldest”.  So let us face facts about the issue of migrant labour. The future of our economy is dependent upon its open connection to the EU. We are against withdrawal from the EU because it will lead to a collapse in living standards.  It will not lead to the independent, post-empire Empire that UKIP dream of.

Equally, the multiculturalism, which terrifies UKIP, is one of the great productive forces of our society. This is not just about being enriched by different food, different music, different cultures, etc.  This is about our diverse population, giving us a competitive advantage in the globalised market.

We have a polyglot population – many of whom have direct or family ties to the most rapidly developing economies in the world.  They can address the decision makers of these countries in the language of these countries.

We can be successful if we incorporate our people, “our most precious resource”, into our future planning in business, diplomacy, cultural exchange, etc.

UKIP’s policy is not only morally wrong. It is also deeply damaging to the future development of our political economy. Labour is best equipped to fight them, and must do so.

As a small step towards this, I would encourage LabourList readers to take part in the conference “After the Euro Elections: Stand up to UKIP, racism and fascism” on Saturday 14th June, 10am – 4.30pm at the TUC, Congress House, London.

Read this artilce online at LabourList.

Posted in Articles |

Speech: Merseyside Public Rally – “No More Austerity”

Let me start by thanking the IER, the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom, and the People’s Assembly for organising tonight’s meeting.  We need more such opportunities to debate out how we can put an end to austerity politics.

The Coalition government insists that austerity has been successful. This is hard to credit. The economy is now just regaining the size it reached before the recession – six years after it started.

This has been the slowest recovery from recession since the 1880’s. Only now are we beginning to see private capital end its extended investment strike – despite interest rates being well below the rate of inflation for a number of years now.

Yet there is no end to the cost of living crisis.  According to the TUC for those in work – real wages today are £40 per week below their real value in comparison to 2008.

For those out of work then it’s just high levels of unemployment, low levels of real benefit, and ever greater compulsion towards low paid and unpaid forms of super exploitation. Zero hours isn’t the only problem – it is also zero wages.

The recent European election should register a warning for the Tories. Austerity is unpopular. Parties and governments practicing it were punished by the electorate.

Unfortunately, much of this disquiet was registered in the growth of populist and racist parties of the right in the EU.  There were bright spots for the left, notably in Ireland and Greece.  But the shift to the right was bigger.

Mainstream politicians have been insisting that living standards must be cut. This guarantees that there will be a search for those responsible.

The populist and racist parties of the right say that it is the EU’s constitution and the migrant workers who are to blame.  Politicians like Cameron who appease such racism face being pushed aside.

However, the same results are very sobering for Labour politicians. The results point to the need to give up the search for a kinder, fairer or more gentle austerity.

Socialist and social democratic parties who most associated themselves with austerity did very badly. Just look at the results of the Irish Labour Party, PASOK in Greece and the French Socialist Party.

All suffered serious blows. Their endorsement of austerity was seen as an affront to their own social base.

There is also a warning for Ed Miliband here. Labour’s results in the EU and local elections were good. But being in opposition shielded Labour from the anti-austerity swing.

In 2015, Labour must not offer more of the same austerity. Certainly Ed Miliband should be conscious of the fate of Irish Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore.

He endorsed the austerity package proposed by the European Commission, IMF and European Central Bank to the Irish government in which he served. At the EU elections his party’s vote was halved and he was forced to resign.

Instead, Miliband must propose an economic policy, which can expand the economy and raise living standards. He must say that we only have a recovery in the economy, when it is led by an increase in wages, benefits and secure jobs.

To achieve this, he has to say that his government will stimulate the economy through investment, not cuts.

The great stagnation of the economy since 2008 is a product of private market failure.

Private investment collapsed as the capitalists decided it was more profitable to accumulate interest in the banks than risk productive investment.

There are those in politics and the media who want to hide the responsibility for this failure.  So they accuse Labour of ‘not having a credible economic policy’, unless Labour continues with the same policy that created the recession.

These are the people who believe that cutting benefits to disabled people, and cutting taxes for millionaires, is a credible policy.

Ed Miliband needs to say that his government will educate, employ and house the next generation.  That will scoop up the votes.

And it will pull the rug from underneath the racists in UKIP who offer nothing other than EU type neo-liberalism – only outside of the EU.

By government investment, a Labour government can renew the economic infrastructure, restore public services, and build the homes needed to resolve the desperate crisis in housing.

Of course, the right-wing in all parties will say that this will not reduce the deficit.

Strange advice – given that government borrowing increased under Osborne – and given that his government keeps increasing the period it sets itself to close the deficit.

Indeed, the Tories now talk of permanent austerity.

Our answer is that increasing employment will close the deficit by reducing social security payments, and increasing tax revenue to government.

Now, the Tories and their Lib Dem accomplices offer not just more austerity but also more restrictions on the trade unions.

Clearly they understand that trade unions offer a different economic rationale.

The most recent figures from the Office of National Statistics indicate that being in a trade union is worth 19.8% extra on your hourly wage in the public sector – and 7% in the private sector.

This is not a new development. For a long time now even establishment economists have defined a “trade union mark-up”

If you want to drive down wages and conditions for the workforce, then you need to weaken the trade unions.

Equally, if you want to raise living standards and improve conditions for the workforce then you need to build the trade unions.

Now the trade unions are not going to go away. We must take up our role inside the broader movement against austerity.

This is true for both the national union, and local branches. We need to be actively involved in resisting cuts, and the political initiatives for an alternative to austerity.

Thank you for listening.

Posted in Speeches |