Speech to Network Gender Project

Firstly, welcome to CWU Headquarters.  I hope you are able to work in comfort here.

The CWU is very supportive of co-operation amongst European trade unionists. There is much that we can learn from each other.

The CWU is also particularly supportive of the Network Gender Project. We recognise that austerity policies in the EU are having a very serious impact upon women in the workplace, community and in the home.

Your study will help us in addressing the problems women are facing in Britain.

Judging by the Project Manual your study appears to have three themes:

  • the impact austerity is having upon women in the labour market
  • the possibilities for using collective bargaining to address the hurdles women face
  • and the concrete position of women in the trade unions.

These are clearly important questions to study if we are to establish a progressive alternative.

I would like to say a few words about the position of women in the labour market -and the position of women in the CWU.

The position of women in the British labour market has deteriorated under the impact of austerity.

Record numbers of women are now in employment – this continues a decades’ long trend.

Yet, women are still disadvantaged – a record number of women do not have a job, with nearly 1 million women unable to find work.

A further 826,000 women have been forced to take low-paid work, or zero hour contracts, in the past 6 years.

In total, 3 million women are classified as being on low pay. That is nearly 1 in 4 of all female workers.

One in eight women are on zero hour contracts.

This promotion of poverty amongst working women has resulted in one in 12 mothers in low-paid jobs being forced to visit a food bank.

Another striking development has been a big growth in self-employment amongst women.  Our Coalition Government presents this as a growth of entrepreneurialism amongst women.

In fact, nearly 50 percent of all-new self-employed are over the age of 50. And the average wage of the self-employed is less than half that of employees.

The self-employed do not receive sick pay, holiday pay or any employer contributions to their pensions.

Far from being a positive stimulus to the economy, this growth in self-employment is often a desperate attempt by working people to make ends meet in a completely insecure labour market.

This work is often low tech and with extended working hours.  The majority of those newly self-employed have been women.

This is just a little of the recent evidence of the impact austerity is having upon women in the labour market.

In the face of this deepening disadvantage for women, how are they placed in the CWU?

The CWU organises in a workforce inside the communication sector where men currently predominate.

The most recent figures we have indicate that amongst postal and courier employees, women make up 20 percent of the workforce.

Amongst telecoms employees, women make up 29.6 percent of the workforce.

For the whole combined sector, women make up 24.5 percent of the workforce.

I must stress that these figures are a little out of date, and the proportion of women is likely to have increased.

Of the CWU’s current membership nearly 19 percent are women.

Although we do not have complete figures, we estimate that nearly 16 percent of our members are from black and ethnic minorities.

From amongst our total membership, nearly 22 percent are part time workers.

As each year goes by our membership has become more diverse.  Yet we recognise that our leadership, at both national and local levels, does not reflect this growing diversity.

We recognise that in order to survive and flourish the union must adapt to the changing composition of the workforce.

It is for that reason that in recent years we have been undertaking a major initiative to establish more proportionately in the leadership at both branch and national levels.

This has involved some serious differences amongst activists. But through a process of extensive dialogue between the national leadership and branches we have secured the support of the overwhelming majority of activists.

For the most part now, local and national leaders know that we must put in place policies, procedures and rules which ensure that women and black members achieve a greater proportion of leading positions.

We have some way to go yet, and I must stress that we are addressing a substantial problem.  This is not an issue which is desirable, but not essential to solve.

On the contrary, this is a weakness which has been holding us back, and making our work in the workplace more difficult.

That said, I am optimistic that the progress we are making demonstrates the certainty that we will achieve a more proportionate, representative and strong union.

The work of your project is of great interest in our efforts to improve the representation of our women members.

I wish you every success in your deliberations today.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches |

TUC 2014: Speech on Motion 77 “TUC disputes procedure”

The subject of the TUC disputes procedure appears very remote from our daily concerns. In reality, it refers to one of the most vital themes of our movement – the relationship between unions.

When these relationships operate co-operatively and well, we become a force capable of making major changes to our members’ lives and in our society. When the relationship becomes conflicted, then our movement loses power and we become spectators in events we should influence.

The dispute procedure, also known as the Bridlington Agreement, was first established in 1939.

Because we rarely see completely clear lines of occupational divide between, or within industries, there are many potential points of conflict in our recruitment drives.

Since 1939, the TUC has responded to changes in practice – the issue of single union agreements being a notable example of this.

Equally, the code was adapted to take into account the changes under the 1992 Employment Act covering the limits on exclusion or expulsion from unions.

Today, we see the deregulation of many utilities. At the same time, we see convergence between industries through new technology. These two changes are creating challenges to the demarcation in organisations that we’ve been working with.

For these reasons, the CWU is convinced it’s time to review the disputes procedures.

There are also existing procedures which really do warrant a fresh look.

At present, no case coming before the dispute procedure results in precedent being set.  Each case stands as unique. Obviously this is not a realistic approach.

Or take the fact that there can be no joint case between unions bringing a common complaint against a third. That is even if these cases involve the same company.

Whatever the difficulties of reviewing these procedures, we believe it is necessary to do so. It is part of keeping unions abreast of the changing world of work.

This need not be contentious – we’re confident that we can update procedures in line with our new needs.

I move.

Motion 77:

Congress recognises that clear and constructive arrangements for relations between affiliates are essential to optimise the efficient and effective working of the trade union movement.  Congress recognises the important role the TUC Disputes Procedures has played in this regard.

However, Congress is concerned that there are worrying signs that some of the discredited practices that affected our movement as recently as the 1980s are beginning to reappear, with some unions being unable or unwilling to respect the spirit or the letter of certain parts of the Procedures.

Congress agrees that the clarity of the meaning and application of the Disputes Procedures is of the utmost assistance in helping all affiliates to abide by this common set of values.  It therefore agrees that the Disputes Procedures shall be reviewed to ensure they remain fit-for-purpose in the current challenging circumstances.

Posted in Conferences, Speeches |

TUC 2014: Speech to Palestine Solidarity Campaign fringe meeting

Let me start by thanking the PSC for organising today’s meeting.  This is a useful setting of the scene for the discussion tomorrow when Congress debates the General Council statement.

I think the General Council statement is very positive. It is very practical in tone. It is also further evidence of how support for the Palestinians has become the stable stance for British trade unions.

Certainly the events  of recent months show why solidarity with the Palestinians is an essential part of our work.

We have seen wars upon Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014. All waged upon a people held under siege since 2006.

We have seen the collapse of peace talks, despite the apparent commitment of John Kerry and the US administration.  Talks which date back to the signing of the Oslo Agreement in 1993.

The source of the problem is clear. The Israeli government continues to regard Palestinian rights as something that can be lightly set aside.

Unfortunately, the US government, the EU and UK government all demur to this, much too often.  The role of the international solidarity movement is to press these governments.

In the past weeks we have heard commentators and politicians continually state that “Israel has the right to defend itself”.  Very rarely do they suggest that Palestine might have some rights too.

What the Israeli government does not have is:

  • the right to steal Palestinian lands
  • the right to imprison elected representatives
  • the right to bomb refugee camps
  • the right to besiege and intimidate a whole nation

And the obvious rejoiner to “Israel has the right to defend itself” is that Palestinians have that right too.

But we cannot get progress by deepening the conflict.  The ceasefire is welcome but it must be a precursor to the lifting of the siege, and a just peace for the Palestinians.

The war this summer has been very distressing.  But at least we have seen a big expansion of the international opposition. The sight of big solidarity demonstrations throughout the world has been encouraging.

In Britain, the excellent work of the PSC and its allies, has resulted in huge national demonstrations and many, many local events.

I think the reason the Coalition Government initiated a review of arms sales to Israel with the result is this growing opposition.

Cameron decided to continue the sales anyway.  But don’t miss the significance of this – the British government and Foreign Office are vulnerable to organised lobbying against arms sales to Israel.  Clearly this must become a priority for the whole movement.

Practical work has to be the priority now.  For our part, the CWU will continue to promote the work of the PSC.  We are encouraging our branches and regions to affiliate.

We will be taking part in the TUC delegation to Gaza.  We have opened direct relations with Palestinian unions in the communications sector.

Union representatives from the Palestinian telecoms company, Jawwal and from the Palestinian Postal Service will be attending CWU conference next year.

Despite the terrible difficulties, the Palestinians refuse to give up.  Neither should we.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Conferences, Speeches |

TUC 2014: Speech to move Motion 72

“Trade unions in the media”

The motion is simple.  The CWU is seeking a report for next year’s Congress on the exclusion of trade unions from the media.

Our aim is quite broad. We want to highlight the fact that Britain’s largest voluntary organisations, and largest social movement, is routinely deleted from important areas of public life.

We want to start with a study of the media because unions are doubly disadvantaged there.

Firstly, the portrayal of unions is, almost invariably, unfavourable and unbalanced.

Secondly, despite the social weight of unions, they are not given the same opportunities as employers, or interested individuals.

But, we are in no doubt that there is almost no recognition of our actual contribution to national life. There are almost no statues, and almost no blue plaques.

Yet a large proportion of the working population has had some direct involvement in labour market struggles since the end of the eighteenth century.

This history finds little expression in the media either. Where are the documentaries and the popular series about the ceaseless work of many selfless and courageous people?

Our children learn nothing in school about the organisations that they may join someday.  These are organisations which are very likely to involve their direct relatives, living and dead.

There is nothing in the national curriculum.

This excision teaches children that they, and their relatives, do not figure in our society or history.

For too long, we in the unions have taken for granted that the media will be against us. We assume that is the case from both the privately-owned and the public broadcasters.

This is true.  But isn’t it time we organised ourselves to change this?

It is some consolation that there is a democratic element to the new social media.

It is pleasing to see unions using the new channels to convey a message and organise support.

But we mustn’t give up on the traditional forms of media. Fighting for fair representation is fighting for a fairer society.

The elementary requirement for balance is being ignored by broadcasters when it comes to unions. They too take it for granted that the union voice is not a legitimate one in the public arena.

This is not a straightforward complaint about the disappearance of industrial correspondents – although that is significant.

It is also about the assumption that opinion and commentary is the prerogative of politicians, business people, columnists and comedians.

Since 2010, there have only been 9 appearances by Trade Union leaders on 178 episodes of Question Time. During the same period, right wing journalist Peter Hitchens has appeared 8 times, and former Sun Editor, Kelvin McKenzie 7 times.

There is no reason why trade unions should not be able to offer our perspective on current affairs, newspaper media coverage, political and social debates.

But the TV and radio studios are dominated by a rotating number of people drawn from amongst a small professional elite.

This is neither representative nor democratic. We need to stand up to it.

We want the TUC to work with academics and sympathetic broadcasters to measure and analyse the problem. Let’s examine the outlines of exclusion in order to start lobbying against it.

I move.

Motion 72:

That this Congress agrees that Trade Unions continue to be the biggest social movement within the UK.

Congress is concerned at the apparent marginalisation of unions within the media and wider society.

Congress is to establish as study group to examine and test if Trade Unions are underrepresented within the media.

A report on this to be presented on this at Congress 2015.

Posted in Conferences, Speeches |

TUC 2014: Speech to Unite Against Fascism fringe meeting

The CWU is proud to be one of the founding unions of Unite Against Fascism. In continuity with our commitment to the campaign, the union is now providing office space for UAF.

The reason the CWU has been such a staunch supporter of UAF is because it has worked. Since the campaign was launched the BNP has effectively been defeated, and the EDL seriously weakened.

In the European elections earlier this year we saw the endpoint of the BNP’s collapse, when they lost their final MEP.

In our view, this has been because the UAF has employed the right tactics.  That is:

  • highlighting that the BNP is a fascist party;
  • uniting with all communities, organisations and individuals who oppose fascism;
  • promoting and defending multi-culturalism as the alternative to racism.

This has allowed the UAF to make a big contribution to the broad-based movement against the BNP.

It is important to register our success.

But the general political situation in Britain and the EU is very difficult. The austerity policies being promoted, inside and outside the euro zone, are driving down living standards.

Governments are not confronting the powerful, wealthy people who create the economic crisis. Instead, the cost of the recession is being paid for by working people and the unemployed.

If there is no prospect of raising living standards then people search for those responsible. The establishment is encouraging racism to divert attention from its own misdeeds.  Muslims are particularly been made scapegoats.

UKIP’s growth is a product of this process. It may not be a fascist party – but it is certainly racist, and it has hoovered up BNP votes and some ex-BNP members.

We need new tactics – simple anti-fascism will not work with the non-fascist but racist party.

For UKIP, the key issue is immigration. They are against the EU.  But it’s hard to demonstrate a negative presence from the EU.  So they use the free movement of labour in the EU as a means to highlight their opposition.

UKIP are only successful in this because of the cowardice of mainstream parties on the issue of immigration.

All the evidence is that migrants bring with them vital skills and capital to our country.

The opposition to migrants is based on fear of the foreigner, or the unknown. Obviously the far right – fascist and racist – played this up to win support for their parties.

Instead of facing this down, mainstream politicians find it handy to bend towards it.

So you see the Tories promising – yet failing – to get immigration below 100,000 a year before the General Election.

Banning immigration makes no economic sense unless you also ban emigration from the country. No politicians proposing to discuss that, let alone consider doing it.

Hence this ridiculous habit of hysterical anti-migrant campaigns – and complete silence when British citizens migrate.

The current narrow narrative is incoherent and racist. It is vital that all anti-racists fight against it.  That is why the Stand Up to Racism initiative by the UAF is so much needed now.

This year, in March, the CWU joined in supporting the UN’s Anti-Racism Day. The event in Trafalgar Square was very successful – next year we must make it bigger again.

A racist atmosphere is also being orchestrated in response to the terrible abuse of young women and girls in Rotherham.

At the heart of this is a failure to recognise the rights of women and girls – there remains widespread misogyny in our society.

This is overlaid with the refusal to respect the rights and needs of children.

But this is a problem within every community – not just the Muslim community.
Criminality and paedophilia exists in every community.

Jimmy Saville, Gary Glitter, Rolf Harris, the Christian orphan homes in Northern Ireland, North Wales and elsewhere – these are all cases of widespread abuse-covered up by those with power.

And we await the report on the abuse of boys by Tory ministers during Thatcher’s government.

So we must condemn the attempts of the EDL to whip up racism, Support the demonstration against them in Rotherham on 13th September.

In the coming period we need, as much as ever, to oppose racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and fascism.

UAF has made a vital contribution and needs our continued support.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Conferences, Speeches |

TUC 2014: Speec to Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) fringe meeting

I welcome the decision of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, in recent years, to organise a fringe at the TUC. Some may suggest it is inappropriate as not all of the unions attending are affiliated.

But the discussion that CLPD poses is a question of the strategic orientation of the labour and trade union movement.

Perhaps Congress delegates hostile to Labour may attend these debates and see how concretely the affiliated unions can co-ordinate their work inside Labour. It also allows us to illustrate the alliance that unions have with the centre-left inside the Constituency Labour Parties.

These are good, strong, political reasons to have this meeting today.

The CWU is affiliated to CLPD, and we are proud to sponsor its work.

Now, I want to briefly talk about two issues – the question of the incoming Labour Government’s economic policy; and the question of the future of union/party relations.

On economic policy, the CWU does not accept the suggestion that austerity is the right policy for the next government. We believe that an incoming Labour Government should not seek to meet, or surpass, the public spending targets that the Coalition Government is proposing.

Austerity is a method of transferring value from the poorer parts of society to the richer.  Since 2010, the living standards of those on benefits, in low or medium paid work, have all declined.

Those on higher incomes have risen, indeed, the richer you are, the greater the proportionate gain has been. Austerity is unjust and ineffective in developing the economy.

The rich are not investing their profits.  On the contrary, there are huge amounts of idle capital which is simply gaining interest in British banks.

We believe that Labour should be investing in the economy.  It will need to:

  • renew the country’s infrastructure
  • build houses for the estimated 5 million on council waiting lists
  • save the NHS from privatisation
  • and generally stimulate the economy by strengthening public and social services.

A Labour Government can intervene in the economy to expand it. This is the way that Ed Miliband can actually solve the cost of living crisis – by ensuring that we have jobs and wages led recovery.

At present, the emphasis in Labour leadership circles is to be completely defensive on the economy.  We are to show how responsible we are by adhering to Tory spending limits.

These are limits which the Tories are constantly changing, and which Labour has been constantly criticising.

My article in the current CLPD Journal points to a couple of historic occasions which the Labour leadership needs to remember.

Firstly, towards the end of the life of the 1945 Labour Government there was a tremendous row in the Cabinet about military spending. Aneurin Bevan regarding the allocation as over-inflated and was ousted for his opposition.

When the Tories came back into power in 1951, they immediately reduced the allocation in a similar manner to that which Bevan had proposed, in order to spend more on welfare and housing.

Secondly, when Labour came to power in 1997, the leadership insisted upon adhering to the tight spending limits that Kenneth Clarke, the outgoing Tory Chancellor had proposed.

He later admitted that if the Tories had won the election he would not have stuck to those limits.

The lesson being that the Tories know how valuable it is to work flexibly in politics.  In power, we need a Labour Government to demonstrate that it understands that by tearing up Tory spending plans.

Briefly, I want to say something about the future of the union and Labour relations.  At Labour’s Spring Conference we carried the proposals from Ray Collins to move to levy payers having to give personal authorisation for donations to Labour by becoming associate members.

Given the political situation it was necessary to put aside our disquiet about the change.  Now, we have to engage in an intensive campaign to sign up our levy payers to the new procedure.

The CWU is aiming to achieve this between New Year and the General Election.

This is a lot of work for our activists. Making a virtue out of necessity – this is an opportunity to re-politicise our relations with the Party.

Yet, it will not be successful if the party does not address the needs of those who do positively sign up.

Politics is not a spectator sport. Nor can it be the sole prerogative of career politicians.

To be successful and progressive, Labour movement politics have to involve masses of people.  You cannot achieve this if there is no concerted attempt to answer their needs.

To finish, I’m confident that we’ll win a majority Labour Government in 2015.

But we must continue to press for such a government to implement an alternative to austerity and cuts.

In this campaign, I know both the CWU and CLPD will play their part. Thanks for listening.

Posted in Speeches, TUC |

Article for CLPD Labour Party Conference Journal

August 2015

All the signs are that Labour will form a majority government in 2015. Lord Ashcroft’s larger opinion polls all indicate that the Tories and Lib Dems are going to lose a lot of seats to Labour.

David Cameron seems to agree. This realisation forced him into a large Cabinet reshuffle in an attempt to find more presentable faces for the Tories. This was fail, as the faces aren’t the problem, it’s the policies.

This realisation is also dawning upon establishment forces in the media. We can expect many more of the character assassination attempts against Ed Miliband that we’ve witnessed recently. Our opponents will fight dirty because that is their character.

Clearly, there’s a premium on the unity of our movement to secure Labour’s victory.  In these few months before May, we have to concentrate our resources on winning every vote and seat possible.

But, we cannot pretend that all policy debate is resolved. Nor can we avoid continued discussion about the implementation of reforms following Collin’s recommendations being accepted by the Spring Conference.

The decisions of the National Policy Forum have laid the basis for Labour’s manifesto. This is our electoral offer to the British people.  It should be good enough to win in 2015. Yet no one should seriously regard it as a sufficient basis for government until 2020.

After the victory of the Conservatives in the 1951 General Election, there is a famous incident where the new government reduces the anticipated Armed Forces Budget. Churchill pointed out, in Parliament, how this decision of the Tories was in line with the stance of Bevan against the over-inflated military spending plans of the Labour leadership.

Equally, after the 1997 general election, the Labour government held itself to Tory spending limits for the first period of Parliament. Kenneth Clarke, the Tory Chancellor who proposed these limits previously, said that he wouldn’t have stuck to them after the Election.

It is this seam of pragmatism that has allowed the Tories to survive and remain influential. Unfortunately, Labour politicians frequently fail to demonstrate this admirable quality.  Instead, they torment themselves about appearing unpatriotic, or against the armed forces. Currently, the inflexible dogma is to appear more responsible about the economy than the Tories.

An incoming Labour government must assess the economic situation much more flexibly than it is able to do in opposition. The dramatic and continuing cuts in living standards of the majority of people in this country requires serious action from a Labour government. Sticking to Tory spending targets, which in government the Tories would probably ditch, is one-way that an incoming Labour government could make itself deeply unpopular.

Sticking to Tory spending limits and solving the cost-of-living crisis are contradictory policies. We must ensure that a Labour government resolve this in favour of the latter, not the former.

In 2015 the whole constitution of the Party is to be changed by the introduction of “affiliated supporters” from political levy payers. However we view the decisions of the Spring Conference, there is a challenge for all now to show that Labour is relevant to trade union members.

The CWU is intending to offer the chance of becoming an affiliated supporter to every CWU levy payer before the General Election. Such efforts have to be met by the Labour leadership showing a preparedness to respond to trade union concerns.

The agreement at the NPF to establish a Commission on the modern workplace is an important step in that direction. The commission will hopefully lay the basis for a progressive reform of the labour market.  We must move away from systematic insecurity at work. We need workplaces conditioned by respect, equality and rising living standards. This is a challenge which Labour must meet.

Posted in Articles |

Trade Union Group article: We must demand action now to protect the Universal Postal Service

Published on TUG blog, 29th July 2014

The public recently lost most of its ownership of Royal Mail as the Coalition Government frittered away important national assets, amounting to almost £1 billion, in a desperate fire-sale.

If this wasn’t bad enough, now the universal service provided by Royal Mail is also under threat due to the introduction of direct delivery competition. One competitor, TNT, aims to provide delivery to 42% of UK addresses by 2017 – covering just 8.5% of the total UK area. This shows that a “cherry-picking” operation is underway, whereby a competitor would harvest the profitable urban areas, like Manchester, Liverpool and London, whilst leaving Royal Mail all the loss-making ones.

And this “cherry-picking” is not only confined to delivery areas. TNT can also determine when it delivers, favouring a lower cost “every other day” service, while Royal Mail is bound to the Universal Service Obligation of a six day delivery and collection service for mail, and five for parcels. TNT can also even decide the type of mail it delivers, favouring business mail which is issued in regular volumes. Given that the total number of letters has been in steady decline since 2005, and this year alone, we expect volumes to fall by between 4 and 6%, this type of business mail is particularly sought after and so is particularly damaging as it is the most valuable to Royal Mail.

For these reasons, competitors, like TNT, pose a certain risk. The danger is that Royal Mail will no longer be able to fund its services, which completely undermines its role as the universal provider. Despite this, Ofcom, the regulator responsible for the postal industry, has refused to take any action to defend the universal service.

This is because Ofcom believes that the competition is healthy and does not pose a threat. Yet in offices in London where this competition is established, we are receiving reports of the loss of 20-30% of mail. At a certain point this trend becomes impossible to reverse. The country would then be left with an inadequate postal service, and a busted provider of the universal service.

Therefore the negative consequences are clear before we even address the question of how companies like TNT are able to compete. The fact is that they do so solely by removing the safety net on postal workers’ terms and conditions. They’re utilising zero-hour contracts, and paying minimum wage rates, or just above. So, not only is the universal service threatened but in the midst of a cost of living crisis, the living standards of postal workers also further face the axe.

We must demand action now. We are grateful for the support of the Trade Union Group of MPs and Katy Clark MP, who represents the CWU on the TUG Executive, tabled an Early Day Motion on this very issue. In EDM 151 before Parliament, MPs are demanding Ofcom review delivery competition and “… determine quickly any regularity changes needed to protect the Universal Postal Service”. Such a stance fits the bill – make sure your MP understands the importance of this issue.

Posted in Articles |

Speech to the National Association of Letter Carriers, Philadelphia

It is a great privilege to attend and address your convention.

As a former delivery worker, I have a real empathy for your union and the work your members perform. Having been a negotiating officer for delivery workers, I wish your President Fredric Rolando, every success.

I understand that you are in a major battle against just about everybody – USPS, Congress, and the President – to keep the Saturday delivery.

It is clear that as our industry changes in the digital world, there are those who would run it down into the ground.

Instead of developing and innovating in the service we provide, our critics just want to shrink it.

Nothing could be more short-sighted. We can adapt and offer a great deal as the economy develops and changes around the new information technology.

In the UK we are just negotiating delivery arrangements for parcels on a Sunday. We want to go farther and adapt to all the changes that flow from internet commerce and procurement.

But that’s a tough fight on your hands. Do the Republicans still want to fund the federal road-building programme from the Saturday delivery?  Better roads by doing away with the post – where is the sense in that?

I look forward to learning more about your campaigns.  Let me explain the struggle we are 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 the 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: 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 |