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Interview with CWU leader Dave Ward: Challenging Royal Mail's Accounts
DAVE WARD is the recently elected deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers' Union (CWU). He is responsible for the postal side of the union and is the lead negotiator in the current pay dispute with Royal Mail.
He spoke to the socialist at this year's TUC:
"Management are claiming that the business made a £611 million operating loss last year but £470 million of that was for exceptional items, principally redundancy payments.
"We don't accept that they are making an operating loss. All the facts that we have drawn out don't bear out the management claim that the industry is in danger of going to the wall.
"We think there's a chance of a deal but the ball is in the employer's court. What we are not prepared to accept is that low pay of our members will subsidise this industry and we won't accept any change that means compulsory redundancies.
"We're responding to the management letters that have been sent out to CWU members by writing directly to our members and holding branch briefings to get our message directly across.
"The letter that Royal Mail chairman Allan Leighton has sent out is an attack on the union - there's no doubt about that. I think it shows there is another agenda here, although management deny that.
"But Leighton's idea of partnership is either not to want the union as a 'partner' or to have us as a silent partner. Leighton's style is not about partnership but to go over our heads.
"For instance, they are offering postal workers an £800 share offer - a phoney share offer we call it - but this is a direct attack on national pay bargaining.
"I'd say that if he's got that money to play with then it should go straight into our members' pockets.
"This government are placing a lot of faith in Allan Leighton and they obviously hand-picked him to turn the business around.
"We wanted a new type of manager but we've almost ended up with our worst nightmare. It is a bit of a throwback to the team-working dispute of 1996 where there clearly was an agenda to undermine the union.
"You have to ask whether the government is supporting actions that are designed to undermine the union and in turn undermine a public-sector industry.
"I don't personally believe that Blair wants a fight with us at the moment but you never know.
"The issue of whether or not we should fund the Labour Party and stay affiliated is a live debate amongst union activists, with more of a drift towards people seriously challenging why we pay money to the Labour Party.
"I think the members' view is that what happens in the CWU should reflect what our members want and not what the Labour Party wants.
"We need to move the debate on to a way to improve our members' pay and conditions rather than accepting or doing what the Labour government wants us to do.
"We have to reflect our members' views to the Labour government not the other way round.
"I think there's a natural conclusion to that debate and that will probably see an increasing mood to pull out of funding the Labour Party. I think that will probably happen at some point in the future if things develop the way they have been developing.
"I'd appeal to other unions to give us as much help as they sensibly can in this dispute. The trade union movement as a whole has got to back our struggle to make sure that change benefits our members and not the employers.
"I think in the last 15 years the TUC in particular lost its way but in the last few years there's been realignment. The pressure is now on union leaders because members know that so-called change is not benefiting them.
"If we take a firm line in this dispute we can rebalance this and show that you can achieve change in an industry which is beneficial for workers and ensure that our members get a decent pay rise."
In The Socialist 20 September 2003: