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- Editorial of the Socialist issue 1061
CWU vote for strike action will boost workers' confidence to fight back
The incredible Communication Workers Union (CWU) ballot result in Royal Mail - a 97% vote for national strike action on a 76% turnout - must be a watershed moment for the whole trade union movement. See 'Postal workers: we're out to win' and 'Vote yes for Royal Mail strike action' at socialistparty.org.uk for more information about why CWU members voted for action.
The ballot result proves beyond doubt that the undemocratic Tory anti-union laws can be surmounted, providing a fighting lead is given and members are mobilised. It will give confidence to other workers that a fightback is possible.
Was it even possible?
Many in the union movement raised doubts about whether it would even be possible to have national industrial action because of the legal restrictions.
There has been a rising number of localised disputes, but it has been far more difficult to win national ballots of bigger numbers of workers, spread over hundreds of workplaces. Now over 110,000 postal workers have now blown a major hole in this idea.
This is the second time in two years that the CWU has won a legal strike ballot, overcoming the new 50% turnout threshold. For workers in essential services the hurdle is even higher, at least 40% of members must vote yes.
Disgracefully, the Tories were able to bring in their 2016 Trade Union Act, of which the new voting thresholds were a major part, without any significant fight by the trade union leaders. It represents a further escalation of Thatcher's anti-union laws.
While 250,000 marched against Tory Ted Heath's Industrial Relations Bill in 1971, not one national demonstration in London was called this time by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the unions.
The TUC organised one midweek rally of a few thousand in Westminster in November 2015, and even then hundreds had to stand outside Central Hall because the TUC hadn't booked enough seats!
Yet just four years earlier, 750,000 workers and their families had marched against Tory cuts, which prepared the way for the November 2011 two-million strong public sector pensions strike.
If a serious fight against the Bill had been linked to the struggle against Tory austerity, hundreds of thousands could have been mobilised. But the right-wing union leaders' role was shown in the way that the TUC, Unison and GMB leaders ended the pensions battle by capitulating to the Tories.
The CWU's campaign to overcome the thresholds was a model that should be a blueprint for the rest of the union movement. It wasn't a passive ballot but a whole process of engaging with members and mobilising them. The union conducted members' meetings in the workplace and even on the gate.
The demands of the union were spelled out clearly. The CWU used social media and other 'modern' methods of communication but they were to supplement, not instead of, engaging with the shop floor. Photos of members' meetings were put on social media to build confidence among members and create momentum.
One of the main reasons why Thatcher introduced postal ballots for industrial action was to try and take workers out of the collective atmosphere of debate and discussion in the workplace when voting, usually by a show of hands.
Instead, it was hoped, they would be more under the influence of the mass Tory media on an individual and isolated basis. But the CWU acted to circumvent this by calling on members to bring their ballot papers to work and fill them in and post them together.
Queuing to vote
At one Royal Mail office, workers took a video where they lined up in a queue to put their ballots in the post box. If the dispute is conducted with the same determination as the balloting process, they have every reason to be confident of winning.
But solidarity from other sections of workers will be important. The bosses will also be attentively watching this key battle.
Striking Royal Mail workers will undoubtedly face an onslaught from the Tories and the media in an attempt to defeat a key workforce in a crucial struggle that could inspire workers to fight more widely.
Workers should be looking to set up support groups, via trade union councils where possible, in preparation for strike action in Royal Mail.
At the same time, strike action by CWU members could be an excellent opportunity for Jeremy Corbyn to push his pledge to take Royal Mail into public ownership - a vital step for protecting the future of the service, and the jobs and conditions of workers, as well as a way of mobilising support for a Corbyn-led Labour victory in a general election.
In The Socialist 23 October 2019:
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