Socialist Party
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6 May 2020

Postal workers force Royal Mail back

Gary Clark, secretary Scotland No 2 branch Communications Workers Union (CWU)

CWU members have forced Royal Mail to retreat over its attempts to push through unilateral changes to the 'universal service obligation' which ensures six days a week delivery.

Even prior to the pandemic there was a major industrial clash about to take place between the CWU and Royal Mail, with two massive Yes votes in favour of industrial action. In the first 97% were in favour and in the second 94.5%.

After the first vote management ran to the capitalist courts, forcing the CWU to reballot its membership yet again, producing our third Yes vote in two years for industrial action.

Soon after the latest ballot result the CWU announced that it would not take industrial action during the period of the pandemic, and called for a period of peace during a national emergency. An offer was made by the union that the Royal Mail service should be a 'fourth emergency service', which was never seriously taken on by either the government or Royal Mail.

During this time, after a series of meetings between Royal Mail and the CWU, Royal Mail CEO Rico Back announced he would not meet the CWU again during this period. By doing so he drew the battle lines, clearly showing that the CWU tactic of seeking a period of peace had only given the go-ahead for an offensive by management.

On 28 April, Royal Mail announced in the media that it was suspending the universal service obligation. This was done without any consultation or negotiation with the CWU at any level. This provoked a massive reaction, and succeeded in creating a tinder-box situation in the workplace.

On 29 April, the CWU announced that it would advise the membership to ignore the management's instruction. Workers were advised to remain on their current duty pattern.

It became clear that the regulator Ofcom had agreed the changes, as had the government. If these changes had gone unchallenged and became permanent, they could have led to 20,000 job losses. It was also a clear attempt to derecognise the CWU, in all but name. The union advised all local reps not to cooperate and to put in disagreements on the issues.

This led to the possibility of the CWU enacting the industrial action ballot, and of unofficial action which could have quickly spread.


On May Day it became clear that Royal Mail was not so confident. It had been taken aback by the mood in the workplace. A CWU postal executive committee meeting took place later that day.

This was followed by an announcement that a form of words had been agreed between the CWU and Royal Mail, in which the suspension of the universal services obligation for a minimum of three months was now only for six weeks.

Furthermore, the statement said that no decision had been made regarding the company's long-term view and there will be no job losses or imposed duty changes. Any changes would be voluntary and had to be agreed locally with the CWU. No withdrawal of current schedule agreements was also agreed. Meetings between the union and Royal Mail would also take place to agree the basis to reopen talks around the national dispute.

Clearly, the CWU has forced a significant climb down by Royal Mail, which we believe had hoped it could use the pandemic to break the CWU and our members. That has clearly failed, massively. But pressure must be kept on management, and we should remain vigilant as they can't be trusted.

We can't allow talks to drag on. The mandate for the rerun ballot expires in mid-September. Regular updates must be given to the reps and members as to how these talks are progressing, via national online meetings if need be. If the view is they are not progressing at a pace, then invoking industrial action must be considered.

This horrific pandemic, which has seen postal workers die, has shown once and for all that the private sector is incapable of running vital public services. And the workload since the lockdown has reached unprecedented levels. Members up and down the country have declared they have never seen this amount of parcels in 20 years of service.

Despite this we are having to carry on delivering door-to-door advertising, which not only increases the load but also multiplies the potential risk to the people we deliver to.

The postal service is an essential service and must be brought back into public ownership. But this time under democratic workers' control as part of a socialist economy and plan of production.