How the “friends” of Royal Mail workers helped the CWU


Part one of this article was published August 11

The Socialist Workers Party are expert at providing tame “left-wing” criticisms of the labour and trade union bureaucracy, while serving to politically block any independent movement of the working class.

The SWP’s long-established theory of the trade unions is one that justifies the bureaucracy’s domination over the working class. According to the SWP, “the bureaucracy play a contradictory role within capitalism. On the one hand, their role is to fight for the interests of workers. On the other, their function is to resolve the tensions between workers and bosses… But it is more complex than simply saying that trade union leaders’ role and experience mean that they will always mechanically sell out”. This is because, “Even only at the level of the bureaucracy, there is a range of different pressures interacting and shaping the development of any dispute… The combination of these pressures in particular moments in a dispute can tip the balance in one direction. The dynamic is not black and white.”

The “dynamic” being described is that of the SWP’s slavish defence of the bureaucracy. This was on full display at Royal Mail. While the Socialist Equality Party and the WSWS called for the formation of rank-and-file committees to draw up strike demands and seize control of the dispute from the CWU bureaucracy, the SWP disarmed postal workers in the face of an impending betrayal. Less than three weeks before the CWU unveiled its pro-company agreement, it posted an article, “CWU union leaders could call new Royal Mail strikes,” urging them to launch “hard hitting action to bring Thompson and the board to their knees.”

Socialist Worker March 24 article, “CWU union leaders could call new Royal Mail strikes” [Photo: screenshot: socialist worker]

The CWU bureaucracy were then deep in talks with Royal Mail at ACAS, facilitated by former Trades Union Congress president Sir Brendan Barber, aimed at retaining their long-standing partnership with the company. Its only disagreement with workplace revisions was that they were being implemented unilaterally, instead of via agreement with CWU national officials.

After the negotiators’ agreement was published, the SWP adapted to workers’ angry denunciations of Ward and Furey. An April 21 article, “It will take organisation to stop this deal”, presented the fight entirely in organisational terms, urging only that “Workers should vote to reject the deal when it is put to a ballot—and demand more, harder-hitting strikes immediately.” But who was going to organise such strikes? The SWP’s suggestion that a “No” vote would pressure the bureaucracy to escalate the struggle was pure fantasy. Most workers who later voted for the agreement did so because they recognised a “no” vote by itself would not defeat the surrender document under conditions where the CWU executive was already implementing the company’s savage assault.

Spooked by the prominence of the WSWS and the Postal Workers Rank-and-File Committee, the SWP rushed to promote a series of bogus “rank-and-file” initiatives, including Postal Workers Say Vote No, NHS Workers Say Vote No and Strike Map. These united the SWP with sections of the trade union bureaucracy, Corbynites and other pseudo-left groups such as Counterfire and Workers Power to direct rank-and-file opposition back behind the bureaucracy.

On April 25, the Socialist Worker reported one such event, “Build the strikes, link the fights, reject bad deals”. It cited a key participant from the National Education Union (NEU) who explained the group’s purpose was to “push trade union leaders to move forward”. The SWP urged support for a model resolution by Strike Map’s steering group (aligned politically to Corbyn) calling on the “leading bodies” of the NEU, Royal College of Nursing, and British Medical Association to “coordinate future strike dates” and “force action from the government”. The unions’ “leading bodies” took no notice of such appeals. Both the NEU and RCN cancelled industrial action to ram through below-inflation pay deals negotiated with the Sunak government.

Workers Power

Workers Power, a splinter group from the SWP buried in the Labour Party, played a critical role for the CWU bureaucracy in heading off a genuine rank-and-file rebellion.

On April 21, Workers Power member Andy Young, a CWU rep from Leeds sacked during the dispute, wrote to the Postal Workers Rank-and-File Committee (PWRFC) asking to join. He was invited to attend its Zoom meeting on April 23, where he opposed the committee’s formation, claiming it was “premature”. He then voted to abstain on the committee’s resolution adopted by postal workers in attendance, “Organise to defeat CWU-Royal Mail agreement: Vote NO! Reinstate all victimised workers! Build the Postal Workers Rank-and-File Committee!”

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