WITHOUT THE court injunction handed down by unelected, elite judges, Royal Mail could never have pulled off their anti-strike manoeuvres. But these did not come as a surprise. In the build-up to the strike, regional meetings of reps saw CWU leaders questioned on the possibility of injunctions and how to respond, but they got no answers.
Instead, like the great defeat in 2007 that paved the way for privatisation, when Royal Mail’s application for an injunction succeeded, the Pullinger leadership stuck to the law and did nothing. The CWU does not even have a serious hardship or strike fund, crucial for a hard fight since workers do not receive strike pay.
The union tops could have at least started the process of reballoting immediately, but instead switched to sending letters to shareholders in a futile attempt try to stir them up against anti-union CEO Rico Back who is masterminding the assault – as if these multimillionaire speculators weren’t on his side against the workforce already. In reality they were hoping for a Labour government to save the union. Instead the Tories got in and gave a big boost to Royal Mail bosses, emboldened to go on the attack now that Christmas profits are safely banked.
Only Rico’s refusal to budge on a single part of his strategy, instead upping the stakes, has forced the union executive to take steps to reballot. In the meantime, the union has dragged its feet on the national ballot, only authorising local ballots for those offices facing executive action, while the rest of us look on. Strike action will hit Royal Mail hard at the end of financial year rush, but the action will have to escalate quickly to defeat Royal Mail’s assault. The question is how to ensure this happens, and what to do if another injunction is granted by one section of the bosses’ class to another.
It’s up to reps and activists not only to get the vote out in the national ballot and make the strike solid, but also to take the action needed – whether or not it’s official. As the old slogan goes from the rank and file movements of a hundred years ago: “With the union officials wherever possible, without them wherever necessary”.
Many areas have a strong shopfloor organisation and culture. The question is how can workers unleash it for what is an all-out national struggle, without court injunctions and bureaucratic inaction blocking it.
Throughout this dispute the lack of rank and file organisation has hampered workers’ ability to respond to victimisation, provocations or the injunctions themselves. Even inspirational unofficial wildcats, like the Merseyside walkouts sparked by Bootle DO last October, were limited in the solidarity they could call on without local rank and file organisation. Where local strikes face sustained scabbing, action has to be spread, unofficially if necessary, and mass pickets built to shut down offices. Meetings of members or of reps can set up local cross-office and cross-function rank and file committees to make this possible – and to prepare for any more injunctions. These could provide the basis for a national grassroots network of militant activists, offices and branches to challenge injunctions with action from below.
There are steps that can be taken in that direction. Before privatisation, CWU London Division used to call national meetings to push for action when the union was under attack and the national executive was lagging. Militant branches that can see the need for pressure and action from below could do the same, and get together and call a meeting to help develop such a network.
CWU leaders won’t lead unofficial action or back it, even as Royal Mail drives to bust the union. Postal workers have to be able to go forward without the union leaders and defend their jobs by whatever means necessary.
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