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Alex Miller

Following a week of discussions behind closed doors, the national executive of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) voted by 9 votes to 5 to recommend that postal workers accept Royal Mail’s latest offer on pay, pensions and working conditions. The proposed deal will now be put to CWU members in a national ballot.

The deal falls far short of the union’s demands, and is a slap in the face for the hundreds of thousands of postal workers who had braved management intimidation in taking a series of solid strike actions in recent weeks.

On pay, the official offer is 6.9% over 2 years, but 1.5% of this is linked to the acceptance of the “flexible working practices” that have seen thousands of postal workers taking part in unofficial action since the CWU suspended its official strikes on October 17. The offer is thus 5.4% over 2 years, which is below the current rate of inflation. A lump sum of £175 is included, but as Richie Venton explained on the SSP website: “it comes out of the Employee Share Option Scheme (ESOS), a bonus scheme which is about to be wound up anyway, with payouts of the earned bonuses due regardless of this pay offer. In short, the £175 is not new money, but cash taken from a postie's left pocket to his/her right pocket”.

The October 27 Socialist Worker explained the implications of the deal for postal workers pensions: “Normal retirement age will be increased to 65 from 1 April 2010. Existing members of the scheme will retain their right to take their pension at age 60, but will face cuts which will rob them of thousands of pounds. The existing scheme will be closed to new entrants, leading to a two tier workforce”. On the vexed issue of flexible working practices Socialist Worker noted that the CWU leadership “has conceded the employers’ position almost completely. Local reps are going to be forced into agreeing ‘efficiency deals’ with managers – that will mean the same amount of work being done in fewer hours”.

The CWU leadership also agreed to introduce “local trials” of flexible working arrangements that enables bosses to change working hours at the drop of a hat. Although a statement posted on the official CWU website on October 22 hailed this as “a commonsense approach to new ways of working”, it is clear that the deal is unlikely to be popular with posties. Dave Warren, one of the five national executive members who voted against the proposal, told Socialist Worker that he was urging CWU members to reject the offer in the forthcoming national ballot.

In a statement on the dispute, the SSP’s workplace organiser Richie Venton reflected on the role played by Gordon Brown’s government: “The power of the strikes forced Royal Mail bosses to the negotiating table. But they have been emboldened by the brutal intervention of Gordon Brown. The government is the sole shareholder in Royal Mail and could have solved the dispute in favour of the workforce and the public by Brown making one phone call to the Royal Mail axemen Crozier and Leighton. Instead Brown told strikers to ‘get back to work’, and to accept pay that ‘conquers inflation’! This highlights the absurdity of the CWU handing over affiliation fees and other donations to New Labour, amounting to £277,627 from February to June this year alone. The link between the CWU and Labour, and especially the loyalty of some key CWU leaders to Labour, hampers their ability to confront a government that is egging on Royal Mail bosses to slash jobs, pay, pensions and working conditions”.

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