Royal Mail shows just why trade unions shouldn’t back down over strikes
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has been standing firm in the face of Royal Mail‘s appalling behaviour. As recent events show, the union is right to do so – as the company’s boss Simon Thompson has once again exposed himself as an odious hack. Sadly, it seems not every union is following the CWU’s lead – as another workers’ organisation has paused its strikes. However, does this point to larger problems with the UK’s trade unions?
Royal Mail: the shambles continues
MPs hauled Royal Mail boss Thompson back in front of a select committee on Wednesday 22 February. It was over previous evidence he gave to the business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) committee.
As the Canary previously reported, the committee had doubts over whether or not Thompson’s previous evidence was actually true. For example, he’d said that Royal Mail managers did not track employees to see how quickly they were working. However, the committee received evidence to show that this wasn’t the case, so it called Thompson back. And this time, his performance was no better.
For example, Thompson admitted during this second hearing that he has still not done anything about managers tracking workers. This was despite the committee previously raising it as a concern. BEIS committee member and Labour MP Andy McDonald told Thompson it was “frustrating” that:
having had notice that this was a major area of concern, that today you’re going to go away from this second hearing, to say to your organisation… ‘we are not going to use data in pursuit of these matters’. Shouldn’t have that been done a long, long time ago?
Andy McDonald asks Simon Thompson why he hasn't already instructed his organisation that data shouldn't be used in performance management, when he's been made aware its a major area of concern. pic.twitter.com/Ho0qYcdTzd
— The CWU (@CWUnews) February 22, 2023
Thompson’s response was to deflect and blame other people. This was a running theme throughout his shady evidence – as the chair of the BEIS committee, Labour’s Darren Jones, summed up during the hearing:
"Theres a theme to your answers today.. its everyone elses fault that there are all these problems-nothing to do with me guv! Can you see based on all of the information we've had, why its difficult for me to agree with the way you're presenting your cases today?" #WeAreStillHere pic.twitter.com/VqyiQ5vfOk
— The CWU (@CWUnews) February 22, 2023
Thompson’s position is becoming untenable. It remains to be seen how long other Royal Mail bosses and shareholders will put up with his nonsense.
So, the CWU is rightly sticking it to Thompson – not least because as a boss, he can’t be trusted. The union is preparing more potential strike action after a huge ‘yes’ from its re-ballot. However, elsewhere in the union movement, not everyone was quite so resolute over strikes.
The RCN: another union backs down
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has followed the University and College Union (UCU) and paused strike action so it can have “intensive talks” with the Tory government. BBC News reported that:
Health Secretary Stephen Barclay will sit down with RCN leader Pat Cullen to discuss a compromise deal to end the stand-off over pay.
The talks are likely to focus on next year’s pay rise, which is due in April.
One option is to backdate it by several months, effectively giving nurses an extra pay boost for part of this year.
But the RCN-government talks come as other unions in the NHS are striking. For example, junior doctors with the British Medical Association (BMA) have recently voted to walk out. Meanwhile, ambulance strikes from other unions are still ongoing. So the RCN’s actions clearly did not go down well with other unions – as a pointed tweet from Unison general secretary Christina McAnea showed:
We have just announced more strike dates in the NHS. The promise of talks alone won’t be enough for us to suspend these. We want to see the colour of their money!! @unisontheunion
— Christina McAnea (@cmcanea) February 22, 2023
Some nurses themselves weren’t impressed with the RCN’s stance, either:
Is there any point in the ‘intensive talks’ if this is what is on the table? @theRCN #FairPayforNurseshttps://t.co/1RlmJbRBBM
— Ken Spearpoint RN 💙 (@K_G_Spearpoint) February 21, 2023
So, the union’s decision seems self-serving regarding other NHS workers, and misplaced for its own members. Moreover, as the Canary previously wrote about the UCU, there are issues of democracy here, too:
That a union can take such a drastic top-down decision is not uncommon, but it’s certainly of concern…
Meanwhile, the National Education Union (NEU) looked like it was going to pull a similar stunt to the RCN. However, it appears to have changed at the last minute.
The NEU had said that it would call off strikes if the government made a “serious proposal” over pay. It gave a deadline of Saturday 25 February – a date which came and went with no movement from the Tories. So, the NEU said the strikes are still on. As Yahoo News reported:
Regional walkouts by NEU members are planned for February 28, March 1 and March 2, with national strike action across England and Wales planned for March 15 and March 16.
Trade unions: letting working class people down?
What recent developments across the trade union movement show is that some organisations have been more fearless and strong-willed than others. The CWU seems unwilling to back down in the face of Royal Mail and government pressure. However, others like the UCU and RCN have given ground to bosses and the Tories when it’s really not justified.
At a time when so many working class people are suffering in the UK, trade unions should be thinking about the bigger picture. It’s easy to argue that these organisations are only supposed to defend their members. However, this ignores the class intersections that run through all these disputes. All working class people in the UK would benefit from a united and radical trade union movement. Sadly, it’s becoming apparent that’s not what we currently have.
Featured image via CWU Live – YouTube
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