Royal Mail shows just why trade unions shouldn’t back down over strikes

Simon Thompson from Royal Mail giving evidence to parliament, as trade unions like the CWU hit back at bosses while others don't
Support us and go ad-free

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?

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:

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:

Some nurses themselves weren’t impressed with the RCN’s stance, either:

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

Support us and go ad-free

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. The RCN leadership really should consult other unions regarding industrial disputes. As they have never been on strike before it seems they have no idea how to negotiate. To remove the threat to strike in order to get the government to join them for talks is just so naive as to show total inadequacy and of being out of their depth. The wretched government must have chalked the RCN as being easily fobbed off. It’s so sad that one, if not the most deserving group of workers are likely continue to be treated with contempt by Sunak/Hunt etc. Without a substantial pay rise NHS staff will continue to become burned-out, disillusioned and opt out, leaving for Canada NZ etc. resulting in the NHS being more and more unable to treat patients as well as they used to, and want to.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.