“It’s obvious that the strike has enormous support amongst postal workers, but as Labour Party members, we must also place this struggle in the foreground of our vision .”
By Torr Robinson, London Young Labour
Every member of the Labour Party is now deeply aware that an election is looming, but whilst elections can sharpen our political focus, we must not allow it to narrow our political vision. This week, the Communication Worker’s Union, which represents over one hundred thousand workers, voted by an enormous 97% (with a huge 76% turnout) in favour of strike action. Their strike comes in response to the Royal Mail bosses breaking the terms of an agreement reached last year to protect worker’s jobs and conditions. It’s obvious that the strike has enormous support amongst postal workers, but as Labour Party members, we must also place this struggle in the foreground of our vision. It would be easy to imagine that, as long as we win the election, everything else can come afterwards; but this has it backwards. The first battle of the election is already underway, and it is the CWU’s fight for their hard-won worker’s rights.
Privatised in 2013, the Royal Mail is the latest in a long line of privatisations, which have been central to the project of neoliberalism taken up by the ruling classes forty years ago. Starting with Thatcher, the forces of capitalism have waged relentless class warfare on the working classes, selling off public assets to be run on the sole principle of profit, whilst ruthlessly attempting to break the unions that resisted; an objective pursued with complete disregard for the lives and communities destroyed in the process. To legalise their war on the unions, the Tories have passed a series of reforms stripping away our labour rights. The most recent, the Trade Union Act 2016, was intended to make legal strikes harder than ever to organise. That the CWU passed a major legal strike motion despite this is a triumph, and a crucial show of defiance against those that have worked so hard to crush trade unions. If the strike succeeds, it represents the first victory in Labour’s fight to transform Britain in the interest of working people. To win the election we need the support of an organised working class that is mobilised to fight the ruling classes, exactly as the CWU is doing now.
This support will be especially necessary if we are to sustain a socialist government and implement our programme in power. Nationalisation, an irreplaceable part of any plan to reverse neoliberalism, includes the re-nationalisation of Royal Mail. To do this requires the support of postal workers to achieve, as the bosses will do everything they can to hold onto their profits. In all those industries we plan to run in the interest of the workers, we must have those same workers mobilised to succeed. Even more widely, we know that Royal Mail’s owners want to strip down the company into a gig-economy delivery business, so as to compete with the behemoth of Amazon. Rather than allowing Amazon’s exploitative practices to spread, we should instead be working to bolster the CWU’s workers to build an alternative, and to build a base for the unionisation and strengthening of Amazon workers rights and protection. After all, if we are bringing down neoliberalism and creating a new society, this is one place to start.
Looking forward, the very agreement that the CWU negotiated with the bosses included a reduction in the working week, accounting for new technology, without a punitive loss in pay. This is the same type of policy as that adopted by Labour at conference. If we are not prepared to defend radical policy now, when workers are striking for it, will we have the support we need to defend it on the doorstep, let alone in government?
For Labour Party members this is no time to succumb to electoral tunnel-vision, tempting as it may be. The battle for socialism is already being fought; for small as the CWU strike may seem in comparison to an election, it contains within it the foundations on which our Labour government can, and will, be built.
- Torr Robinson is a young Labour activist in Bromley. They are London Young Labour’s first Trans Officer.
- Download a poster and tweet your support for the CWU – http://www.cwu.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/National-Dispute-I-support-my-postal-workers-A4.pdf