Monday, 14 September 2009

Welcome to the real world, CWU

"Never before have postal workers experienced so many attacks from all sides. Whether it's pay, job security, workload, or dignity and respect at work, our members are facing a beating on all aspects of their working lives."--Dave Ward, deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), 21st August.

This, in a nutshell, is the CWU's rationale for its continuing regional strikes against Royal Mail and for holding a vote, beginning 17th September, amongst all postal-worker members on whether to call a national strike. The ballot closes 8th October, which means a strike could take place as early as 15th October.

For its part, Royal Mail has dubbed the strike vote "wholly irresponsible" given that "talks between senior management and the union leadership were taking place,” according to a statement. Royal Mail's position seems to be that the CWU is basically failing to go ahead with changes it had agreed to as part of the 2007 Pay and Modernisation Agreement.

I'm sure both sides are in the right on certain points and in the wrong on others; that's just the way of the world. In what is apparently news to the CWU, it's also the way of the world that employees sometimes get their hours and pay reduced, have more work heaped on them, and are treated less than ideally by their bosses.

I think we can all agree with the CWU that such situations are unpleasant, stressful, and downright undesirable. But sometimes they're necessary to keep a business afloat. Small sacrifices now can stave off much bigger sacrifices later on.

The CWU seems to be focusing on the short term at the expense of the long term. Let's say the union manages to prevent any more Royal Mail workers from being made redundant, even if it means not implementing more-efficient technologies and practices that require fewer workers. That's swell for those union members right now. But when Royal Mail's inability to institute more-competitive pricing and services leads to even steeper declines in postal volume, which in turn results in the need for an even smaller workforce, what then? Eventually something will have to give: the jobs of a greater number of workers or the viability of Royal Mail as a competitive entity.

While the CWU may not want to accept certain elements of "modernisation", the world in which it operates has gone ahead and modernised anyway. Royal Mail no longer holds a monopoly on the areas of its business with the greatest potential, such as parcel delivery; while it is still the sole provider of "final mile" carriage, that portion of its business is declining due to the growth of online banking, electronic payments, and email; the private carriers with which it competes have already taken advantage of new technologies that allow them to cut costs, making them a more attractive option for many clients.

The CWU seems to think that by calling strikes it can call a halt to these realities. Not in the real world, my friend.--SC

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