Telecoms workers angry at CWU deal with BT
Clive Walder, CWU Midlands No1 branch (personal capacity)
After two stays of execution, BT and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) believe they have reached an agreement that will prevent a national strike over compulsory redundancies, site closures and relocation. Unfortunately, this is not because BT has given in to the perfectly justified demands of the union, but because the union leadership has signed up to a framework agreement which offers next to nothing to reassure BT workers that they have a future with the company.
After receiving no consolidated pay rise this year, BT workers will receive one next year. But no figures were suggested and the company says that the rise will depend on various factors, including business performance, economic outlook and inflation.
BT has agreed to review some of the sites earmarked for closure, and will now only close sites where it 'anticipates workers could relocate from'. No guidelines are proposed on what is considered reasonable. A well-paid, car-driving manager may well have a very different idea of a reasonable alternative location to a non-manager who relies on public transport and may have caring responsibilities. The union failed to press for home working as an alternative to inconvenient and costly relocation.
BT says job cuts will be "achieved through natural attrition as much as possible", and that they will "avoid compulsory redundancy where we reasonably can." Not surprisingly, BT is now being viewed much more favourably by the market. That is what has driven these vicious proposals.
Although more detail will emerge in the coming weeks, the CWU has agreed outline proposals that promise absolutely nothing concrete to its members. All this has been done without a ballot of the membership, which has been established policy for major agreements for many years. Socialist Party members in the CWU had repeatedly warned that backing off from industrial action would in all probability, encourage BT to push ahead with its job-slashing agenda.
The anger of ordinary CWU members was evident in the barrage of critical comments on the union's official Facebook page. At the time of writing, not a single comment in support has been seen. Many members are angry that they will not get a vote on the agreement. Socialist Party members in the CWU demand a ballot so that the members can have their say. There can be no agreement without membership endorsement.
One member said the union was given a mandate to walk out and demonstrate its worth to the company not to just talk to them. It is no accident that there won't be a vote, it is very likely the leadership would suffer a humiliating defeat in a ballot.
Amazingly, this is happening as CWU members are voting for their executive for the next two years. That there is no opposition on the executive to the architects of this potential jobs massacre shows the urgent need to build a robust left in the telecoms section of the CWU to defend members in the future.
Vote for Gary Clark
Socialist Party Scotland member Gary Clark is a candidate for the Communication Workers Union's national executive and postal executive. CWU members can vote for Gary, who is branch secretary of Scotland No 2 branch, until the ballot closes on 3 August. See 'Support Gary Clark for CWU executive' at socialistparty.org.uk for more
In The Socialist 14 July 2021: