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The CWU executive committee has agreed a national agreement with Royal Mail Group (RMG) which will now go to members to vote on. Overall, it represents a major climb-down by management and should be viewed as a victory against them. But we must hold management to it, as past agreements have seen them ignore agreed principles and instead attack our members.
This agreement was won because we pushed management and they knew that we were prepared for a battle with them. Clearly they were surprised by the way we engaged with our members and the tremendous 89% yes vote for strike action - the first national strike ballot by any union under the Tories' Trade Union Act and its undemocratic voting thresholds.
A wave of unofficial walkouts at over 20 delivery offices over the last six months or so to defend individual union reps and members also sent a clear message to Royal Mail that our members were up for the fight.
Some major gains have been won from Royal Mail since the start of the dispute. On pay a victory has been achieved with a lump sum of £250 raised to £350 and a 5% pay increase backdated to October 2017, plus a further 2% rise next year.
At the same time, we have also seen a move towards a 35-hour working week, with a one-hour reduction this October, followed by another hour linked to the 2019 pay review and with a path to achieve the 35-hour week by 2022.
There was a clear attack on our pensions where Royal Mail had given notice to renege on the agreement at privatisation by closing down our final salary/defined benefits (DB) pension scheme, which not all members are in.
While the proposed new defined contribution (DC) scheme, which will now cover all members, doesn't maintain the existing DB terms, Royal Mail has been forced to agree to a number of important concessions which, if implemented, will be a marked improvement on that originally proposed.
Royal Mail has had to increase its employee pension contribution from the 10% it originally proposed to 13.6%. The agreement says that the new scheme has a 'similar design' to previous RMG DB schemes but because it will be DC, these are 'targets not hard promises'. Therefore there are clearly outstanding questions on pensions that members will want clarified.
But this single scheme is a great step forward for our newer members in particular who have been stuck in a poorer scheme since 2008. If management try to stall or block the path to the new pension we must be prepared to take action.
What now needs tackling is the culture of bullying by Royal Mail against our members which has led to unofficial action over the past few years.
Reps and members will now debate this agreement. Overall, we believe it should be supported. We would support members if they decide to fight for more but the gains that have been secured can raise members' confidence and we have now got to make sure that we keep our members prepared to tackle Royal Mail management.
This offer can also give other workers confidence to fight - especially those fighting for pay and pensions in the public sector.
This dispute shows clearly the need for the CWU, alongside the current struggle, to continue the fight to re-nationalise Royal Mail to secure jobs, pay and pensions for postal workers. This is the expectation that CWU members will have of a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government.
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Article dated 7 February 2018
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
Lessons from history
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