Hundreds of representatives from all levels of the union gathered in Manchester yesterday to kick off the CWU Restructuring national debate…
A tough past few years have seen postal and telecoms members forced into national strike action in defence of their jobs, job security and pay, terms and conditions after having kept these vital public services running all through the pandemic.
Now is the time to get our union into shape for the struggles that lie ahead and the period between now and this year’s Annual Conference in April will see reps and members discussing the measures needed to ensure that the CWU remains a standalone trade union with depth and strength in our sectors’ workplaces all across the UK.
Our union’s president Karen Rose opened proceedings, saying: “Since our last all-branch briefing in London last September, the general feedback was what we really want is to retain ourselves as a standalone union – and we’re working on a plan to achieve that. “It is challenging and we’ve got some tough choices to make,” she continued, adding: “We’re on a path to our Special Conference in April, where we’ll make formal decisions, so it’s really important to hear your contributions today.
“We need to agree a plan together – it’s the responsibility of us all as a collective to do this – so the CWU can be the fighting union of the future that our members all need.”
Karen was followed by general secretary Dave Ward, who opened with a warm welcome to everyone and saying: “This feels like a conference with the amount of you who’ve turned up!”
Why we need to change, why we’re restructuring…
Putting the day’s business into context, Dave said: “There’s never been a time when it’s been so full-on for all our members and reps in the workplace. We’re in a good place to deal with that, but restructuring is crucial to this. The real crunch of this briefing is that we all know the problems – the key challenge for us is what we’re going to do about it.”
Dave went through the various recommendations that the union’s NEC will be putting forward to delegates at the CWU Special Conference scheduled for April and, in each instance, he explained the reasons why – that we must restructure in order to be able to continue as a standalone union representing workers across the UK’s postal, telecoms, financial services and logistics sectors, while also developing and strengthening our membership in the tech sector.
Changes will be proposed to our leading national committees – the NEC and the two industrial executives, PE and T&FSE – as well as to the union’s regional structure, explained our general secretary. Special Conference will also be asked to approve changes to the frequency of future national conferences, as well as measures to bring the CWU’s health and safety work into organisational alignment with our industrial structures, while the provision of legal services – in particular our relationship with Unionline.
Senior deputy general secretary Tony Kearns then gave a comprehensive outline of the many challenges the CWU faces, in term of membership levels, finances and other associated issues. In a blunt speech, Tony set out clearly the scale of the situation at this time and that this is why the NEC has proposed this series of changes. He also explained in detail how Special Conference will be organised, in order to ensure that all branches have the opportunity to input into the discussion and debate.
During the ‘from the floor’ session which followed, 16 delegates came to the rostrum to ask their questions, voice concerns or express their views, with topics ranging from branch organisation to membership contributions, younger members’ needs and aspirations and the recruitment challenge.
Recruitment vital to CWU’s future…
Turning to another crucial area for the union, Dave said: “Another key message from us today is that it’s also about re-engaging with you and our members on the issue of recruitment and organising and an immediate task for all of us to get out there and redouble our efforts.
“We need to leave here today united in the objective of securing future of CWU as a standalone union.”
Dave Ward then led a session specifically focussed on the recruitment challenge, making the point that the whole union needed to address this in unity. Our two industrial deputy general secretaries Martin Walsh and Andy Kerr also made speeches in this session, as did CWU head of recruitment & organising Ray Ellis.
These presentations also sparked a lively discussion form the floor, with delegates rising to make their points and contributions to the crucial issue of retaining and increasing union membership. There were two aspects to this, firstly the importance of consolidating our position within our ‘core’ sectors – among RM Group and BT Group employees – and also the necessity to expand into new areas of organisation – such as the financial services and tech sectors, where there is potential for growth.
Replying to the debate, and summing up the day’s event, Dave Ward said: “The CWU is a great union, which has achieved so much over so many years. At this time, we’re dealing with so many things.
“But I hope when you leave today, you’ll know we are all 100 per cent united and 100 per cent committed to retaining the CWU as a standalone union and the strongest workplace union in the UK.”