A leading figure in the trade union movement has called on other unions to step up and work together to “change the balance of forces in the world of work” and help workers across all sectors manage the spiralling cost of living.
It comes after the Communication Workers Union (CWU) announced a historic ballot result in favour of strike action over a pay dispute on Tuesday (19 July), the day before inflation hit another high of 9.4%.
Royal Mail strike ballot shows ‘what collective strength is all about’
Around 115,000 Royal Mail workers could be set to walk out in the coming weeks if the company does not revise a 2% pay increase imposed without consultation earlier this year, the CWU announced.
The ballot comfortably passed the legal 50% threshold, with 87,315 (77%) returned and 85,180 of those (97.6%) voting in favour of action.
At a press conference at York Barbican Theatre, CWU General Secretary Dave Ward described the vote as a “truly stunning result”.
Addressing a crowded room full of CWU reps who’d travelled from all over the country, as well as thousands more watching online, Mr Ward also spoke more broadly about the wider cost of living crisis, and the role of trade unions in standing up for workers across the economy.
He said the high turnout and support for industrial action shows that Royal Mail workers “understand what collectivism and collective strength is really about”.
Of the dispute, he said: “Our members are demanding a substantial pay rise, they know they deserve it and they also know the company can afford it”.
But he also went on to say that the ballot is reflective of a wider issue.
He said: “There is something fundamentally wrong in the UK today in the way that businesses like Royal Mail and others right across the country are being run, and it’s something that I think we have got to take on with other trade unions so that hopefully we can change the balance of forces in the world of work.”
Following on from recent announcements of industrial action by the RMT and ASLEF, plus ongoing ballots of public sector workers and dozens of smaller localised strikes across the country, Mr Ward was asked whether the Royal Mail dispute was part of a coordinated campaign by trade unions.
He stated that the CWU “will always focus on resolving our members’ dispute” but added that the union will be looking to work with other trade unions, and that together they should be “coordinating the fight for change”.
“Every worker counts or no worker counts,” he said, “so join a union, and we will fight for you as hard as we fight for our members.
“In this particular sector, post and logistics, there are many companies out there with many employees who are being exploited, and we’ve got to end this race to the bottom, we’ve got to create the race to the top.
“That’s how you build success in a business, that’s how you grow the economy in the UK - and so we’ve got a very clear agenda for our members and we would say to all workers out there in post and logistics companies, including places like Amazon, join a union, join the CWU, we will fight for you and collective strength will always win the day.”
Wage restraint vs profit restraint
Some figures, including the head of the Bank of England, have called on workers to show ‘wage restraint’ and not ask for increased pay to match inflation, claiming this could lead to a wage-price spiral, or cause inflation to increase even more.
But, backed by a number of economists who have been working with trade union leaders to hone their messaging on these issues, Ward and others have argued that it is corporate profits that should be squeezed, not the average worker’s pay packet.
Speaking at the press conference, Mr Ward laughed off a question about whether wage rises at Royal Mail would cause inflation to rise further across the economy, saying it is time for workers to “stop being ripped off” and to change the economy, as it is “rigged against working people”.
“Whether it’s the financial crisis of 2008, or the pandemic, the current cost of living crisis, or the climate crisis we’re seeing in front of us,” he said, “there’s one certainty if workers don’t stand up for themselves: it’s that it is always workers that pay the price and the people who don’t do the work that head off with all the money and all the benefits. It’s got to stop.”
“The other debate we need to take on is that you’re never going to grow the economy if you’re deliberately entering a race to the bottom for working people, because they’ll have no money in their pockets to spend, and the economy simply cannot survive on that basis.”
In recent weeks, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and Unite general secretary Sharon Graham have both used the term ‘profit restraint’ to counter this line of argument, which has been deployed by Conservative ministers and leadership contenders.
Responding to the inflation announcement this week, Ms O’Grady said: “We need profit restraint and pay rises that keep up with prices. And the government must play its part with decent pay rises for public servants.
“If we do not do more to get pay rising, struggling workers will cut back their spending. Businesses will suffer, and we risk entering a recession.”
After Unite published research last month on the FTSE 350 which showed profit margins for the UK’s biggest listed companies were 73% higher in 2021 than pre-pandemic levels, Ms Graham said the UK is in the grip of a “profiteering crisis”.
She said: “Workers’ wages, and what they can buy, are being squeezed by corporate wreckers pursuing runaway profits, quite literally at our expense.”
“Those who have profited from the crisis should pay for it. Unite makes absolutely no apologies for demanding better pay for our members. Wage restraint? It’s time to demand profit restraint.”