Delegates from every branch of our union gathered in central London yesterday to kick off the Spring GROW campaign…
“Really great to see you all – and you’re looking no older, but much fitter!” general secretary Dave Ward began, as he addressed the event at TUC Congress House.
“We’ve got to deal with the circumstances we’ve been facing and, as trade unionists, it’s time for us to move on,” he continued, after praising the “incredible” work done by our reps and members over the past two years.
Dave then went on to explain the strategy behind the campaign – both specifically in terms of increasing, strengthen and expand our membership, and the wider context of the urgent need to rebuild collectivism in our workplaces and communities.
The current political situation is, he said “totally bonkers,” with a discredited Prime Minister clinging onto power, but an Opposition without the necessary positive vision to set out a popular alternative.
It is, therefore, up to the trade union movement as a whole to fill this void and to build a new consensus among working-class people for a new people-first economic and political programme, Dave concluded, citing the CWU’s New Deal for Workers initiative and our CWU Candidates programme – and linking both to the Spring GROW campaign.
Senior Deputy general secretary Tony Kearns spoke next, giving a detailed report and breakdown of the union’s internal circumstances. This report pulled no punches in describing the tough challenges that the CWU faces, but also highlighted the many positive steps that the national leadership has taken to address the situation – via the Redesign project – and the plans for further structural work to be done during 2022.
Right here, right now, however, the big task ahead of us all is recruitment – particularly the pandemic-related backlog of new starters in Royal Mail and BT/Openreach who have not yet been brought into the CWU.
Making sure that every branch signs up these new recruits as promptly as possible is the Number One priority for GROW
GROW campaign – a month of action
CWU head of recruitment Ray Ellis and head of communications Chris Webb set out, respectively, the specific aims and objectives of the campaign and the various events and activities planned for the coming month.
This will include visits to the regions of the UK, national officers going out to local branches and speaking with activists and members, listening and hearing about successes and challenges from every corner of the country.
There will be three separate Facebook Live broadcasts, as well as regular podcasts, campaign videos and articles on all our social platforms and channels, and the forthcoming Spring Edition of The Voice will include a four-age GROW special feature.
“We’ve had a very positive response from branches so far,” said Ray and added that this campaign is crucial to “our continued success as a standalone trade union.”
Chris told the meeting that “this is a positive opportunity to engage with our members – and what we do best as a union is this type of activity, taking pride in our union.”
Both Chris and Ray made the point that the current period, when important industrial matters are on the agendas in both Royal Mail and BT/Openreach, is the ideal timescale for this launch.
‘Hey Dave, we need to see you on telly!’ says Basingstoke rep
Phil Gordon, deputy unit rep at Basingstoke Delivery Office, brought a smile to our general secretary when he called out the mainstream media for not giving the trade union movement enough attention.
“We need you more on TV, more on LBC, Dave,” urged Phil, who made the point that there are not enough opportunities for the public to see and hear from union leaders and representatives and the good work they all do for people.
In reply, Dave pointed out that he has appeared on LBC several times and that these programmes have been popular with public audiences, and he agreed with Phil’s main point that this does not happen enough.
“We’re doing what we can on this,” he said, adding, with a laugh: “I’m hoping to get on soon – I’ve got a new song coming out!”
Phil’s was one of a dozens of thought-provoking and inspiring contributions from branch delegates to what was a lively and positive discussion on issues around recruitment and strengthening the union. Many of these included suggestions for the national leadership, while others gave instances of their own initiatives at local level.-
Wolverhampton’s Dave Jones and Mark Ward brought to the front their own new display stand, which featured a QR code that potential members can simply scan to join the CWU – which was tested immediately by Chris Webb, who confirmed: “It works fine!”
From our Grampian & Shetland Branch, Michelle Reid-Hay reported that her own workplace “is 100 per cent” unionised, while Winston Richards of Greater London Combined Branch said that “within our core, over 90 per cent are in membership” and added that “it’s the workers who make this country great.”
Nigel Bailey, from Brentwood in Essex, urged the meeting to take on board the “one union” theme of the GROW project and to be prepared to recruit with other branches and assist in other functions, and Medway representative Ed Baldwin also with details of the strikes and disputes of other local workers – including dock workers, refuse collectors and NHS staff – that he and his branch colleagues regularly support.
CWU uniting for GROW Month
Leaders of our postal and telecoms constituencies – deputy general secretary T&FS Andy Kerr and acting deputy general secretary postal Andy Furey – joined Ray Ellis, CWU president Jane Loftus and deputy head of communications Amie Retallick on the top table to give their perspective and to respond to issues brought up by branch representatives.
Speaking on behalf of DGSP Terry Pullinger, Andy Furey pledged the full support of the postal department for the campaign and added that, as well as improving recruitment of new members, the department will also be focusing on the importance of bringing forward and training new reps as well, something which DGS T&FS Andy Kerr also highlighted, describing the encouragement of those who are willing to volunteer as reps as crucial to the future success of the CWU, and gave some examples of how this works together with recruitment.
Amie agreed with the previous speakers on the need to share ideas among branches and welcomed the QR code idea, as well as highlighting the need to promote member benefits, and Ray gave a brief summary and recap of the essential objectives for the period ahead.
Remembering those we lost to Covid
With our nation hopefully now emerging from the Covid crisis, it was appropriate that a minute’s silence was called before proceedings began – everyone in the room taking some time to reflect on and remember those whom we lost.
And of course, the huge efforts made by our frontline members – and by so many other workers in other sectors too – during the pandemic, the sheer human impact that this period had on people and the need now to ensure that those who put is such dedicated service to the public and to their companies must be properly recognised and rewarded was a theme regularly referred to during the day’s discussions.
Solidarity with UCU strikers
Guest speaker Jo Grady was given a typically warm CWU welcome by the audience, as she brought news of the forthcoming strike action by university and college teachers, which is set to start next week.
Jo, general secretary of the UCU trade union, explained that the dispute has been sparked by employers’ use of insecure employment methods and attacks on pension rights of staff – as well as various other issues – and that a week of strike action will commence on Monday 14th February.
Further walkouts are scheduled for the following two weeks and then, on 2nd March, a joint day of action is being held alongside NHS workers, she added.
Replying to Jo, Dave Ward pledged: “You fully deserve our support and this whole union – postal and telecoms – is 100 per cent behind you in your dispute.”