Meeting of CWU activists working for Cable and Wireless
CWU has been fighting for C&W workers’ rights for the past two years in a struggle which has involved statutory body the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) and High Court hearings, as stubbornly anti-union company bosses have resisted all attempts at a negotiated settlement.
Welcoming the CWU activists to national headquarters, deputy general secretary Jeannie Drake praised them for the successes of the campaign so far. “It’s been one of our best campaigns,” she said, adding: “Through the CAC stage, the arguments were put extremely well.” And she warned the group, who had come from each region of the UK, that C&W bosses were likely to pull out all the stops to try to win a no vote. “If you hear them say: ‘If the union gets in, this’ll stop and that’ll stop' – it’s not true,” Jeannie stressed, urging the CWU members to counter anti-union arguments wherever possible and explaining that the CWU is a membership-led union. “The union is the membership,” she said, explaining: “If and when you win recognition, you’ll elect your own reps and our job will be to support you with our research and advice. Our role is to help you organise yourselves. We won’t tell you your policies on pay and conditions. You’ll decide through your own democratic structures.”
Outlining the background to the current situation, CWU head of organising John East explained: “We started campaigning at this firm in October 2006, among our members in the bargaining unit C&W Field Services – broadly speaking, this consists of their engineers and support staff. Our membership built up and, within this unit, we currently have 197 members out of a total of 332 – 59 per cent. “We tried to reach agreement with the company, but this was not successful and, in May 2007, we had no choice but to make a formal approach to the CAC, which has been set up by the government to rule on union recognition disputes,” John added.
CAC hearings in August and September judged that the bargaining unit was an appropriate one and the committee was in the process of adjudicating on the recognition claim itself, but C&W then decided to seek a judicial review of the proceedings. At an oral High Court session in December and at a full hearing in January, the judge ruled against the company’s argument that the CAC had failed to consider “the impact of recognition on small, fragmented units.”
As a result of this, the issue now returns to the CAC, which could decide to grant automatic recognition without a ballot, or order a poll of the full workforce within the bargaining unit. If the arbitration committee does order a ballot, it will also have to make a decision on exactly who is eligible to vote, a potentially critical judgment, given that, under current legislation, over 40 per cent of bargaining unit members must vote yes for recognition to be granted.
The CWU Activists expressed their determination to fight for automatic recognition based on the strength of our membership, but to be ready to win a ballot should it be necessary.
In the afternoon session, senior field organiser George Rankin “mapped out” the union’s campaign strategy. Showing the activists a series of charts detailing the Cable and Wireless workplaces across the UK, George indicated the relative strengths and weaknesses of CWU organisation at each site and, together, the group discussed and decided upon their tactics for each region. In some areas, he warned that company bosses were trying to persuade individuals to give up their union membership. “The company’s trying to pick off ones and twos, trying to create a divide,” he explained, adding: “We’ve got to cover everything and there’s no room for any complacency.”
The group then moved on to discuss campaign communications and materials – the union publishes a regular “In Touch” bulletin for Cable and Wireless workers – and the critical issue of one-to-one communication “on the ground.” After a busy and businesslike day, the determined group of activists headed back to their localities across the UK to prepare for the most critical phase of this struggle for union rights, their resolve strengthened by the closing words of Jeannie Drake. “You’re all activists and principled people – and all of us here think you’re a gutsy crowd.”