CHRIS WEBB tells Sam Tobin how the CWU’s member-led Four Pillars and Pay campaign won overwhelming supporthttps://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/art ... ey-are-cwu
THE SUCCESS of the CWU Four Pillars and Pay campaign culminated in overwhelming support for a new deal for Royal Mail workers last month.
But the deal, which covered pay, pensions and working conditions, was built not just on the hard work and dedication of members but on a slick and members-led communications and social media strategy.
CWU head of communications Chris Webb tells the Star that the union’s Four Pillars campaign was “the perfect fusion of the best of the new” with “what we’ve always done well, which is get out and meet our members.”
He emphasised that, like all successful union campaigns, it involved getting into workplaces and empowering union members, saying: “We tried to make every member think that their vote is going to make a massive difference.
“Our members felt that they were the union and ultimately that’s what we want for them. Behind all of that, it’s very old school, it’s hard work. You can’t avoid it.”
But being able to boast of a 15,000-strong WhatsApp group and 25,000 Facebook followers allows it to spread a message quickly and effectively.
“We’ve run a real sort of standard bearer of a campaign with Four Pillars,” says Webb.
“During the campaign, on videos alone we had nine million views on Royal Mail-related videos during the dispute.”
One video in particular, Webb says, was a massive factor in the CWU maintaining momentum despite a setback at the High Court last October.
Royal Mail successfully obtained an injunction against strike action, but the CWU still managed to seize the initiative.
“I think we handled the High Court situation very well. We didn’t win on the day, but what we were able to do was set the narrative immediately after and I think that was vital,” says Webb.
He adds that Royal Mail “would have seen that as their opportunity to go back into the workplaces next day and say: ‘Your union’s lost’.”
But a live interview with general secretary Dave Ward and deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger on the High Court steps kept the CWU on the front foot.
“Both of them were really passionate, really went through how outrageous the decision was but also said to members this is far from over and, with your support, we are going to deliver a good agreement — and that was viewed over a quarter of a million times.”
Webb also points out that, counter-intuitively, unions have something of an advantage over large companies or institutions like Royal Mail.
He spotlights “the new tools that are available to us that perhaps aren’t available to employers” that may have a huge communications team, “but they can’t compete with us on the ground and on social media because they can’t be as edgy. They can’t be as forthright or as humorous.”
Just as importantly, local branches and individual members got heavily involved in the social media campaign, says Webb, adding that “some of the best content during the Royal Mail dispute came from our branches and our members.”
Looking forward, he is confident the strategy will continue to be successful, starting with the TUC New Deal for Workers march on May 12.
“We think it applies well [to other campaigns] because, prior to the Royal Mail ballot, we had the general election and we used the same tactics on a lower scale to engage our members to vote for a Labour government,” says Webb.
“Going forward it’s about the TUC march on May 12, it’s about Labour conference, the TUC conference. It’s about actually playing our role in changing society.
“We’ve been significantly promoting the 12th, so we’re mobilising. All the initiatives have gone through the Royal Mail [Four Pillars model].”
Chris Webb is the CWU head of communications. Sam Tobin is a reporter for the Morning Star.