Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/499/3071
Postal dispute: If talks don't deliver - escalate the action
Two 24-hour strikes, followed by sectional action has forced Royal Mail management into negotiations with the Communication Workers' Union (CWU). Should these talks result in a deal not acceptable to CWU members, then strike action should be escalated with at least a 48-hour national strike.
Sectional strikes definitely had an effect but led to 'unofficial' action, particularly in Scotland. Postal workers have an excellent record on not crossing picket lines of other workers in dispute. And many union reps were attacked by management for organising not to cross the picket lines of the workers whose turn it was to strike.
Escalated national action with a national demonstration, as planned before the suspension of action, will be an essential part of any continued action.
Meanwhile, CWU members who work on the counters of (Crown) post offices are still taking action against closures. The next planned action is on Friday 24 August from 4pm and all day on 25 August.
By de-regulating the postal service the government have invited private firms to compete with Royal Mail. By paying lower wages, imposing worse conditions on their workers and leaving the final mile delivery to Royal Mail the private firms are making large profits from a public service. Even some government departments have switched to private companies to collect and sort their mail.
Many workers will question why the CWU is still funding the Labour Party whose leaders are attacking postal workers and ruining the postal service.
Workers are demanding an above-inflation pay rise and opposing Royal Mail's 'modernisation' plans which would include job losses, cuts in pay, extra workload and a worse service to the public.
There is much support from the general public for the postal workers' struggle. Working-class people value the postal service, are opposed to privatisation and back postal workers against their bosses. Demonstrations and other protests organised by the CWU would get huge support.
Other public-sector unions are also opposing Brown's pay freeze and demanding an above-inflation pay deal. A 24-hour strike of all public-sector workers is therefore needed.
All unions that have agreed to take strike action for their claims should aim to co-ordinate their action with each other.
"Determined to fight this one out"
The good thing about being a postman/woman, is that you usually finish work when everyone else is still busy. The bad thing is, when you finish you are usually 'done in', hungry, thirsty and badly in need of the toilet and a shower!
A Sheffield postal worker
One weapon Royal Mail use to try and justify their poor pay deal, the threat of forty thousand job losses and undefined modernisation - is competition. Unfortunately, they fail to disclose to the public that the postman/woman, in the majority of cases, is still delivering the final mile.
Yes, the Amazon contract has gone to the competitor, but guess who has to deliver the bulky parcels? And thousands of letters are delivered everyday, with 'UK Mail', or 'TNT' etc printed on them - for everyone to see - by the humble Royal Mail post person.
Somehow this is meant to be achieved with no extra cost to Royal Mail. We are made to feel that the loss made through competition is our fault, because we aren't working fast enough or hard enough. According to Royal Mail we are '25% overpaid and 40% under worked.' This is an insult to any post person.
Instead of being given a reasonable basic, pensionable wage, we are set unreachable targets. If by some chance we do hit them, we may get an extra £400 a year, or even a 'Phantom Share'. What is that meant to be? Maybe it is a ghostly carrot, that floats about in front of our noses as we walk around in the pouring rain - delivering junk mail.
Most of us have been pleased to be striking. It is an opportunity to express how we feel about all these issues and more. Taking working hours out of each delivery office, whilst still expecting us to deliver mail that belongs to the competition at no extra cost, is just a joke.
Some people are struggling financially, but there seems to be a real determination amongst everyone to fight this one out.
Strikes have forced concessions
Our action has forced Royal Mail management into a series of small concessions. They have moved from a position of no talks, there is no more money on the table, to suddenly finding money to fund the early shift allowances for all existing staff and an extra £23 million.
Gary Clark sub area rep, Scotland No.2 branch CWU
The strikes were supported by 95% of the workforce. There was a backlog of over 130 million items of mail up and down the country and the whole system was on the verge of total collapse. Management were surprised by how strongly supported the action was.
But some CWU members feel that the union leadership were only too quick to call off the action. There was no new offer, apart from talks, and both sides have signed up to a confidentiality clause. This means no information will be given to the membership until the talks have finished.
There is a major danger that, with the action being called off, Royal Mail can use this period to clear the backlog of mail and give up very little else. They could continue with their plan to introduce change without agreement on 17 September.
The membership must keep up the pressure not only on the management but also on the union leadership. We do not want a done deal put to us. There must be no climb-down on the key issues around the future of our industry and our pensions. We must also keep planning for future industrial action.
In The Socialist 24 August 2007:
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