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Striking postal workers build support
HUNDREDS OF striking Belfast postal workers attended a city centre rally on 14 February, organised by Belfast trades council. Royal Mail has been paralysed by a magnificent show of solidarity by postal workers across Belfast, fighting back against bullying and harassment by Royal Mail management
Gary Mulcahy, Socialist Party Belfast
What sparked the strike was provocative and unjust disciplinary action taken against two CWU reps in North Belfast. This is part of a long campaign of harassment and bullying from tyrannical bosses, stretching over two years. Postal workers took unofficial action last September and February in similar circumstances.
The level of support in the community was expressed in dramatic fashion when over 350 postal workers left a rally in Transport House in Belfast on 7 February and marched up the Shankill Road, across the 'peaceline' at Lanark Way and down the Falls Road. The communities of the Shankill Road, Springfield Road and the Falls Road came out along the route to show their support to their postal workers, Catholic and Protestant.
Politicians from the right-wing sectarian parties spoke at the peaceline about the need for the dispute to be resolved. Not surprisingly, none of them took part in the full march! The Socialist Party was the only political party with a banner on the march and our slogan 'For Workers' Unity' was applauded along the route.
The intimidation by management has enraged the workers. One of the union reps had been keeping a record of management harassment against postal workers in a diary. Management searched a drawer containing his personal belongings, removed the diary and photocopied the material. They then accused him of bullying and intimidating other workers!
In response, the North Belfast section staged a walk-out. When news arrived at the South Belfast and West Belfast sections, they walked out in solidarity. On 4 February, the bulk of workers at the Mallusk sorting office joined the strike.
This shut down distribution of all mail across Northern Ireland and has enormously strengthened the strike. In response, Royal Mail have flown 50 managers from England to scab on the strike and are being put up in the luxurious Hilton Hotel for their treachery.
Royal Mail had refused to negotiate with the CWU until workers returned to work, but were forced into negotiations after Mallusk was shut down. Since then, Royal Mail have taken a hard-line, resulting in talks breaking down with CWU national officials.
The national leadership of the CWU have done everything they can to get the workers to return to work but are facing a determined workforce and a determined management.
Management has placed impossible conditions on workers returning to work which break past agreements and health and safety regulations. Each of the branch officials has been personally targeted. They received a letter at their homes during the night threatening them with legal action if they took part in the strike.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has offered to mediate future negotiations. Incredibly, the BBC came into possession of a GMB letter which is being used to undermine the strike. The letter attacks the strike by claiming it was for 'spurious reasons' and that the strike had become 'deeply sinister'. In Northern Ireland the word 'sinister' has become associated with paramilitary involvement.
The CWU is calling for an 'independent' review of management/employee industrial relations. Royal Mail has refused to discuss this, yet they have agreed similar 'independent' reviews in England.
It is clear that Royal Mail senior management are trying to take on the union in Northern Ireland to prepare for privatisation.
Unfortunately, there has been poor communication between union reps, causing confusion amongst workers about the issues involved. In order to strengthen the strike and spread it to new areas, reps from the affected areas in Belfast need to visit all areas to explain the issues and why this strike has to be won.
An appeal should also be made to the wider trade union movement for solidarity action, especially the raising of cash to go towards a strike fund. The real issues behind the strike need to be clearly explained to other workers.
Instinctively, many working-class people understand that low-paid postal workers would not easily go on unofficial strike action. Support groups involving postal workers, trade unionists, socialists, community activists and young people should be formed in order to carry out solidarity work in the communities and workplaces and to raise money for a strike fund.
To send messages of solidarity to the striking postal workers, email the Socialist Party (email@example.com) in Belfast who will send them directly to the workers on the picket line.
In The Socialist 16 February 2006: