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Postal workers: National ballot to follow strike wave
Postal workers, members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), have been on a series of strikes over the summer against bullying management and their attempts to impose worsening conditions in an obvious preparation for privatisation.
As the reports below show, these strikes have been well-supported and angry postal workers have been demanding that the battle be intensified with national, coordinated action.
Workers at the Leek Road depot in Stoke-on-Trent are already on indefinite strike and 24-hour strikes are taking place in many places in the week beginning 10 August.
Now the union has announced a national strike ballot, running from 9-27 September, with any industrial action starting seven days after the ballot closes.
After taking two 24-hour strikes over the last few weeks, distribution and processing workers at Stoke-on-Trent's biggest Royal Mail depot at Leek Road walked out on 11 August and are now on indefinite strike. Delivery workers turning up for work voted to stay out in solidarity and hundreds of motorists hooted their support as they passed by.
Andy Bentley, Stoke Socialist Party
Workers are angry at Royal Mail plans to 'modernise' the industry by closing the sorting office and transferring operations to Wolverhampton. Royal Mail's 'modernisation' would leave only 15 full-time workers at the depot with 100 others facing redundancy or a 70 mile daily trek to Wolverhampton and back.
The North Staffs conurbation has a population of over half a million, yet Royal Mail's plans would leave it with no main sorting office and mail being collected in Stoke, driven to Wolverhampton for sorting and then driven back up the M6 to Stoke for delivery. Clearly Royal Mail's 'modernisation' takes no account of the extra pollution created by this daily merry-go-round of workers and mail.
In a separate dispute at Leek Road, half of the 15 drivers who work on cash transit deliveries to post offices etc face the sack with the rest being given a 'choice' of a transfer to Chester (return journey of 85 miles), Birmingham (100 miles) or Sheffield (a 126 mile return journey across the Pennines!).
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At Burslem delivery office in Stoke-on-Trent, postal workers were on strike on 7 August against plans to take twelve more jobs out of the depot. This action at Burslem was significant because it is after two years of management bullying, intimidation and victimisation.
In 2007, twelve workers were suspended on trumped up charges. This led to a six-week all-out strike with seven workers getting their jobs back. Five were sacked and are still going through an 'appeals' process. Despite what the management may think the spirit of resistance is still alive and kicking.
One of the main aims of the victimisation carried out in 2007 was to remove CWU reps and key activists in one of the most militant depots in the country. Bosses wanted to intensify their bullying regime and impose changes but despite this the vote to strike was a massive 80%.
Managers who had travelled from all over the country to scab on the strike couldn't, at first, get into the building because 'somehow' the metal entrance barrier had been padlocked! The strike was solid with a marvellous turn out of more than 50 on the picket line and a lot of support being given by passing motorists.
STOP PRESS: On 11 August, Burslem postal worker, Paul Dawson, was sacked by management. Paul was one of the 12 workers who was victimised and suspended by management in 2007 but later reinstated. He was forced to carry out a rooftop protest to get the apology that he was promised from Royal Mail over his suspension.
Now he's on the roof again in protest at his sacking. When asked why he had been sacked, one manager said that he hadn't shown remorse for his first rooftop protest!
While Paul is on the roof no one can enter the building so all work is stopped but with workers still being paid.
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At the Royal Mail's national distribution centre in Crick, the picket line looked like workers gathering round having a summer barbecue, but they were there on a very serious issue.
Lorries were still coming in, but I didn't see any leave. They were expecting a build up of parked lorries later on in the day which would hinder any more distribution, and block off the Tesco distribution centre access, which would back up lorries to the motorway.
Although in high spirits, there was a feeling of unease but willingness to fight.
The workers agreed that it was management's fault that it had got this far, and if they had to, they would go on a longer strike later on in the year.
Workers have been particularly upset by the method of shift allocation, which had turned into a 'bingo' system.
One worker said: "I've never won on any raffle, and it looks like I haven't this time. All our names were put into bowls, each bowl representing a shift.
"As soon as enough names had been taken out of the bowl for day-shifts, the names are tipped into the next bowl and the name picking continued. I ended up in the last bowl, so I got lumbered with night shifts."
Management want to lower their pension entitlements, are considering pay freezes, and are imposing a review of duties with no respect for what the Communication Workers Union (CWU) had previously agreed.
Megan Price, Northampton Socialist Party.
On the Bristol picket lines
On 8 August, members of the Bristol Central Socialist Party fanned out, visiting picket lines in Fishponds, Bristol Central , Kingswood and Yate to show solidarity to striking CWU workers at those depots. The response of the workers was open and friendly, with strikers taking solidarity leaflets.
The numbers taking part in picketing at Fishponds and Yate far exceeded the legal limits of six. At the Fishponds depot pickets had a large dragon's head and outfit, apparently designed to surprise managers as they drove delivery vans!
Striking workers in Yate got around directives from management saying that anyone blowing whistles at scabs would be disciplined, by installing a remote controlled fart machine by the gates.
Many of the workers were looking forward to a national strike in September.
Martyn Ahmet, Bristol Socialist Party
Pay cuts and more work anger strikers in Hackney
The one-day strike of postal workers in London on 7 August was pretty solid. Chris, Ed, Sid and Temel were on the picket line at Emma Street, Hackney.
Clare Doyle, Hackney Socialist Party
"It's only workers on short term contracts and managers going in", they told me over coffee from a flask I had taken along. "A couple of those managers were brought down from the north, put in a hotel overnight and then paid for a cab to bring them from there to here - all of 200 yards! They've gone in for an hour and that's it for the day! This will be happening all round London for today."
"Royal Mail made £321 million profit last year. They say there's nothing spare for us and there have to be cuts but (head man) Crozier can get his £3 million a year just for ordering cuts! And £2 million just for new furniture when his office was moved to Millbank or somewhere!
"Anyone can do what he's done - go in and say 'This, this and this needs to be cut'. We think that a lot of the managers could be got rid of and you wouldn't see any difference.
"They're only interested in making money ready for privatisation. There used to be mail twice a day and now there's just one delivery. The walks are longer and the bags are heavier! They told us machines would do the last bit of preparing the mail and we ended up doing it ourselves because the machines did not arrive...Without extra pay.
"Now they want to cut our hours. It's not sharing the work with no loss of pay. It's getting other people, lower paid, to prepare the rounds and get us to go straight out on the walks - with no time inside - for four hours solid. That's the worst part of our job - round the streets, all weathers, up and down the stairs.
"And then there's what we call 'growth' or 'new traffic'. New flats get built where there were factories - extra work that no one takes account of. One factory used to get one delivery into their front office. Now it's closed and there are 48 separate flats there to deliver to".
Chris was quietly angry on the picket line. He understood the plight of the contract workers going in. "They are on three-month terms, then a two-week break without pay. That means they get no holiday entitlement and they are on wages £3 an hour lower than ours. They are contracted to work a six-hour day and they end up working eight hours on the promise of a job that we know they'll never get. It's getting like the old days. Lining up for jobs and being hand-picked.
"I don't know why somebody doesn't organise a big march for everyone to go on together. There's about 30 million of us all being screwed and just a couple of thousand of the ones making the big money out of us.
"The union? Yes, it shouldn't be giving our money to the likes of Mandelson. Its leaders and MPs should be living on a worker's wage, like you say. But they seem more interested in what's going to happen to them next, than representing us. Look at Alan Johnson. Used to be our secretary, now he's in the government with all these people robbing the till of the country, in effect, and getting away with it!"
In The Socialist 11 August 2009:
International socialist news
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party youth and students
International socialist news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Labour history comment