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From The Socialist newspaper, 30 September 2009

London postal workers: Big majority to stop funding Labour

Postal workers lobby Parliament, photo Paul Mattsson

Postal workers lobby Parliament, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

An overwhelming 98% of postal workers in London have voted to withdraw their union's (CWU) funding from the Labour Party. While this was only a consultative ballot it reflects the alienation and anger most postal workers feel towards the Labour Party.

Naomi Byron

Postal workers in London have been on one-day strikes regularly since mid-June against management attempts to slash jobs and casualise the workforce.

After the first day of strike action, the CWU London divisional committee declared that: "We in London will give them till the end of this month to force Royal Mail to agree a national agreement or we will start to ballot London members on whether they fund the Labour Party... We are not going to stand by and fund the Labour Party whilst they allow Royal Mail to attack the workforce in the most hostile manner we have ever seen."

New Labour and their goal of privatising Royal Mail are behind all the attacks Royal Mail management have launched on the workforce. They want to destroy it as a public service and sell it off to be asset stripped by the same kind of 'investors' that destroyed Rover, making a 40 million profit for themselves into the bargain.

But with Royal Mail the profits from asset stripping the entire national infrastructure needed for deliveries (including massive depots in city centres) would dwarf those made by the Phoenix Four.

Union strength

Postal workers lobby Parliament, photo Paul Mattsson

Postal workers lobby Parliament, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

The biggest obstacle to privatisation has always been the postal workers' union. This dispute is not about modernisation or combating so-called "Spanish practices", it's about Royal Mail and the government trying to smash the CWU to create a casualised workforce that any private buyer can use as they please. They want most postal workers to have no regular duties, and to turn up to work to do whatever management pick for them.

This means not only smashing the union but destroying the Royal Mail as a public service. In East London, Royal Mail are suspending collections before 4pm from most post offices and post boxes, and some people haven't had any post for days. This isn't due to the strike action but because management are trying to force workers to deliver up to twice their normal workload!

For example pickets from the Docklands delivery office explain: "They're getting rid of ten delivery walks and giving those duties to people on top of their existing work. In one case they took what took another man six hours to do, and said to another 'do it all on top of your own duty'. Even with help he only left the office at 12:30pm to start deliveries, and that was after management told him to stop sorting mail and take out what he'd done already. So far he's bringing work back every day. On top of that he's got about 1,000 residential addresses due to open because of a huge new complex."

The reason Peter Mandelson's attempt to privatise Royal Mail failed last July is the fighting spirit that postal workers in London and across the country have shown against these attacks, and the temporary drying up of bids from big business due to the economic crisis.

This temporary postponement of privatisation is nothing to do with the money the CWU has given to Labour - over 6 million since 2001! Most CWU members are disgusted that their union continues to fund the party which is trying to destroy them.

The London ballot asked members if they agreed with the CWU London Postal Division that the CWU should stop funding the Labour Party. The result is a resounding blow against those within the CWU, and the wider trade union movement, who argue that the unions should continue to fund New Labour. It will enormously increase the pressure on the CWU national leadership to implement conference policy by holding a national ballot on whether or not to keep the Labour link.

The CWU conference in June 2009 voted to ballot members on withdrawing funds from the Labour Party if they continued to privatise Royal Mail. While Mandelson was forced to delay the privatisation temporarily, New Labour is still clearly committed to continue the process as soon as big business bidders are available. The government is also backing Royal Mail's current attacks on the workforce as part of the drive for cost cutting and privatisation.

CWU members need to put pressure on their union leadership to implement a national ballot on the Labour levy. But the debate cannot be confined to just stopping funding to the Labour Party.

The issues now are achieving a 'yes' vote in the present ballot for national industrial action, and how to successfully develop that national action. Also the need for the CWU to develop a political voice to add to their industrial muscle.

Whichever party wins the next election, they will try to force through savage cuts to public services including the privatisation of Royal Mail. The most effective way to build opposition to this is to link the industrial struggle CWU members are involved in to establishing a political voice.

We need a new workers' party.

"Where is the sense in government giving hundreds of millions in grants, subsidies and tax concessions to foreign owned companies to safeguard UK jobs and yet the profitable Royal Mail Group it owns can slash 60,000 full time jobs and convert the rest to part-time jobs in the name of modernisation? It's time the working classes stood up and said 'enough is enough'. Our low wages and long hours are funding ever more lavish lifestyles for the plutocracy. It is time for change..."

"Don't tell me we're not used to change and flexibility. It's not the union that closed post offices up and down the country. It's not the union that got rid of two deliveries a day, or the post buses in some parts of Scotland. It's not the union that stops us going out to make deliveries till 10.30-11am. Earlier in the morning it's nice and cool to walk around. Now it's only mad dogs and postmen that go out in the midday sun."

"Seniority doesn't mean that the people who've been here longest always get to pick the best duties, it means they can pick the job that best suits their capabilities. You could be as strong as an ox, good at shifting sacks of mail off a van. They could get another person to do the same job and his back might not take it, but he might be able to run up and down more stairs than you.

"It's not so much that management will always change you to a duty you can't do, it's that they are always holding the threat of that over you."

London postal workers

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