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19 December 2016
CWU members strike against post office closures and pension cuts
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
After headlines describing post office strikers as bringing 'Christmas misery' or 'ruin', striking post office workers were in an angry mood outside St John's Centre Post Office in Leeds.
A real anger existed at the destruction of the Crown Post Office network which has been going on for around a decade, with post offices in major cities now found in shops such as WH Smiths and Wilkos, some even stuffed out of the way in basements.
Strikers that I spoke to saw this as symptomatic of the direction society is being taken in: "It started almost 40 years ago when Thatcher got in, and it carried on under Blair, he was a capitalist too."
Parallels were drawn with the steel industry, the railways and other areas that were publicly owned, which have now either been privatised, closed down or both. Several strikers told me they had voted for Brexit because they wanted a change to this, while another commented that many of the areas which had a majority 'leave' vote had seen whole industries destroyed.
Strikers worried about their own futures too. The Post Office wants to close their defined benefit pension scheme and transfer it to a defined contribution scheme, potentially losing workers thousands of pounds. Yet research commissioned by the CWU said the pension scheme was still viable.
Similarly, there was worry about what jobs would remain as more Crown Post Offices are closed and transferred into other shops. While some staff have transferred, their jobs are only guaranteed for a year or two; meanwhile new starters fare much worse. "They're on zero hour contracts, and on minimum wage", I was told.
Strikers also made reference to other strikes taking place amongst workers on Southern rail, airport baggage handlers and others. As one put it: "None of us that are striking are asking for more money, we just want to defend out jobs and terms and conditions - it says a lot that they're not prepared to give us that."
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 19 December 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.