Hockley-Birmingham Socialist Party
Hockley-Birmingham Socialist Party

After this article was published in print, on the evening of Tuesday 1 November, the CWU held another online meeting, this time with 28,000 subscribing.

CWU General Secretary Dave Ward announced that the strike action on 12 and 14 November has been cancelled and instead there will be two 48-hour strikes around Black Friday and Cyber Monday – 24-25 November and 30 November – 1 December – and that there will more strikes in December.

At same time, CWU will be putting the ‘offer’ from Royal Mail to a workplace vote with a recommendation to vote against. And there will be a second question on the ballot paper – a vote of no-confidence in Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson.

While there was general agreement with this strategy, there were undoubtedly concerns, even anger and frustration that the two strike dates had been called off. While it is reasonable to review tactics, there is a danger in putting action on and then parking it, especially after the union leadership had to react to Royal Mail’s legal challenge to the rolling functional action.

It’s therefore essential that the union spells out all the proposed December action. It should also call strike solidarity rallies during the Black Friday-Cyber Monday action, appealing to the whole trade union movement and working-class communities to bring their support.

Socialist Party members in CWU

Royal Mail management have declared all-out war on the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and 115,000 postal workers. While officially taking part in talks at ACAS, they made a legal challenge to the Communication Workers Union (CWU) against its 19 days of rolling functional action.

Now they have made a new two-year ‘pay offer’ of below-inflation rises, plus imposition of a lesser rate for new starters, and bringing owner-drivers into the company.  Correctly, the CWU’s postal executive is calling further strike action. 

There was already huge anger from members at management again resorting to threats of legal injunctions to stop democratically agreed action. At an emergency online meeting on Sunday 30 October, called at a few hours’ notice, over 15,000 CWU members took part.

It’s clear that it is the effectiveness of the rolling action, in the busiest pre-Christmas period, that has seen Royal Mail reverting to using the anti-trade union laws to stop the strikes, just as they did in 2019. Then, outrageously, unelected judges ruled out a massive strike vote.

The CWU postal executive decided to suspend the rolling action, rather than risk having any further strike action ruled out. It is vital that the union looks to maintain the momentum of the dispute and ups the ante. The executive has already called all-out national strikes on November 12 and 14, and it was meeting on Tuesday 1 November to agree further dates for strike action.

They should do a ‘belt and braces’ review of the strike details and procedures, and then urgently re-issue notice for the rolling action alongside further national strikes, looking to coordinate with CWU members in BT and Openreach, and other workers taking action.

Socialist Party members have consistently argued that the union should launch a public strike fund, and welcomes the decision to do so. It is needed more than ever, both to cover the hardship of striking members, and also to mobilise the rest of the trade union movement and working-class communities in support of the action.

Now it is becoming clear that a support group network is required. This will galvanise workers all over the country and show the support postal workers command. CWU branches should spearhead this, in conjunction with local trades councils and union bodies.

It is also becoming clearer to more and more postal workers that the only long-term solution is to fight for democratic socialist nationalisation of the postal and telecommunications services.

The offensive by Royal Mail comes at the same time as the Tories look to bring in even more restrictive anti-union laws, for the same reasons as Royal Mail – to attack our ability to defend our members from the bosses’ offensive.

But they can be defeated. The whole trade union movement must be prepared to take united decisive action, on the scale of a 24-hour general strike, if such measures are implemented.

And it’s also vital that the CWU takes the lead in calling for coordinated strike action across the private and public sectors, against brutal employers like Royal Mail and BT and their Tory political backers.

Postal and BT workers in CWU spoke to Socialist Party members on the picket lines

Bill, picket supervisor at BT Openreach at Ravensbridge Drive Leicester, spoke to Heather Rawling.

“The union [was] meeting shareholders in London. They are going to put across how the dispute reflects on the business and reflects on their share price, so the shareholders can come alongside or put pressure on the CEO.

“One of the major shareholders bought the shares at nearly two pounds and sold for four. He took £78 million. He’s one of the super-rich. He’s not going to a food bank. But the share prices are falling now.

“We need to force the bosses to get round the table now. There’s a backlog of repairs. On the fibre provision side, there is a five-week wait, on the copper version side, a four week wait.

“The mood is strong to win this strike.”

A striker at the Weston-super-Mare delivery office in Somerset told Rob Jennings that the local CWU rep had been suspended from work by Royal Mail on trumped up charges.

There have now been 96 CWU members suspended nationally since the strikes began, and the pickets said they were prepared to strike indefinitely if these members are not reinstated.

Ian Pattison reports of Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire: it isn’t just the BBQ that’s made the Royal Mail picket lines the biggest in this strike so far – 25 on the picket line on 20 October and eighteen on 25 October.

The workers on strike aren’t intimidated by Royal Mail’s attacks, confident that strikes will work, and think this is a weak government that only cares about the rich. An agency worker going in asked: “Is there a strike on?”. When pickets said “yes”, they immediately turned around.

Glenn Howard reports that in Ledbury, Herefordshire, where originally there was only one person on the Royal Mail picket line, now many of the workers are out on the picket, with only a single person in work. The threat of redundancies has had the opposite of the management’s desired effect, and has solidified support.