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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 November 2009

Postal dispute: Bosses still on the attack

The London divisional committee of the postal workers' union, CWU, have unanimously voted to call on the CWU's national postal executive to reinstate the national strike.

Bill Mullins

The regional committee says that after some six meetings with London Royal Mail, management is still refusing to honour the full terms of the interim agreement. The committee adds: "All they want to do is make more cuts and introduce 'absorption' without re-engaging about the changes they have already imposed with regard to job cuts, revisions, part-timers, belated hours, rest day hours, four-day weeks etc in line with the agreement... This is a national agreement they're breaking, it's a national union, therefore it requires national action".

The call for the reinstatement of the national strikes seems to have come from London only at this moment. It is clear that in London at least the bosses are playing hard ball. The strikes were called off to allow national and local talks to take place with the idea, as far as the union was concerned, to look again where changes had been imposed by management without agreement and to renegotiate these changes.

For most postal workers, the calling off of the planned strikes on the basis of the interim agreement (even if all its nuances were not clear) meant that they could take a breather from the action and see what came out of the talks. Some were disappointed and had grave doubts that these talks would get anywhere of substance.

The Socialist Party's workplace bulletin at the time argued that: "The agreement provides a framework, but only if local managements reinstate discussions and negotiations to reverse un-agreed practices.

"Any indication from local offices that managers are refusing to adhere to the agreement, remove un-agreed practices and introduce realistic workloads and attendances must be met with an immediate reinstatement of the action by our leadership."

What is clear is that in London the battle has gone much further than most areas of the country. There have been 139 live strike ballots since the summer. 400 workplaces in the capital are affected, involving tens of thousands of postal workers. Some of them have lost up to 23 days pay to strike action, with the average being 18 days. London postal workers have lost some 2,000 in wages.

The postal executive has a responsibility to listen to the demands of their London members and give notice of the union's intent to reinstate the national strikes.

No doubt this will not be supported by Brendan Barber of the TUC who brokered the deal and claimed that it would mean peace up to Christmas. But the bosses are playing fast and loose, with the national bosses giving the London management the nod and the wink to put the boot in.

An announcement by the national leadership to reinstate the strikes will concentrate the minds of Royal Mail management like nothing else. If the workers are forced to go on strike again then the union leadership must call upon the whole of the trade union movement to come to their aid. The setting up of cross union solidarity committees at regional level; as has been done in London, will demonstrate the union's intent to force the hand of the bosses.

Solidarity action from other sectors can range from joint meetings, financial support, and organised demos to direct industrial action, in particular in those parts of the public sector which are also facing cuts.

The union executive are assessing the progress, or lack of it, as this article is written, but many workers think there is a chronic shortage of information about the deal and what has happened since. This means many union members fear that there could be a demobilisation of the union in the midst of this battle.

It is vital that the union and its activists keep the 'troops' rallied, up to date and ready for further action, for example by holding special meetings and producing information bulletins.

In the medium term Royal Mail is seeking to impose a "modernisation" programme to introduce new machinery into the letter delivery service. Workers fear that this will lead directly to massive job losses and the introduction of a more and more part-time and casual workforce.

The union should demand that any improvements in productivity should see the workers gaining as well.

This should include the call for a 35 hour week, the safeguarding of pensions, the end of casualisation and the renationalisation of all privatised postal contracts.

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