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Postal Workers Win Important Victory
THE COURAGEOUS unofficial action by tens of thousands of postal workers in the last two weeks has shown that bullying bosses can be stood up to and forced to retreat.
Postal workers achieved a significant victory in their defensive struggle, which has gone a long way to removing the scars and tyranny management tried to inflict upon them in the last month, since the union narrowly lost a national ballot on pay.
Their action has shown how ineffective the anti-union laws and management intimidation can be.
The Post Office have had had to agree that to their "knowledge the CWU did not instigate unofficial action" and ... "will not make legal claim against the CWU for any action to date."
The dispute is estimated to cost the Post Office between £50 million - £100 million and could cost big business billions.
The agreement signed at 3.30am on Monday 3 November shows a management in disarray and rapidly retreating from their previous hard line.
The revelations over the previous weekend of the spying and intimidation that Royal Mail management was stooping to, forced bosses on to the back foot.
But it was primarily the firm, resolute, all-out action of tens of thousands of rank-and-file postal workers, which stopped management.
They showed they were not going to accept new working practices and back-to-work agreements being imposed which aimed to undermine the effectiveness of the workers' union, the Communication Workers' Union (CWU).
Why the world didn't change after all
AFTER THE narrow defeat of the union leadership in a national pay ballot, Post Office bosses said that the 'world had changed'. They arrogantly and mistakenly believed this gave them the mandate (excuse) to impose new agreements without the consent of the national or local union branches.
Choosing the return of strikers in London after the recent one-day strikes on London weighting, management attempted to pick a fight and isolate the London postal workers.
Now it seems this tactic has spectacularly rebounded on them. The CWU and Royal Mail announced in a joint statement to end the dispute that, amongst other things, "Royal Mail dropped their demand that all local working practices and agreements should cease as part of a return to work."
Management were also forced to confirm that "there will be no conduct cases progressed against any employee for taking or encouraging unofficial industrial action" and that "all the terms that had been presented previously by local managers as pre-conditions to CWU members returning to work have been withdrawn."
Additionally, the bosses have had to agree to going back to review the changes to working practices they were seeking to impose. Postal workers will also be paid overtime for the backlog they will have to clear.
This signifies a big retreat by the top bosses and will see the many aspiring dictators in local postal depots smarting.
This will give postal workers confidence that they were right to take their action and also ensure that they will be prepared to take action again when management attempt new get tough tactics.
"THE MOOD here was fairly euphoric. We see it as a big boost for the union and a kick up the arse for Leighton - who is a jumped-up shit. I was really disgusted at his gung-ho attitude. We're delighted here that we've given management a kicking.
George, Portsmouth postal worker
"But we also know they've retreated to buy time. This hasn't been the decisive battle but we've won the opening skirmish. We have to ensure management don't now try to pick us off piecemeal. Leighton was trying to split the union and we mustn't do his work for him by allowing any divisions to open up or allow them to undermine national pay bargaining."
Management retreat - but bigger battles to come
THIS DISPUTE had shades of the 1984-85 miners' strike but with important differences.
Management clearly wanted to utilise this unofficial action to isolate the most militant sectors of the union - particularly London, which had taken action on London weighting - and impose its modernisation programme: meaning tougher working conditions, £1.4 billion cuts and 30,000 job losses by the end of next year.
Underpinning this is the bosses' intention to end the union's right to exercise some control over management.
But this current action had more similarities to 1983 when Thatcher's cronies in the Coal Board tried to shut so-called 'uneconomic' pits in south Wales. Very quickly unofficial action put the Tory government on the back foot, forcing it to retreat on its closure programme, and to go away to lick its wounds.
However, Thatcher and the Tories had been meticulously preparing for a showdown with the miners for a long time and came back in 1984 to provoke the walkouts that led to the spreading of unofficial action and eventually the year-long strike.
Post Office management stumbled into this current dispute believing its own propaganda but were forced to retreat and will now try to regroup.
The underlying issues that compelled the bosses to make this attack have not gone away. They still want to implement modernisation plans, make 30,000 job cuts, prepare the industry for privatisation and reassert their control by breaking the workers' union.
So, although the workers have gained a big victory, they will recognise that this is only a dress rehearsal for a much bigger battle likely to come sooner rather than later.
Positive lessons will be drawn about the fact that it is only militant struggle and solidarity that can force intimidatory managers to retreat.
For now, the upstarts Leighton and Crozier have been put in their place. But, whether it is these two individuals or others running the Post Office, the bosses will inevitably attempt to come back and impose their privatisation and modernisation agenda on the workforce.
This deal represents a fragile truce and some workers will be anxious about issues, such as the talks on single delivery, being referred to Acas.
Post Office bosses revealed their hand in this dispute about how tough they intend to be. At some stage they will again try to engineer a dispute to try and break the key militant areas of the union.
A serious campaign has to be launched within the union both at local and national level to ensure that there is 100% solidarity amongst CWU members and being prepared to conduct a determined, all-out national struggle to a victorious conclusion on the issues still outstanding. Postal workers need to prepare now for that inevitable battle.
On the picket line
Strikers at the Royal Mail distribution centre in Warrington told the socialist:
"WE ACCEPT that there has to be change. Things change all the time. But it must be consulted, negotiated. Not just 'do this, do that, do anything we say' That's what the management want. And we've had enough of change for change's sake".
"THE SERVICE has actually got worse with all the management's changes.
We're the ones out in all weathers delivering the mail.
We know how the job's done best. But they promote people to managers on attitude, not ability.
We've got managers who started on the post six months ago, got promoted, and now they're telling guys with ten years experience what to do, just because they'll say the things that the bosses want to hear".
After the strike
"My office wasn't out on strike and we haven't had a lot of information yet about the agreement but we're all very supportive of those who took action.
We all realise as well that there is still the big battle to come over working changes and job cuts."
Rob, postal worker, Weston-Super-Mare
In The Socialist 8 November 2003: