The Socialist 17 October 2007 |
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Postal workers waiting to assess Royal Mail deal
On Friday 12 October a deal between the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) leaders and Royal Mail was struck against a background of unofficial action in Scotland, Liverpool and East London. Final agreement is dependent on the approval of the CWU postal executive which is still meeting as the socialist goes to press, followed by a ballot of CWU members.
On the basis of leaked reports it seems likely that the deal will not meet the demands that postal workers have been fighting for. If this is the case then it should be opposed by the union executive.
It appears that Royal Mail will still make some attacks on pensions such as ending the current final salary scheme but in 'consultation' with the union.
They will continue to argue for the retirement age to increase from 60 to 65 years.
It seems that a pay rise, due in April, will now start in October and be 5.4%, with another 1.5% next April and a one-off payment of £175. However because this year's increase will not be backdated to April, this would in effect be a below-inflation increase of 3% over 12 months.
The deal may be giving Royal Mail the chance to still push ahead with attacks on postal workers' conditions, only on a local basis rather than national.
If this is the case, it will be much harder for the national union to fight against such changes, as the firefighters' union has found in the recent period.
After eight national strike days involving much hardship, which started at the end of June, plus many others at local level, Royal Mail may have budged very little from its original plan.
Following near solid national action during two 48-hour strikes, many postal workers returned to work on Wednesday 10 October only to find that management were trying to implement later start times, even though there had been no agreement with the union on any changes. Workers also discovered that four days' pay lost due to strike action over two separate weeks was deducted from one week. Because workers were not informed of this, many went overdrawn in their bank accounts.
This action, combined with intimidation and harassment from management led to walkouts in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Livingston and Edinburgh. Strikes spread quickly, especially across London and Liverpool through to Friday and Saturday. Liverpool and parts of London were still taking unofficial strike action on Monday 15 October and 2,500 postal workers in Liverpool were still out on Tuesday.
News of union reps being victimised, disciplined and suspended were being reported within the union. Any deal must include an end to victimisation and the re-instatement of all victimised workers.
Adam Crozier, the chief executive of Royal Mail on £2.4 million a year, decided to turn up to the final talks. While they were underway, Royal Mail turned to the anti-trade union laws and went to the courts to gain an injunction against the union to stop the planned sectional strikes on Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 October.
They argued that the strikes were not legal because the union had not declared the correct number of workers who would be taking part in action on those two days.
These two sectional strikes would have meant the largest sections of the postal service walking out – the sorting and delivery offices.
With unofficial action having a major effect on the already huge backlog of mail and with postal workers ready to take part in more official action, this injunction should have been defied, with the CWU calling on other unions for support.
The union should not have continued with negotiations once the injunction was threatened.
Throughout the negotiations Royal Mail carried out changes to working conditions and victimised postal workers, especially union reps. Workers should not be left alone to be harassed by management in their individual workplaces – they must be supported nationally by the union.
Brown made it clear he is on the side of the Royal Mail management by saying that there is "no justification" for the strike, while John Hutton – government 'business secretary' - believed that Royal Mail's original offer was "decent and fair".
After all it was Labour who de-regulated the postal service, opening it up to competition from big business.
And yet the CWU donated over £500,000 to the Labour Party between June 2006 and June 2007! Money was paid over at a time when government-owned Royal Mail was announcing plans of a below-inflation pay increase, worse conditions and job losses.
The CWU should stop funding Labour for good and disaffiliate from the Labour Party. None of the three big business parties have spoken out in favour of the Royal Mail workers, which shows the crucial need for a political voice for working-class people.
If the CWU loses this dispute then Royal Mail workers will see their working conditions and pensions pushed back and union organisation within the postal service seriously threatened. The post service provided for the public will be massively worsened.
This dispute is also crucial for all trade unionists. If this battle is won it would be a spur to other crucial battles in the public sector against low pay and attacks on conditions.