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Posted on 23 March 2020 at 22:23 GMT

Royal Mail workers in the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) supporting a 'yes' vote in the previous ballot for strike action, Leicester Meridian, photo Steve Score

Royal Mail workers in the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) supporting a 'yes' vote in the previous ballot for strike action, Leicester Meridian, photo Steve Score   (Click to enlarge)

Corona crisis brings new issues into the postal dispute

Gary Clark, branch secretary, CWU Scotland No.2 branch

Communication Workers Union (CWU) members have - for the third time in two years - returned a massive yes vote for industrial action.

We are countering Royal Mail management's attempt to walk away from national agreements and turn us into part of the gig economy.

The Royal Mail ballot resulted in an amazing 94.5% yes vote with a 63.4% turnout.

This turnout was a drop from the ballot last year, which had a 76% turnout. There are a couple of reasons for this. Last year's ballot was run over a three week period and this one was only a short campaign over two weeks.

A number of members would not have been able to vote due to being on annual leave and any members who didn't receive a ballot paper would not have had enough time to request a replacement one.

Also there was a more aggressive propaganda campaign by Royal Mail management, which while never convincing members to vote against the union, did result in a number not voting.

But it should not be understated that we still smashed the anti-trade union thresholds for industrial action and 94.5% is still a massive vote for strike action.

We also saw our Parcelforce members being balloted again at the same time, in two separate ballots. The first was over being 'TUPED' over to a separate trading company and resulted in another massive yes vote of 95.4% in a 51.2% turnout, so achieving the legal threshold for industrial action.

In the second, over honouring the agreement of the 'four pillars', another massive yes vote was gained, of 96.2%, but only with a 49.4% turnout, so falling short by 0.6% of achieving the required threshold for strike action on this issue.

This just shows how much the laws in this country are anti-union, and why they must be fought by the whole workers' movement.

Covid-19

Since the result we have seen the issues being overtaken by the spread of Covid-19, which has put a more complex situation in front of the CWU.

But it has seen Royal Mail managers put potentially on the back foot, exposing the extreme weakness in their preparedness for this situation and their disgraceful slowness in protecting our members.

Members have been asking for gloves and hand cleansers which management has been very slow to get, despite weeks of notice that this national crisis and emergency was very likely to explode.

New guidelines around packet and 'to sign for' deliveries were issued last Saturday but this was a very slow response to the clear safety issues raised by the CWU.

Postal workers are to keep a two metre gap between them and customers but no guidelines have been issued for collection drivers or caller office workers.

What also has become clear over the last few days is a lack of cleaners all over the country, with vacancies having been left unfilled for a period of time as a cost saving by Royal Mail.

This has resulted in a large number of offices not being properly cleaned, which has come to a head this week, with a number of offices closing when workers have taken unofficial action due to areas not being cleaned to a reasonable standard and concerns around the health implications.

It was even reported that some offices haven't had soap in the toilets, which only goes to highlight the cost cutting which has been taking place throughout Royal Mail.

The CWU has sought to put pressure on Royal Mail management and the Tory government by demanding that postal workers should be regarded as providing emergency services during the virus outbreak, such as through delivering urgent medical supplies to people self-isolating and other vulnerable and elderly people.

This has now effectively happened, with Royal Mail workers being put on the list of 'key workers'.

In return the union offered a pause in the six months strike action clock ticking. However there are mixed signs coming out of Royal Mail, with indications of an internal battle at the very top.

We saw a day's delay in them responding to the offer of talks with the CWU, which could have been due to those at the top debating how to deal with the dispute in the changed situation.

Prepare for action

But the CWU must still prepare for industrial action unless all the executive action is withdrawn and there is a clear path forward - and not just Royal Mail trying to buy time.

We have also seen signs of Royal Mail looking to get information together to prepare another High Court case against the CWU and our ballot result.

If this is true and they attempt that, we must withdraw from all talks and prepare our members for action - and make a call to the whole labour movement to come to the aid of the CWU, not just with words but with clear action too.

The CWU must stand firm against any pressure to stand down for so-called 'national unity' during what is a serious crisis. We can't offer peace if Royal Mail management still wants war.

Postal workers always believe we are part of the community and for a long time we have been arguing this with the employer and the government.

It also raises the key issues around privatisation and the rush for profits at all costs, as against providing a decent public service which could clearly go beyond just delivering letters and packets but provide a wide public service to every household in the UK.

Many thought the issue of renationalisation was off the agenda after the Johnson election victory last December, but this should now be a clear demand of the CWU and the wider movement.

The last week has shown how vital a publicly owned postal service is. It should be entirely in the public sector and run under democratic workers' and community control.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
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