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Postal strike reports: Defending the service
Cars hooted their support as postal workers' picket lines were solid across Gloucestershire this week, even more so than during the 2007 strike. That ended with an agreement which Royal Mail management have abused, to continue cutting staff and increase workloads.
Chris Moore, Gloucestershire Socialist Party
So the CWU has again been forced to defend our public service from a management and government, determined to attack postal workers in an attempt to make the industry more attractive to private business.
Paul Trehearne (branch secretary of Gloucester Amalgamated CWU) explained: "The pay and modernisation agreement consisted of four phases. The first three were all delivered.
"Phase four was new technology, employees' benefits package, and job security, which have all been reneged on, with Royal Mail walking away from negotiations. More and more work is now being put on delivery staff, which is making their workload totally unachievable. This is what Royal Mail call modernisation."
Dave Guy, CWU rep at Stroud delivery office, put it this way: "The fight is to save the postal service as we know it. If management and the government win this battle it will ultimately mean privatisation and the end to 'every address' delivery."
Andy Petrie, CWU unit rep at Gloucester south delivery office, explained that: "Privatisation would mean the end of a 39p delivery to all areas especially rural ones. Businesses like ebay could fold."
Shawn Bedwell, Stroud delivery office, added: "This battle is about private business or a public service. The top Royal Mail executives have had around £10 million in bonuses, postal workers have had a pay freeze, no bonuses and increased workloads."
John Ellis, CWU early morning shift rep at Gloucester mail centre, said: "Royal Mail's agenda is to destroy the union and introduce change on their terms."
Shawn and John both identified the pensions deficit as a major problem, blaming the government and management for Royal Mail's 17-year pension 'holiday'. Andy Petrie summed up the feelings of many towards the Labour Party by asking: "How long is our union going to keep giving money to a Labour Party that is kicking us in the trossachs."
Postal workers turned out in determined mood at delivery offices in Bitterne and Shirley in Southampton.
Support for the strike was solid. This followed the previous day's strike at the Eastleigh sorting depot where managers were left on their own staring at a mountain of mail.
At Bitterne workers have suffered two years of casualisation with the introduction of 20-hour contracts: "We want to do a good job for the public. Management are out to destroy the service and prepare it for privatisation.
"What we want is to protect full time jobs. 20-hour contracts don't get the job done and don't provide a living wage. They want to run the job down into part-time work. It's all about more work for no extra pay.
"They want us to work in teams where if one person is off sick, we do their work for no extra pay. If two are off sick the same."
The feeling is this strike is a turning point, not just for postal workers but for workers in general: "They want to destroy the union. If we lose what hope have others got."
A two hour visit to the Sheffield mail centre picket line gave some idea of the management bullying that postal workers face.
The two dozen or so CWU pickets were being constantly watched by managers who were taking notes from just inside the gates. One manager came out to tell local press it was illegal to take photos of Royal Mail property!
Then a few pickets held up a UK Mail lorry (so-called 'downstream access' ie private operators' mail) and asked the driver not to cross. He called his boss and then said he would turn round.
But another manager demanded to know: "Why are you stopping this delivery?" and said he was calling the police. Then he came back to the union rep and read out four lines including that pickets cannot physically intimidate or use violence.
Then the same manager started taking photographs of the pickets in a clear attempt to intimidate them. The UK Mail driver backed his wagon out and drove away. First strike to the pickets.
Two female pickets stood behind us whilst photos were being taken. One said: "He's our shift manager. He stands on the gantry over us, watching, then sends his minions to say we're not working hard enough."
There was a feeling of frustration voiced by strikers at the Tyneside mail centre that New Labour's Royal Mail privatisation plans were at the heart of this dispute. In particular postal workers were scathing about the role played by business secretary, Peter Mandelson. As one of the strikers said: "He's an unelected government minister, who got a mortgage from his rich friend, and cruises with a Russian oligarch, but puts the boot into postal workers".
In Sale the pickets were very appreciative of our standing with them and that the Socialist Party was behind them all the way. They were genuinely surprised at the amount of petition support we'd gathered for them over the weeks on a stall.
All I spoke to reported that they have support from the majority of customers they deliver to despite the spin. And out of the 90 odd at the office only four crossed the line.
There is a myth of less mail because of the internet when in fact there's more than ever with eBay parcels etc taking up much of the weight and adding half an hour at least to the rounds, which the bosses don't allow for and complain about the overtime, yet they cut jobs.
Only one scab crossed the picket line at the Llansamlet depot in Swansea between the usual starting time of 5-6am. Socialist Party members were particularly welcomed on the early morning picket which grew even bigger as the day progressed.
The 300-plus mail centre and delivery workers based on the site, who struck together on Thursday, brought the workplace to a virtual standstill. Managers were left powerless as machines broke down because they were incapable of operating them.
The mood was more determined than the previous national strike in 2007, with workers recognising the whole future of Royal Mail is under threat along with their jobs, hard won conditions and pensions.
Rob Williams, Unite Linamar convener, brought a message of solidarity from his shop stewards' committee and promised a financial donation from his branch to the strike fund.
Saturday's Guardian features postal workers reading a copy of The Socialist on the picket line at North Bristol sorting office, Montpelier. The workers spoke to us about the tremendous support for the strike by the rank-and-file, saying that only a handful of workers had gone in out of a city with thousands of postal workers. They stressed the importance of support from others. They were keen for the Socialist Party and our paper to put across a socialist and democratic alternative to privatisation.
Matt Gordon and Jack Jeffery
Shop steward Mark Walker on the well attended and lively picket line outside Erdington local delivery office explained the reasons for the strike: "They're gradually replacing full timers with part timers, the last full timer came in six years ago! The place is being run down, the conditions inside are terrible. There has been absolutely no investment for years. The bags are heavier than ever before, walks are longer and it's quite normal for postmen to take their own cars out with them."
The range of different grievances has accumulated over a long time: "20 years ago when I started this was a decent job. The pay wasn't brilliant but there at least was a decent pension at the end, now even that's in doubt. This strike was a long time coming."
Ted Smith, Birmingham Socialist Party
In Teignmouth in Devon the CWU members there are now much better organised than in the last strike. There is a shop steward and a deputy - they had made excellent banners and boards to inform the public.
The mood was different too, as they declared their relief of coming out at last against the management whose bullying and intimidation tactics were souring the job. Further up the coast at Dawlish there was a 100% refusal to go into work.
Socialist Party members raised a petition in Exeter the next day in support of the strike and CWU demands. In email exchanges with the CWU western counties secretary, the suggestion of a march through Exeter by the postal workers was to be put forward to that branch.
- These are just a few of the many reports we have received from Socialist Party members around the country.
In The Socialist 28 October 2009:
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party reviews