The Socialist 19 July 2007 |
Join the Socialist
Postal workers - fighting low pay, against privatisation and job cuts
Royal Mail postal workers held a second successful 24-hour strike, that started at 7pm on Thursday 12 July. Delivery and sorting offices throughout the country were brought to a halt, as the workers' anger against low pay, job losses and other cuts made itself felt.
With Royal Mail management refusing to even negotiate, continued unity of the workforce together with escalation of the action are both essential. As the socialist goes to press, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) leaders are discussing the details of future action. The next strikes need to be stepped up to being two or three days each time to force Royal Mail and the government to negotiate and to send a clear message that postal workers are determined to defend their jobs and the entire post service.
This is a benchmark dispute, with victory being very important for the struggle against cuts and privatisation throughout the public sector. Trade unionists in other unions need to give maximum support to the post workers, and those in the public sector need to put pressure on their union leaders to follow the example of the PCS union, and call for co-ordinated action across the public sector.
The clear message
Claims by Royal Mail managers that postal workers were not interested in continuing with the programme of strike action were met with derision by CWU members across the country as an overwhelming majority of delivery office and mail centre staff heeded the union's call for action and refused to work.
At the delivery office in Cambridge the strike was every bit as solid as the first day of action with 95% of workers taking part.
CWU members picketing the office were boosted further when it was announced that some of their colleagues who had broken the last strike had this time decided to stay away.
In a desperate act of defiance Royal Mail drafted in managers from other parts of the region to try to undermine the strike action. But their actions backfired on them when their inability to put even a single bicycle out on delivery highlighted just how valuable postal workers really are.
In addition to receiving support from members of the public and trade union delegations from PCS, Unison and UCU, pickets also welcomed an impromptu visit from the mayoress of Cambridge who pledged her support for the postal workers in struggle!
At Cambridge mail centre, where a rally was held towards the end of the strike action, solid support was also reported with only one person (a non-union member) reporting for work on the early shift.
The rally itself was well attended and addressed by speakers from NUT and PCS unions and finally by Mark Howitt, the Labour MEP for Cambridge. Royal Mail seems to think that its refusal to negotiate will make the problem magically disappear, but the huge level of support for our action clearly shows that postal workers are not about to back away from this confrontation with the employer.
If, however, this dispute is to be won then it is becoming increasingly clear that CWU leaders need to be looking at ways to escalate this action beyond a series of one-day Friday strikes. CWU members are galvanised for action and ready to do whatever it takes to achieve what will be a hard-won victory.
The messages from the picket lines are clear. CWU leaders need to be imaginative in announcing action that will hit Royal Mail where it hurts them the most - in their pockets.
They need also to be talking to other public sector union leaders with a view to developing co-ordinated strike action across the whole public sector in defiance of the government's insulting and demeaning public sector pay cuts.
Trevor Prior, CWU delivery rep, Cambridge
Bristol: bucket-loads of workers' support
ON STRIKE day, at short notice, I organised a bucket collection for the strike fund at Bristol's Central Telephone Exchange and St Clements House following an earlier Postal Workers Support Group meeting at the offices of the Bristol and District Amalagamated CWU.
My branch, CWU South West Engineers, subsequently voted to donate £1,000 to the strike fund. I also got support for a bucket collection. It would I said, serve two purposes; to build support for postal workers and to build our own branch profile in the workplace.
This was agreed, and following the go-ahead from the branch secretary I produced a leaflet that could be used to build advance support for the bucket collection. The leaflet explained why as telecoms workers we should support the postal workers.
I distributed the leaflet to all the tea rooms I could get access to and also stood outside the workplace at lunchtime, distributing it. Other CWU officers were able to get the leaflet distributed amongst their members on different floors.
The two workplaces leafletted have a history of assisting other workers in struggle, with the last large union collection being for the firefighters.
Telecoms workers were supportive from the start. Even before reading the official CWU material about the strike, they were reaching to get change out of their pockets, clearly identifying the need to defend the postal service as a public service and support the strike. £5 and £10 notes were donated with the change. At the end of an hour £84 had been collected.
Tyneside: Making a defiant stand
ACROSS TYNESIDE the postal strike has been 100% solid. In comparison to the 29 June strike the mood of the strikers was far more serious and contemplative. All the strikers I spoke to were keen to discuss how to take the strike forward to ensure a victory.
Strikers from the Newcastle City picket line discussed the need for the CWU to counter the advert Crozier and Leighton were putting in the press which is an attempt to take the blame for the strike away from Royal Mail and onto the shoulders of the workers . As one CWU member said: "Obviously the strike is about pay, but it's also about our pension and conditions. Gordon Brown talks about the necessity of work-based pensions, but stands by while Crozier and Leighton are intent on cutting back on ours."
Another postal worker commented that: "Crozier and Leighton are firing bullets at us. The comment that we are 40% underworked and 25% overpaid has provoked anger."
A striker commented: "If they put me on the same £15,000 a week wage as Crozier I'd be prepared to accept a pay freeze for ten years!"
The way forward
On the Team Valley mail centre picket line CWU members were discussing how to take things forward when you have employers who are not prepared to talk. The strikers agreed that the action taken so far was 'flexing their muscles', but if 24-hour strikes aren't successful they would have to look at ways of stepping up action.
One striker said: "Eventually, if they continue to ignore us, we may have to escalate things. But hopefully they'll see sense. Another then added: "If we don't stand and fight they'll railroad us, the job won't be worth having."
At the Team Valley delivery office a striker told how he had apologised to someone who ran a small business for the lack of postal deliveries on strike days. The response from the person was that one day strikes weren't affecting them as they were getting deliveries the next day.
The striker said that after this conversation he realised that in order to win they would have to escalate the action they were taking. Another striker added that: "We should be looking at a public-sector strike."
At the picket line at Gateshead delivery office strikers commented that alongside strike action they should be 'working to rule'. They were angered by Crozier and Leighton's refusal to negotiate, and talked of the need to escalate the strike which would also mean having to explain to all CWU members the necessity of such action. However, the CWU members on the picket line thought this could be done as the feeling of anger amongst postal workers is very strong.
500 POSTAL workers from all over London took over a part of Old Street (near the city of London) outside the Post Office headquarters. The noisy protest had been called to let Royal Mail bosses know the anger that postal workers feel towards their attacks.
A big cheer went up when the CWU bus came past and then parked right outside management's office. Accompanied by chants of "Leighton and Crozier - OUT, OUT, OUT" from striking postal workers, CWU general secretary Billy Hayes handed in a giant letter calling for genuine negotiations.
FROM THE minute the picket lines were set up outside Gloucester mail centre on Thursday evening, cars were hooting support for the CWU pickets.
It's an indication that most people have not been fooled by Royal Mail's propaganda about a '27% pay increase', but instead understand that plans to axe 40,000 jobs and attack pay and conditions are all linked to the privatisation of the postal service.
As Paul Trehearne, CWU Gloucestershire Amalgamated Branch Secretary said: "Support for the strike remains solid and public support has been amazing. Royal Mail's real plans are to drive through privatisation and the destruction of the postal service. It's also becoming clear that their objective is to smash the union. We need to continue and if necessary up the action."
Already, the strike is starting to rattle Royal Mail. A Gloucester postal worker detailed some of management's bullying tactics the day after the last strike day on 29 June with breaks and drinks banned and toilet breaks at the discretion of the management.
Postal workers are being offered a below inflation 2.5% pay deal by Royal Mail. Lee Cook, sub rep at Gloucester South delivery office said: "It's not just about the money it's about the strings."
CWU picket at Gloucester South, Darrell Taylor explained: "Start times will be moved forward eliminating the £12.37 a week night duty that delivery staff incur. So an £8 pay rise is rendered irrelevant."
Eric Sykes, CWU distribution morning shift rep at Gloucester mail centre said: "Mr Crozier (Royal Mail Chief Executive) got a bonus of £370,000 so what did Mr Leighton (Royal Mail Chairman) get? Mind you, he (Leighton) has doubled his hours from one to two days a week. I wouldn't mind working two days for his money."
One of the issues triggering this strike was Royal Mail's business plan, which would mean the closure of Gloucester mail centre with the loss of 470 jobs. But management have come up with a proposal - a walking or cycling 'buddy scheme'. Workers from Gloucester can team up to get to the mail centre in Swindon, 34 miles away!
As Eric Sykes said: "A marathon is 26 miles and a good athlete does it in two-and-a-half hours; it'll take me a week just to get there!"
Royal Mail are clearly not interested in jobs or the postal service. Eric concluded: "It's (the postal service) got to stay nationalised; it's a service to the public. You've only got to look at the gas and electricity to see what happens when it's privatised, the fat cats get fatter."
Striking postal worker Jason Noel, from Church Hill SDO in Walthamstow, north-east London, spoke to Sarah Sachs-Eldridge.
"The management are going to make some drastic changes which I think are going to affect postmen badly. So we need to make a stand now to stop them from doing these changes. If we don't I think the whole job will just nosedive. Loads of jobs will be lost - at least 40,000. We all need to put up a fight now.
"Because we've gone on strike and they want us to suffer they've cut the walks down to six hours. To me it doesn't make sense because you then bring casuals in at a higher rate and they don't do the job properly. So they're cutting their noses off to spite their faces but they just want us to suffer.
"To win we probably will have to do more strike days in a week. One day doesn't really cause as much problem. The thing is you do one day and then we all rush round the next day sort of clearing it out the way. Then you help the big offices by doing overtime.
"We should refuse the overtime after the strike and let the work build up and get out of control. We need to discuss about having a work to rule. If we did that they couldn't recover after a strike day."
Picket line round-up
AFTER THE last strike a well-liked worker was suspended for allegedly asking workers not to talk to scabs. It would appear management were looking for a scapegoat after the success of the first strike.
Her colleagues immediately staged a sit-down protest in the canteen demanding her re-instatement. The manager of the Malmo Road depot in Hull told workers to get back to work or she would call the police. After such a threat the workers could only do one thing, they walked out!
After four hours a driver was threatened with suspension and the strike was about to escalate nationally. Shortly afterwards the woman's suspension was lifted and they all returned to work. The unofficial action has galvanised the local union and this was reflected in the size of the picket line.
"The last strike was 100% solid and this one is the same. Nothing moved last time. Management say 60% of the workforce turned out nationally but that's rubbish. Only 19 people, that's 0.5% of our members, worked across east London.
"The managers can't do our job. One of them was out 'till 7pm during the last strike because he got lost, he didn't know where he was going!"
Mick Powell, CWU rep on the Burdett Road picket line spoke to Naomi Byron.
Only a handful worked in Barnstaple and Bideford with over 95% out on strike. The strike was solid in Exeter even though there were only a few pickets there due to a different change-over time.
In Mid and South Devon the CWU scored notable successes in bringing out and unionising the delivery office at Chagford and achieving total stoppage at Bovey Tracey. Small towns and villages they may be but it shows the strength of feeling that exists and what can be done by active trade unionists.
Thanks in helping the strike were given by CWU reps to a Socialist Party member when he visited the Newton Abbot picket line. A simple letter sent to local newspapers supporting the cause had been reprinted by the union and sent to all CWU branches. The stoppage at Newton Abbot was 100%. At Teignmouth six worked out of 30.
Plans are being laid for when the next strike is called to visit the picket lines of Torquay and other towns and encourage trade unionists to show solidarity by visiting the picket lines.
Sean Brogan, secretary, Devon Socialist Party
AT ONE of the biggest sorting offices in central London - Mount Pleasant - there was a very determined mood. One of the pickets said you could hear a pin drop in the building, there were so few workers in a building that normally has about 2,000 workers.
One of the pickets I spoke to fully supported the idea of bringing out all public sector workers together on a one-day public sector strike.
AT FALLOWFIELD (Manchester area) district office the strikers were especially angry about the loss of overtime while the bosses get millions in bonuses, and that new starters are on a 30-hour week while existing staff are meant to make up the shortfall in hours worked without extra pay.
AT THE Leicester Meridian centre there were around 50 people at the picket line. Socialist Party members got an excellent response from the strikers. We sold some copies of the socialist and had some good conversations. They know we are going to be supporting them.
THE STRIKE in Ossett (near Wakefield) was solid. 15 CWU members were on the picket line in jubilant mood. The strikers discussed ways to further build public support for the strike by petitioning in the town centre against the attacks Royal Mail management are making to the postal service. They also discussed how the Socialist Party could further support them. The Socialist Party strike bulletin was well received.
Iain Dalton, Wakefield Socialist Party
No 'Scab House'
"ELEVEN YEARS ago this place had a weak response to the [national postal] strike, getting called 'Scab House'. Now it's solid. We realise we've got to stand up and fight to keep the service.
"There are less workers in today than two weeks ago. That doesn't stop the managers lying about the numbers working. They include people on annual leave, off sick, and on days off as working! It shows they are running scared!"
Gary Davies, CWU rep, Swan House delivery office, Leicester.
THE STRIKE was solid in St Albans with only a handful crossing picket lines. Strikers reported a very sympathetic response from the public.
Paul Grace, CWU rep in Ashley Road sorting office, said: "We are defending negotiation, not dictation."
Across North Staffs 95% were out on strike. Midland Branch No.7 Secretary, Andy Plant, told the socialist: "Royal Mail's plans would mean the end of the Post Office. We need to build on this solidarity shown today."
The strike at Burslem delivery office (DO) was solid. Branch reps, Mark Lewis and Dave Scarret said: "We need to escalate the action. A two- or three-day strike would be better than [striking] section by section"
Postal workers at Kidsgrove DO, Newcastle DO, and MDEC were also confident that the dispute could be won but the general feeling was summed up by Dave at Stoke DO: "We need to step up the action."
Rebuilding the CWU in Sleaford
In Sleaford, Lincolnshire, the postal strikes have meant a strengthening of the union. After the first strike we had a meeting in a local club and prepared for the second strike.
This was well-supported, over 95% of the union were out. The strikers were in a buoyant mood, being supported on the picket line by Socialist Party members. We supplied chairs, tables, parasols, bacon, sausage and tomato cobs with a free flow of coffee, tea, lemonade and water throughout the day.
I have now become a CWU steward. I explained to the strikers that there is a need to rebuild and strengthen the union organisation.
It would be easy to call the workers who crossed the picket line scabs. But we have to explain the need for unity in the face of management's concerted attack on our pay and conditions and our jobs. Hopefully next time the turnout will be 100%
I personally have not been a shop steward before but we have been forced into a position where we have to make a stand.
This strike needs the unity of all workers within the CWU and the support from other unions. The attacks are not just on CWU members.
Newly appointed CWU steward, Sleaford