By Pete Thompson
WORKERS IN Royal Mail and Parcelforce took 18 days of strike action last year against bosses’ plans to hold down pay and rip up terms and conditions in a union-busting campaign to transform the company on the model of its gig-economy parcel courier competitors.
Strike action was enough to see some significant concessions, including the company backing down (for now) on compulsory redundancies, but major issues remain unresolved.
The Tory anti-union laws dictate that a ballot’s mandate for action can only last six months, forcing workers to reballot and allowing bosses to have another go at staff, pressuring them to vote no.
Royal Mail started its campaign weeks before, with leaflets telling staff to ‘make the right choice for you’ and vote no to ‘tell the CWU to bring the strikes to an end’, with managers taking small groups into huddles to work on people. All that is likely to just alienate workers and boost the yes vote.
But it is almost inevitable that the turn-out and yes vote will be lower after six months. These laws are a propaganda gift to the bosses, who will always spin the result as showing workers’ support for the strike falling. It will be hard to repeat Royal Mail workers’ previous yes vote of 97.6%—unprecedented for a national union dispute.
Parliamentary pressure not enough
The great majority of workers will vote yes, but some of their uncertainty is understandable: if strikes over five months from August to Christmas Eve weren’t enough to defeat Royal Mail, what will? The truth is that 18 days over five months (not even averaging one a week) were not enough to dislodge the billionaire owners of Royal Mail.
CEO Simon Thompson’s cringe-worthy appearance before the House of Commons business select committee in January saw him tell bare-faced lies to MPs, leading one to accuse him of misleading parliament in return. Worst of all for him, it became clear that his claims that Royal Mail’s policy was not to prioritise parcels and leave letters rotting in fittings was false, as the MP chairing the committee held up a poster sent him by a postie saying the opposite! It should make the Tories’ job of justifying a cut to the Universal Service Obligation a little bit harder. But it won’t win the dispute.
But it is Royal Mail’s millionaire owners, especially the billionaire Daniel Kretinsky seeking to buy up over a quarter of shares, who are behind attempts to downgrade workers’ jobs, break up the company and destroy the public service by turning Royal Mail into just another gig-economy parcels outfit.
Only escalating strike action and the prospect of losing more money can force a deal out of Kretinsky and co. that preserves workers’ terms and conditions, blocks a two-tier workforce and delivers a much-needed inflation-proof pay rise. To do that requires a massive turnout and yes vote. The stronger the vote, the stronger the basis for negotiations, and for striking. Reps and militants need to go all out to win a massive yes vote.
What’s at stake in the dispute
By a CWU Rep
ROYAL MAIL claims that they are losing £1 million a day have no credibility. It’s not believable, especially after the Christmas rush, but in December they torpedoed their own argument by boasting they had a £1.7 billion (yes billion!) war-chest to fund changes and union-busting.
And nobody should forget in spring last year they awarded themselves £600 million in dividends and bonuses. While some posties go to foodbanks the owners are living it up. The cost of living crisis is for workers not bosses and billionaire shareholders. There’s plenty of money for an inflation-busting pay rise.
But this dispute is about much more than pay. It’s about jobs, workload, surveillance for the workers and the whole future of the public service. Royal Mail wants to use the “PDA” parcel scanners as big brother technology, disciplining workers over how fast they are working and all aspects of the job. It’s about ‘flexible working’ that means workers won’t know when they finish every day and the imposition of annualised hours. It’s about cuts to sick pay that mean workers won’t get paid their wage even if they are off with a work injury. It’s about new starter contracts with more hours and less pay, creating a two-tier workforce, as all the while bosses’ unspoken plans to break up the business hover in the background.
These policies will hit part-timers hardest, gutting overtime and their chances of getting a full-time contract. But all workers face a massive increase in workload, stress and management pressure and diktat. At best there will be a much-reduced strength of the union in the workplace, as nearly 200 suspended reps and members show Royal Mail’s union-busting hand. Bosses aim to drive workers out of the business and replace them with cheaper ones, joining the race to the bottom, and a never-ending spiral of cuts to terms and conditions and union power.
Vote yes and restore the strike!