Workplace, Trade Unions, Strikes

Postal bosses gear up for battle – let’s strike back now!

08 August 2022
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By a CWU rep

After the latest round of Royal Mail executive action (unagreed, imposed changes), CWU Delivery Officer Mark Baulch explained in a video that the union was being responsible and not calling strikes right away, despite our massive 97.6% ‘yes’ vote for strike action over the company’s measly 2% pay offer.

But then in the same breath he said that Royal Mail was clearly not listening and intent on pushing forward with its plans to wreck our terms and conditions. Davie Robertson, Parcelforce CWU officer, reported that bot-like management underlings with no power to negotiate show up every day to repeat the same arguments.

As if to confirm this, Royal Mail’s spreadsheet detailing later start and finish times office by office was released hours later, with some offices facing changed shifts by over two hours, offices staying open as late as 6:30pm! Besides ripping up family-friendly hours that thousands of posties took the job for, how is it safe to deliver in the winter in the dark in many of the areas we work?

Royal Mail’s change of direction, now that they don’t need us to deliver the pandemic parcel bounty, is summarised by their nonsensical new narrative: Royal Mail has the best pay, terms and conditions in the sector and needs changes to keep it that way, BUT postal workers are overpaid by up to 40% above the market standard and underworked. The first is what we have now, fought for by postal workers not gifted by CEOs, the second is where they want us to head.

Executive action
In the last couple of weeks Royal Mail has reacted to the ballot, a huge rejection by staff of their plans, by speeding them up.

First they announced a plan to go forward with an afternoon parcel service, which will suck parcels out of delivery offices and likely create a separate gig-economy style parcel delivery service. Then they informed the union of plans to bring agency workers into the offices starting this week, to get trained up (by workers!) to deliver throughout our strikes. Where workers feel confident enough we should refuse and sit in the canteen if management try to impose this.

Now they have dropped the bombshell that parcels from Royal Mail Group’s European arm GLS would be switched from Parcelforce to rival DPD to deliver instead, ‘for as long as is needed’ i.e. for the strike.

So why haven’t any strike dates been announced? Of course the union is worried that August is the month with the lowest traffic, and with only the pay ballot in the bag, and the second ballot on terms and conditions running till 17 August, no doubt they want to wait till that is in and give the two weeks notice for a September strike on all the issues.

British anti-union laws are so draconian, it’s possible that one home-made sign against the changes on terms and conditions, on a picket line legally only over pay, would send the company’s lawyers running to the courts for an injunction, which right wing judges could uphold on past form. So the union’s message is hold back, don’t rise to provocations, wait for the signal.

But the traffic isn’t that low. And when we struck in July-August 2007 within two days there was a mountain of mail and Royal Mail was soon begging for negotiations. Worse it gives management time to get their operation in place. Workers are right to ask the question, ‘when are we striking?’ and put pressure on our union leaders to bring the dates forward. When we do strike, one or two days here and there will just let Royal Mail off the hook, we need to start with a bang and then escalate quickly to put them on the ropes.

The fight of our lives
Terry Pullinger says this is the fight of our lives which is absolutely true. This is about more than pay and terms and conditions, it is about busting the union too – what will be left to negotiate? Radical times call for radical rank & file measures.

Members’ meetings on the gate or offsite are crucial for workers to hear the union message clearly, feel our mass strength, and get ready for the picket line, especially for recent recruits.

Every office should set up a strike committee to ensure the shopfloor is solid and to stop management undermining the strike.

Local reps should call on branches to set up strike committees or meet up themselves. Linking up across offices and functions, from delivery offices to mail centres, means we can reinforce weak areas and coordinate action.

The leaders may call the first strike date but it is rank and file initiative that will power this strike. Grassroots organisation means workers can give union leaders’ initiatives full force – and take the initiative ourselves where they wobble or delay.

Renationalise Royal Mail now
CEO Simon Thompson has said that Royal Mail is at a crossroads. That’s true. Royal Mail privatisation will meet its end in a cut-throat GLS-style multinational parcels company and the end of the Universal Service Obligation. Or workers’ action can transform it into a renationalised company providing a high quality, countrywide, one-cost, letters-and-parcel service to the public.

Postal workers can expect a lot of support from the public and other unions. We are seen as a ‘big battalion’ with a record of standing up for ourselves and our fight is one that matters for the entire union movement and remaining public sector.

We will make that struggle more relevant and more powerful if the CWU links the strike to a struggle for renationalisation, something the rail unions and potentially others could join in, exposing the rotten costly services these sell-offs have created. Joint strike days could underline that message and begin to create the grounds for deeper coordination.

CWU leaders have avoided calling for renationalisation because ultimately they want to cut a deal with a private Royal Mail. Terry even went so far to say in Thursday’s video that the company should use GLS – which treats its workers terribly – to subsidise Royal Mail; he implied the ‘British public’ were being exploited by other countries!

That message is plain wrong; we are being exploited by mostly British bosses. It won’t inspire the public and Royal Mail bosses won’t fall for it either. They want GLS profits to be joined now by RM super-profits with all of it in their pockets! They want to run parcel deliveries as multinational enterprise, not a public service; the two are incompatible. The last ten years and postal privatisations in European countries prove that, with services cut and cut again.

It is time to part ways with Scott and Co and their shareholder puppeteers. That means hard-hitting strike action to defeat their plans, coupled with a political and industrial struggle for renationalisation. That’s the only sustainable alternative to the destruction of Royal Mail and the USO – and a race to the bottom for its workers and consumers.

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