Britain  •  CWU - Communication Workers Union

Royal Mail piles up demands for cuts

04 April 2017


Up to 300 postal workers in Doncaster walked out on 24 March against a worker off on stress being sacked over the phone, forcing Royal Mail to agree to an external investigation. Another wave of action has been slowly building from below since the wildcat walkout in Swindon last August that involved several offices and up to a thousand workers. Many, like the balloted strike in Accrington where the guilty manager was moved out of the office, have been at least partially successful, forcing Royal Mail to shift back a gear.

There is a steady stream of short protest actions, sit-ins and walkouts that the newspapers never report, driven by managers imposing change by diktat. Royal Mail has brazenly sidelined agreements with the Communication Workers Union at the shopfloor level, while an effective no-strike deal at national level has stopped postal workers challenging the efficiency drive unleashed by privatisation.  The CWU recognises this, stating in the union magazine Voice in January that offices where managers refuse to stick to agreements will be allowed to ballot for strikes – but why aren’t we challenging this widespread reality nationally?

Postal workers gained an unprecedented five year deal in 2014 by threatening to wreck the Tory-Lib Dem privatisation of Royal Mail, winning legal guarantees against the new millionaire shareholders breaking up the business or creating a two-tier workforce with zero hours contracts.  But while forced to stick to these guarantees, Royal Mail has pushed to make the rest of the agreements with the CWU a dead letter at local level. Now, impatient to hike profits, it has jumped the gun and upped the ante, not content to wait for 2019.


First company directors declared the pension fund unsustainable at the end of last year, threatening to close it in 2018. Now in response to CWU proposals about the future of the job, they have proposed a long list of cuts to the rights, including worse conditions for new starters and slashing allowances won over the last two decades. Royal Mail is daring the union to break its agreement not to organise national strikes, which would invalidate the five-year deal.

Back in August Deputy General Secretary Terry Pullinger threatened that the CWU would “use every means at our disposal, including strikes, to defend our members’ future pensions”. Yet now the union has put forward its own deal that would see Royal Mail maintain its level of contributions, a level that is inadequate to fund the pension, leading to smaller pension payouts for many.

The strategy is to swap this pension concession with a proposal for a 35-hour week with no loss of pay and the continuation of the legal guarantees of the last five years. The union offialdom is pressing members and reps to sign up to this without any real debate.

Royal Mail, however, has dug in and insisted these proposals – a pay rise, the 35 hour week – will have to “pay for themselves” with concessions elsewhere. Directors claim they are not making the profits that shareholders expected.

The CWU faces a sharp choice: launch a national strike or make further concessions. The latter option would leave postal workers worse off and the union weaker. And Royal Mail would just be back for more in five years or sooner.

Agreement after agreement has seen the union forcing a reluctant Royal Mail to accept phrases about focusing on “growth” rather than “efficiency”, and “consensus” rather than “diktat”, with and a load of waffle about “mutual interest”. But the last ten years have shown this to be a mirage.

Royal Mail management and the pro-market government regulator Ofcom are determined to break up postal workers’ conditions and undermine the union, the better to break it in the future.

Postal workers urgently need to debate these proposals, develop a strategy and build up rank and file organisation to generalise the power we’ve seen in local walkouts.

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