by Paul Haste
Postal workers continue to fightback with wildcat strikes against Royal Mail bosses’ attempts to bully staff and slash jobs, but the CWU union continues to stand back from leading the kind of coordinated national action that can win this dispute.
Royal Mail managers are on the rampage, tearing up contracts, sacking union reps and preparing the ground for massive job losses, but the CWU, instead of using the weeks before the September ballot on national industrial action to win the biggest vote possible in favour of a strike, insists on imploring bosses to get back to the negotiating table.And as the situation in delivery offices and mail centres across the country gets worse, the union has even begun demanding that CWU reps “discipline” union members who argue for unofficial action.
The CWU has also indicated that requests for local official strikes will be rejected in the run up to the national ballot, in which voting begins on September 9 and ends on 23 September.
Such moves will clearly take the pressure off Royal Mail — the earliest that a national strike can begin is October — and a lack of action in the meantime could run the risk of demoralising activists as managers continue their onslaught.
But there are signs that postal workers remain determined to fight and have the confidence to resist bosses’ attacks regardless of whether the CWU endorses their action or not.
After two year’s absence, the rank and file newspaper ‘Post Worker’ has just been revived to spread word of the strikes and solidarity action that is sweeping mail centres across Britain as the ballot papers go out.
Its first issue reports on the most recent fightbacks, such as the 65 workers in Wallasey’s main sorting office who have started an unofficial strike after managers tried to discipline union reps.
One of the strikers declared that, “Royal Mail are trying to use bully boy tactics on us and we’re just not having it,” while workers at Liverpool Mail Centre then refused to handle scab mail from Wallasey, and went on strike when managers tried to dock their pay for effectively taking illegal secondary action in solidarity.
Royal Mail drivers at East Midlands Airport also had pay deducted after they refused to cross picket lines — prompting most of the day shift to walk out on unofficial strike in response.
Managers had previously called the drivers into meetings individually and demanded that they sign letters that said they would cross pickets, but many refused.
Meanwhile, over 100 postal workers at Stoke mail centre have been on all-out indefinite strike action since August 18 after bosses threatened to close the entire office and transfer their work to Wolverhampton.
CWU branch secretary Andy Plant reported that the strike is “100 percent solid. We’ve got about 40 people on the picket line in rotating shifts from 5am to 6pm, and the support from the public has been great.”
“Around 200 postal workers in delivery offices in the city took unofficial action in our support.”
It is this kind of action that can put Royal Mail bosses on the back foot and give other post workers around the country the confidence to stand up to management’s offensive — no matter how much the CWU wants to talk about “talks” — in the lead up to the national ballot.
7 thoughts on “wildcats show how to fight royal mail bosses”
The article is very confused. It could be argued that rather than wait for the national ballot (and the extremely orchestrated `action’ that will follow if we get a yes vote), postal workers should just go all out for `unofficial’ action, spreading the strikes regardless of both the law and the national CWU leadership. Or you can argue (as the national union does) that the emphasis has to be on winning the national ballot, and widespread unofficial action would `endanger’ this. What doesn’t work is a mixture of the two. To be effective, unofficial action has to spread – nationally if at all possible. By its very nature, unofficial action is all out, not one day a week as the current action is. Any workplace on unofficial action doesn’t get balloted on official action, that’s the law, apart from the fact that if we had national unofficial action we could not be balloted (we deliver the ballot papers, if you hadn’t noticed). So, you have to decide – unofficial action, spread rapidly and nationally OR the official national ballot, that’s the stark choice. Yes, we should support those offices which have had unofficial walkouts (though they have gone back within days), and oppose the national unions attempts to clamp down on them (and to keep it all hush hush), but the bigger question is whether we think unofficial action could be spread nationally.
The other issue the article doesn’t really address is the main issue behind the strikes, job losses. Most of the unofficial action to date is over secondary issues, such as not crossing picket lines, unilateral action by local management etc. That’s not to decry them, but to try to bring the focus back to the cause. The dreadful attitude of the national officials (emphasising their desire to “bring Royal Mail back to the negotiating table”) stems from the fact that the unions position is (wrongly, in my view) only against “unnegotiated job losses”, not job losses as such. The official line has seen thousands of jobs go already in recent years and will see thousands more go, their attitude is that the remaining workers should get a “share in the savings” i.e. some kind of bonus for accepting job losses. We need a strategy both for winning the dispute and refusing to accept the “necessity” of job losses.
By the way, you claim union reps have been sacked. I don’t know of any, can you give details.
I think the post is pointing out that the CWU is in danger of stepping on the militancy that’s out there now, Pete. Its not the officials place to be discouraging us from taking action – especially ahead of a national ballot. It’s far easier to argue for a yes vote when you’re already on a picket line!
Hello. Touch of reality needed here. “It’s far easier to argue for a yes vote when you’re already on a picket line!” If postal workers are already on a picket line it is impossible for them to vote either yes or no – legal ballots are conducted by post!
Slightly surreal pedantry here Pete, the fact is that the unofficial strikes, as you say, are often in response to local issues, and (except for Stoke) are relatively short, or, like Woolwich, are out one day a week each week. I’m sure we’ll get the ballot papers for the national strike – what I’m concerned about is the union encouraging people to stand down while we wait until the end of October before we take national action (which will probably be just a one day strike anyway)
Stoke isn’t unofficial – its official all out action. Not sure about Woolwich, though I think it is the same as the rest of London – one day a week official action. All those have gone through the legal procedure for ballots and their strike action is sanctioned by the union’s national executive. Very different kettle of fish to unofficial action – usually spontaneous walk outs in immediate response to management provocations.
Important to distinguish between the two (official, legal and unofficial, unlawful strike action). Unofficial action is, by its very nature, indefinite – you are out until some kind of settlement of the immediate issue is reached. Official action could be all out, or it can be the odd days protest action.
I’m as concerned as you about the union standing down action between now and any national action, but it is official action which they have the power to call off, since only the official union can give legal notice of strike action.
Why is it pedantry to point out that if we are on unofficial all out action we cannot receive/deliver strike ballot papers?
edit: scratch that, I read the original article wrong
I originally asked about the statement in the article that Royal Mail is sacking union reps. Please, I would like to know where this is happening, so CWU activists can take it up.
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