A bulletin for postal workers: click here for PDF. Print some off and take them down to your local picket line (or if not, visit your local picket line and show your solidarity anyway…). If you live in Stoke, Stockport or Plymouth, you might want to go down to the picket line at one of the three MDEC centres that are on strike tomorrow (Friday). On Saturday, from between 6am and 10.30am, visit the picket line at your local delivery office. That’s the place you might have been to pick up a parcel if it couldn’t be delivered. If you aren’t sure where it is, call 08457 740740 (a Royal Mail helpline) and say you’d like to know where your delivery office is (perhaps you need to pick up a parcel, but lost the calling card).
– Management are feeling the heat
– Public support is on our side
– Step up the strikes: don’t break action for talks
The bold national strike by Royal Mail workers has lit up the headlines, showing that the recession does not mean we all have to glumly accept our fate and accept the bosses’ attacks. Millionaire RM chief Adam Crozier has called on the union to ‘shut up’ and to engage in ‘reasonable’ dialogue: because he is more afraid of the strike than he is troubled by negotiations with union chiefs.
Billy Hayes spoke of his willingness to go to ACAS ‘with no conditions’ and on the TV and radio has stressed a very ‘moderate’ position, for example weakly telling Sky News that the CWU is in favour of some form of ‘modernisation’, but does not want this to go ahead without proper consultation.
Accepting the general idea of ‘modernisation’ in part is a mistake because it is a term used by management to obscure the real issues and win public support: they want mass lay-offs, speed-ups and to crush the workforce’s power, laying the basis for further privatisation, not just to introduce some new machines. Being ‘consulted’ on attacks is no good: we need to stop them! Hayes is setting his sights too low, and given the current momentum of the strike it is no time to make a deal unless significant concessions are on the table.
Picket lines last week were strong, and the strike, taking place as it does in a well-liked public service under sustained attack, has found significant levels of public support. Despite the constant media tales of public anger at the disruption, one opinion poll quoted on the CWU website displayed that 50% of people support for the strike and only 25% surveyed sympathising with management and the so-called ‘modernisation agenda’.
But management are fighting hard to undermine the strike with tens of thousands of agency staff. By all accounts they have done a rather botched job, but nonetheless are clearing much of the backlog. The union is right to challenge this in the courts: but we should also try and engage with these workers, explaining why they should join the strike. The CWU should allow them in on reduced dues in order to help undermine the scabbing operation.
Other activists in the workers’ movement are currently organising solidarity groups. These should be encouraged, and post workers should not be shy in demanding whatever material and political support they need: given the size of the strike and the issues involved, at a time when other attacks on the public sector workforce are in the offing, this is a vital struggle for our whole movement.
The ways forward
The TUC are of no use here: they have made much fuss of the ‘success’ of initial talks and tried to broker a peace deal between the CWU and management. Unmoved by attempts to crush the union (see reverse) they have done nothing to mobilise solidarity.
We are not saying that there should never be talks or that negotiation does not have its place. But talks should be in maximum openness and subject to the control of the whole workforce on strike. Many days’ pay have been lost, invested in the strike, already and this cannot come to nothing. Being marched out for one day a week’s strike action followed by top-table negotiations is neither democratic nor an effective means of forcing a defeat on management: we need to escalate with longer walkouts and keep the strike going to maintain pressure during any talks.
It is the rank and file who must be in the driving seat, both in taking the initiative to win other workers’ support and in determining the outcome of the strike. Mass meetings and regional reps’ meetings should decide how action develops and if and when the dispute should be called off, and on what terms. Our strength comes from ourselves, not our leaders.
Bosses’ strategy exposed
A “top secret” Royal Mail management presentation on its strategic overview for the current dispute has been leaked, laying bare the bosses’ aims and tactics.
Beneath the management-speak twaddle, it stresses the need to ride roughshod over the workforce in a show of strength designed to enable further attacks. They plan “a programme involving not just deployment of operational changes but transforming the way we work and relate together—employer/employee/union”. Even more militantly they claim “a new relationship with our people is non-negotiable and will happen anyway, with or without union agreement”.
Management have a false sense of security that they have public backing “If [the union] refuse, we have positioned things in such a way as there is shareholder, customer and internal support for implementation of change without agreement”.
Although seemingly comfortable with the idea of making change without agreement “sufficiently credible and unattractive” that the union will simply knuckle under, management are afraid they cannot deal with sustained strike action, identifying as ‘key risks’ to their strategy, “Prolonged dispute leads to sense of management’s inability to control situation” or being felled by a “total ongoing London stoppage”.
Getting the message across
Polls of public opinion towards the strike have shown widespread sympathy towards post workers, much at odds with management’s belief that the public have are on their side.
The battle for public opinion is important to pile pressure on the employer and keep the strike solid. Across the country CWU members as well as workers in many other unions have already formed solidarity groups, raising money and holding meetings in support of the strike.
We also need to counter the message coming from government and the corporate media that the strike is a battle between a ‘dinosaur union’ in an ‘unprofitable nationalised industry’ and a ‘modernising’ management. Most people are unaware of the unfair terms on which Royal Mail competes with the likes of UKMail and the neo-liberal ideological agenda underlying the government’s attempts to wreck the post service.
So help us get the message out: write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories: what antics have management been getting up to during the strike?; what do you think of the CWU strategy?; what solidarity and support do you need from the rest of the workers’ movement?
– On our website we have published a ‘Letter from a postman’ and Sheila Cohen’s interview with two London CWU reps, both of them useful resources explaining to the public the speed-ups and extra demands on post workers which characterise ‘modernisation’.
CWU is right to make legal challenge to hiring of casuals:
2003 Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations
“Regulation 7(1) provides that an employment business may not supply a temporary worker to a hirer to replace an individual taking part in an official strike or any other official industrial dispute. In addition, an employment business must not introduce or supply a work-seeker to do the work of someone who has been transferred by the hirer to perform the duties of the person on strike or taking industrial action. An employment business will have a legal defence to having acted in breach of this regulation if it does not know, or has no reasonable grounds for knowing, that official strike action is in progress.
Break the link with Labour!
At every turn the Labour government has demonstrated its total backing for the attacks on the Royal Mail workforce and attempts to crush the CWU.
They are not some neutral or impartial arbiter between bosses and workers: as in every dispute Brown and Mandelson’s calls for peace are a demand on the strikers to give in, not a demand on Adam Crozier.
And yet the CWU has funded the party to the tune of £6 million since 2001, with more than £400,000 of that in 2009 alone! Even without any better alternative to vote for, surely this has got to stop.
Last month 96% of the London membership voted to stop funding Labour in a ‘consultative ballot’. But consultation is not enough: it is high time the CWU let the membership have a vote with the power to shut off the taps.