As anyone living in Britain may have noticed, there is a dispute going on currently in the postal service. Here i republish the editorial from last weeks issue of the socialist (no 495) and the brief report i wrote of the second day of strike action locally which was published in issue 496. And if you live in the UK, why not visit a CWU picket line outside your local sorting office, this is a battle over the future of the postal service of a whole and we should be supporting wholeheartedly those who are fighting to defend this vital public service.
A SECOND day of strike action by postal workers was called because the Royal Mail management point blank refused to even negotiate with the Communication Workers Union (CWU).The bosses are demanding, in effect, complete capitulation by the workers and an acceptance that they will have to pay for the crisis of the post office; a crisis of declining revenues and a pension fund deficit.
This crisis has been brought about through the deliberate government policy of deregulation, overseen by the government-appointed postal regulator, whereby private companies are able to pick out the most profitable parts of the business. Under the regulator, Royal Mail has lost some of its most profitable bulk business mail to private companies such as DHL. Some big business companies, like BT and British Gas, have stopped using Royal Mail to deliver bills etc to their customers.
It is no wonder that under this completely one-sided arrangement, Royal Mail is beginning to face a profits drain on its day-to-day operations. Royal Mail is left with the obligation to continue to deliver to all 27 million postal addresses in Britain, without being funded to cover the real cost.
The bosses' answer to the crisis, as always, is to off-load it onto the backs of workers. They are demanding that post workers take an effective pay cut and at the same time do more and more work.
What should the CWU do now? The first Royal Mail workers' strike was overwhelmingly supported as no doubt - as we go to press - will be the second strike. Crown post office workers are also engaged in a series of half-day strikes. Will these one-day and half-day strikes be enough?
The first Royal Mail strike was called from 3am on the Friday morning to the same time the following day, to accommodate the many different starting and finishing times of the workers involved. As well, some workers who drive vans into and out of sorting offices and whose shifts were due to end after the 3am deadline refused to cross the picket lines.
In effect there were elements of unofficial action as well as the official action. This will no doubt be repeated in the second strike. Post workers need to be prepared to counter provocations and harassment from managers, for instance it will only take some cowboy manager to start throwing their weight about and suddenly those who refuse to cross picket lines when their shifts have not ended could find themselves being suspended.
There is some talk that the way forward is to move towards sectional action and to develop more unofficial action. One idea being mooted is for sorting offices to come out on strike one day and delivery offices the next or at least in the same week. The difficulty there is that some delivery offices are on the same site as a sorting office and again the question then arises of a picket line and unofficial action.
The link between sorting and delivery offices means, not just for those on the same site but also in general, that the two should not be separated if disunity and confusion is to be avoided and the maximum unity of post workers maintained. Far better would be to maintain the present united action but to step it up. This means continue to take strike action together, but escalate it from one day to two or more days at a time.
The action needs to be increased until the bosses are forced to seriously negotiate and as one postal worker correctly said: "This does not mean some mealy-mouthed form of wording so that the union leaders have an excuse to call off the action when in effect the bosses have conceded nothing!".
Rank and file CWU members must be as fully consulted as possible and involved in key decision-making at each stage of the dispute. As well as maintaining unity of action among post workers, a determined strategy needs to be adopted to develop the struggle in auxiliary ways, such as the maintaining and increasing of public support.
Union leaflets need to cut across the lies of the bosses who say the workforce is the problem. The CWU strategy also could include approaches to win support from workers in the private mail companies.
Very important is to appeal for co-ordinated action with other public sector workers, over low pay, privatisation, job losses and other attacks. The socialist believes that a 24-hour strike of the entire public sector is urgently needed to force the government to step back from its many assaults on public services.
A number of public-sector union leaders are in any case discussing or preparing for strike action over pay. However, some of them - with the honourable exception of the PCS - are hoping to avoid taking action and it will take major pressure from union members to make sure it goes ahead.
However, the primary responsibility of the CWU leadership is to take forward their own action in defence of their members. It is better to strike together with other public sector unions but post workers cannot simply wait for this to happen as this would allow the post office bosses to dictate their agenda of cuts instead of the union taking the initiative.
In the final analysis, industrial action is only part of the strategy. Also necessary is a new mass workers' party committed to public ownership, to stop the process of privatisation and deregulation and to draw up an overall programme to fight for workers' interests in all respects.
The strike in Ossett (near Wakefield) was solid. 15 CWU members were on the picket line in jubilant mood. The strikers discussed ways to further build public support for the strike by petitioning in the town centre against the attacks Royal Mail management are making to the postal service. They also discussed how the Socialist Party could further support them. The Socialist Party strike bulletin was well received.
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