The Class War at Royal Mail

Support the Posties! They Offer Us a Better World

After years of management bullying and the loss of 60,000 jobs postal workers have had enough. 76% voted for strike action (67% of the workforce took part) and this is now being observed by 95% of the workforce (according even to the Royal Mail bosses themselves). As usual the media have condemned the workers as deliberately opposing “modernisation”, and of making families, businesses, and all things good, suffer. What they don’t say is that Royal Mail has torn up the 2007 agreement with the Communications Workers’ Union [CWU] which basically cost all those jobs. They have unilaterally started sacking workers and forcing the remainder to do their work, they have cut bonus payments for those who made increased profits for Royal Mail and they have begun a campaign of harassment of the workforce, including altering shift patterns without warning. Why would they want to create such chaos? Because the latest twist in the economic crisis has led to a further dip in Royal Mail revenue as people stopped ordering on line.

But the economic crisis is not the posties fault. The New Labour Government have bailed out their financial friends in the banks ensuring that the most incompetent depart with huge pensions. Posties have only recently discovered that their pensions are going down the pan as Royal Mail (under both Tory and Labour) have taken a 15 year “pension holiday” - i.e. they have not paid their share into the postal workers’ pension fund. This was with the blessing of New Labour. No wonder ordinary postal workers are trying to stop their union, the CWU from donating to the Labour Party. This is the same party which brought in managers like Alan Leighton and Adam Crozier (who gets £1 million a year, making him the highest paid on the British state’s books) to try to privatise Royal Mail. It has only been the continuing resistance of the workers which forced Mandelson to abandon - for the time being - this plan. They have not waited for the union and many have taken spontaneous wildcat action (as in Glasgow in September) against unjust management actions.

The fact that there have been so many wildcat actions does, though, underline a problem for the postal workers. The executive of their own union, which has already negotiated away so many jobs, also want to see a Labour Government re-elected. For the CWU office types the issue is not about defending jobs and conditions. It is about having a say in further cuts and speed ups. They have repeatedly offered Royal Mail no-strike deals in return for an orderly discussion about “modernisation”. Rank and file posties on the other hand want to provide a good service. But that means responding to social need - not creating profits for the state (which can then sell the business off to financial sharks). The postal worker on our street stands for a different set of values than the profit greedy management and state. In embryo this is also a strike about a different society.

And the CWU’s attempt to do deals means that the rank and file cannot win by following the union. Many of them know that the 2007 deal was a sell-out when Royal Mail was ready to back off. They will have to keep organising at local levels so that everyone is involved. They will need to elect their own representatives to organising committees to make sure that this is a real, and not a token, struggle. Above all they need to break through union demarcation barriers that are so useful to the bosses. Solidarity from, and solidarity action with, other workers - organised independently of union labels - is the only way to put up a serious challenge to the present series of capitalist attacks. The postal workers are fighting for us all.

CWO, October 2009