HUNDREDS OF Parcelforce workers struck unofficially for two days at the Canning Town site in east London last week. They won brilliant solidarity from other depots. But national union officials condemned their action. Then they narrowly persuaded a mass meeting to agree a return to work with very little gained from management. A CWU union member at Canning Town Parcelforce told Socialist Worker, 'We have been shunted back to work when with a bit more support from the top we could have won.'
The dispute was triggered by Parcelforce's 'Project Gemini' - its national plan to centre its operations in Coventry at the expense of other depots. Canning Town workers, whose depot is set to close, believed they would be offered voluntary redundancy or a move to Royal Mail with their grades protected. But they found that voluntary redundancy was blocked and that some workers would be transferred to lower paid grades.
'It seems just spite,' said one of the strikers. 'It would cost them almost nothing extra to pay us off with a reasonable package compared to the cost of the transfer payments.' One striker said he could lose up to £150 a week. Others said there was not sufficient permanent work in Royal Mail locally and they would only get temporary contracts.
As the strike began to bite, Parcelforce attempted to get the work done at other offices. A solid wall of solidarity met them. Essex offices were excellent. A section of the night shift at Merseyside stopped work until the work was withdrawn. Other offices also refused to touch Canning Town's parcels. Parcelforce management did not dare to discipline anyone for not doing the work. They knew they could spark a national strike which would scupper the whole Project Gemini agreement.
If the CWU national leaders had matched the workers' mood they could have forced the employer to give real concessions. Instead national official Arthur McGuiness came to Canning Town and, after a long argument, persuaded the strikers to go back. The vote was extremely close - 136 to 126. Last week showed the mood to fight in Parcelforce after years of debilitating attacks. But it also showed how CWU leaders can scupper action and demoralise their members by refusing to defy the law.