Socialist Worker

Privatisers stalking the postal service

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 1787

'I know many of our union's members will be concerned about what the government is doing. Don't all rush to send motions to the union conference about the way we use our political fund. I can tell you the leadership of the union will be suspending funds for Labour unless there is a substantial change in policy.' That was the message to union reps from John Keggie, the union's deputy general secretary, last week. He was speaking to reps from all over Britain. They had gathered the day after a ballot had overwhelmingly backed a national postal strike over pay.

Keggie is no left winger. He was forced to make these comments. Postal workers everywhere are in revolt against the government presiding over privatisation, massive job cuts and low pay. As a delegate at the reps' meeting told Socialist Worker, 'New Labour is handing our work to rip-off firms, wrecking a public service, forcing us to work harder for crap money-and we're funding them to do it!

'It's bloody madness, and it will be crazy if we are on strike and buying the bullets for the people we are fighting against.' Nearly 150,000 Royal Mail workers, sorting and delivery staff, have voted by 63 percent to 37 percent for strikes over pay and other issues. The turnout was a thumping 65 percent. Pay for postal workers is a disgrace. Most are on a basic wage of just £250 a week before tax.

Around 60 percent of delivery workers are still on a six-day week, despite frequent promises of moves to five days. The pay is so low that around 20,000 postal workers regularly work more than 48 hours a week, the maximum that European laws allow. Mike Hillier, a delivery worker from the West Midlands, told Socialist Worker, 'My wife works in a hospital as a cleaner. I do all the overtime I can get but we're on Working Families Tax Credit. Between us we take home £350 a week. It's not enough for the mortgage and the things the two kids need. I can't really afford to lose the money during a strike, but then I can't afford to have the rubbish we're being offered at the moment either. We have to fight. Pay is a big issue, but it's not the only issue. The vote last week was about all the other issues we face.'

Postcomm, the government appointed regulator, proposes that from April private firms will be able to take over bulk mail. This could see almost half the letters in Britain handed over to firms like Hays, TNT, Deutsche Post and Siemens.

Within a few years the regulator has proposed total 'liberalisation'. At the same time Consignia (the bosses' stupid new name for the Post Office) has ripped up the job security arrangements and signalled that it wants to slash 30,000 jobs in the next 18 months. Postal workers have great potential power, as a series of victorious official and unofficial strikes have shown in the last few years. The union's members are ready to fight.

A postal workers' strike would be immensely popular because it would bring together the resistance to privatisation, unemployment and low pay.

'At the reps' meeting last week there was a real buzz around the hall as soon as someone mentioned the political fund. Several speakers referred to it, and the whole atmosphere was very anti New Labour. It was a great meeting in terms of the willingness to fight. There is no doubt that there is a mood to do battle and to win.'
DEREK DURKIN, branch secretary CWU Scotland No 2 branch

Tactics to force New Labour to think again

THE CWU union executive met this week to decide how to implement the ballot. It was expected to consider one-day strikes, an overtime ban and similar tactics. The danger is that the union's campaign will be too narrow and too ineffective. It is crucial that the union leaders are not allowed to bring down the curtain on this present dispute until ALL the issues facing postal workers are dealt with.

That means raising demands about job cuts, privatisation and pay together. No doubt the bosses and the government will raise legal challenges to a fight over what is not narrowly defined as a 'trade dispute'. But if postal workers do not fight over wider questions than pay their whole 'trade' is going down the pan. It is dangerous to delay the fight.

On 13 March Postcomm closes its 'consultation' on its privatisation plan. After that the sell-off rollercoaster will gather pace. Strikes can force the government to think again. The strikes should be part of a wider campaign of meetings, demonstrations and approaches to other unions that are fighting back, like the rail workers' RMT. Union leaders have called lobbies of the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. That is a good initiative.

To be effective there must be a strike on the day of those lobbies so that they can become a massive show of workers' feelings. One-day strikes will not guarantee victory. Regional action is even worse-it leaves the initiative with Royal Mail bosses to decide if they will demand that workers in one area do the duties of striking colleagues elsewhere.

Strikes must quickly escalate to the all-out action which would plunge Royal Mail into crisis and cause real political difficulties for the government's privatisation programme.

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Article information

Sat 16 Feb 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1787
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