Into battle! Postal workers will soon begin one of the most important strikes for many years.
The CWU union's postal executive was meeting this week, after Socialist Worker went to press, to set the actual date for a strike. But everyone expects it to be around the end of June.
Some 130,000 postal workers – in delivery and sorting offices, mail centres, local post offices and in cash transit – are on the front line. But the issues involved speak to millions.
Like four million other workers in the public sector, postal staff have been told by Gordon Brown that they must take a big pay cut. Royal Mail bosses on £20,000 a week say that workers on a basic £323 a week are '25 percent overpaid'.
The workers are being told to accept a 2.5 percent rise. In reality this is a pay cut, because inflation is nearly twice that.
Postal workers also face 40,000 job losses, worse pensions and harsh conditions that will make their job even harder.
If the postal workers win, they will spearhead a breach in Brown's pay limit for the public sector. Millions of other workers will have the chance to steam in to win their own claims.
Every trade unionist and every worker in Britain will feel stronger and more confident to fight for their own demands. Instead of discussing why we have lost, it will be possible to argue about how we can win more.
But this action is more than a pay dispute. It is also about the closure of 2,500 post offices, the destruction of the Post Office network, privatisation of services – including handing offices to WH Smith – and the defence of a public service.
So it is really about two visions of society. Brown believes in using the whip of competition, outsourcing and privatisation to discipline workers. He wants to hold down the money going to public services and 'free up' private business.
The unions, such as the CWU in the post, are seen as obstacles to what New Labour calls 'modernisation', but is in reality a return to very old fashioned ideas of screwing the workforce harder and harder.
The other side certainly realises the importance of this battle. Royal Mail bosses are determined to not give an inch. Instead, Dalek-like, they repeat, 'the offer is the offer' and dare the union to do its worst.
Other right wingers are lining up behind Royal Mail bosses. Calling for Brown to come out clearly for Royal Mail management, a Daily Telegraph columnist wrote this week, 'If the government is seen to back the CWU because of strike threats, then public sector workers elsewhere would surely feel inclined to follow.'
And the Labour government, forced to choose between bosses and workers, is coming down on the bosses' side. It has the power to sack Allan Leighton, Royal Mail's chief executive. Instead it has allowed him to launch this major assault.
There is a mighty mood growing for workers to come together and unite against the wage cuts agenda. Unity is the key.
The PCS civil service union's executive decided last week to confirm that general secretary Mark Serwotka could hold meetings with the CWU to offer full support for its strikes now, and coordinated action after the first round of strikes.
That's a prospect that can shake the government. A timetable of turmoil beckons – a postal strike in June, joint action between the post and the civil service in July, industrial action ballots involving over two million local government and health workers in September, a ballot among teachers soon after.
If those struggles can come together, then it will not only break through Brown's pay limit, but also regenerate the entire union movement.
What you can do:
- Start organising now to visit postal workers' picket lines. Get workmates, friends, Stop the War supporters and students to come with you. It's a struggle for everyone!
- Invite a postal worker to your union branch meeting or workplace meeting.
- Push your union to do the maximum possible to support the postal workers, and back coordinated action.
- Organise joint meetings in every area to bring together workers across unions to organise solidarity and press for joint action.