Across the country striking postal workers have given a defiant response to the attempt to cut wages, impose harsh new conditions and destroy the present postal service.
Each function (mail centres, deliveries etc) within Royal Mail has been allocated a different day to strike, in a move designed to cause continuous disruption throughout the period.
The first action, which started on Wednesday evening, is being taken by workers in mail centres and cash handling.
Across the country the dispute kicked off with the mail centres empty as the day shift came to an end and the night shift formed picket lines. All reports indicate the action is solid. Simon, a picket at the Oldham Road mail centre in Manchester, told Socialist Worker that only two out of 1,000 workers had gone in at his workplace.
There is a toughening of resolve against Royal Mail management’s attempt to crush the union.
This is a crucial strike. At stake is the entire government policy – dictated by Gordon Brown – of holding down public sector pay.
That’s why Brown this week entered into the dispute saying, “People have got to accept settlements that make sure inflation is low in the years to come.”
Post workers know that they are the victims of inflation not the causes of it and that pay cuts from Brown won’t keep inflation down.
If the postal workers get 4.5 percent instead of the offered 2.5 percent, who believes that 750,000 health workers will meekly accept 1.9 percent, or that 1.25 million local government workers will swallow 2 percent?
On the picket lines, there is backing for the idea of coordinated action against the attacks across the public sector, and delegations of civil servants, teachers and others at the picket lines deepen that feeling.
There needs to be a massive push for co-ordinated strikes by other trade unionists.
This week’s strikes shows the huge of potential action that can win, not just in the post, but across the public sector.
Disputes over essentially the same issue as the post strike are growing in the NHS and local government. The most obvious contender to strike with the post is the PCS civil service workers’ union.
The first step to building that united action is for as many activists and trade unionists to take up collections visit the picket lines in the coming days starting on Saturday from 5.30am at delivery offices.
John Gamble reports that delegates from Watford trades council visited the picket line outside the Watford mail centre this morning, complete with gazebo and barbeque.
Earlier the gazebo had been inspected by Watford council’s smoking compliance officer! However, the only smoke to be found came from the grilling of bacon and sausages.
Pickets were in a buoyant mood having convinced around 20 young Polish agency workers not to cross the picket line on Wednesday evening.
The Polish workers chose to get back on their coach rather than be used as strike breakers. Royal Mail management had bussed them in from the Luton mail centre.
CWU pickets boarded the coach and thanked the Poles for not crossing the picket line. Later an irate manager tried to tell the coach driver to drive the coach into the sorting office.
The driver also refused to cross and then took the Polish workers back to Luton.
Alan Walsh, the CWU branch secretary, said, “We explained to the Poles what the dispute was about and they responded by refusing to cross our picket line. We thanked them for their solidarity.
Management tried to say we were not allowed to speak to the Poles. I told them to mind their own business and to stop snooping around our picket line.”
Many pickets lines have seen solidarity visits from other workers. Karen Tyre, a Unison union steward in the Vale of Glamorgan council took some muffins down to the picket line at the mail centre in Cardiff.
She told Socialist Worker, “The pickets were very positive. I was very warmly welcomed and we discussed the need for united action across the public sector.
“I have done two collections round my building which I have taken to different post workers. The second collection I did was for the counter workers who work in the post office next to the office where I work. I spoke to them in the morning and they seemed a bit down about the dispute, so I took a petition and collection around my office – most people gave money – and took it back that evening. It was a real boost for the post workers.
“The collections boost the post workers’ morale, but its also been really good for people in my office to feel part of the fight back. We have our own issues in the council so it has been good to build links.”
A number of people from different unions visited the mail centre picket lines. In Cambridge. Tom Woodcock, an NUT teachers’ union rep, said that the mood was very determined.
Tom said, “Strikers said that they wanted to see this dispute through. They want to take joint strike action with other unions if possible, but are willing to keep striking themselves if they need to. Some of the pickets were also talking about the political fund and asking why the union is giving money to the Labour party when Gordon Brown is attacking public sector pay.”
Over 50 postal workers joined lively picketing at the Leicester mail centre on Wednesday night, causing mangers – who had expected some workers to cross pickets and come in to work – to become extremely agitated. And out of 60-strong nightshift staff, only one casual worker cross the picket line.
A manager who asked a picket to break the strike was met with the fitting response. Pointing to the mail centre, the worker shouted, “You might control me when I’m in there, but not when I’m out here.”
To jeers from the pickets, the manager sloped back into the mail centre.
The strike at the Bow Locks mail centre in east London was 100 percent solid on the first day of the rolling strike. There was no processing and no collections.
Angie Mulcahy, the CWU area processing rep, told Socialist Worker that the strike was not simply about wages and pensions, but for the future of the post service.
“They want to get rid of ‘universal obligations’ where the Royal Mail delivers to anywhere in the country at the same price. This protects the public as you pay the same if you deliver to the big cities or to a small village.”
“If they privatise the post, which is what they want, they will try and change this policy making it more expensive to deliver to the little towns and villages.”
“They want to dump universal obligations.”
“Our dispute is about protecting our proud service, the public and our jobs from the privatisers.”
“That is why we are 100 percent behind the union and the strikes.”