After four days of well supported strikes, postal workers should be proud of the stand they have taken to defend public postal services, defy bullying management and defend decently paid jobs.
But the other side has also dug in. A revealing exchange took place in the House of Commons last week.
Labour MP Emily Thornberry asked Gordon Brown if he would “join me in urging Royal Mail to enter into meaningful discussions with the CWU and thus ensure that the jobs, and the good pay and conditions of Royal Mail employees are protected?”
This was a very moderate request. Thornberry was only asking Brown to support genuine negotiations during an important industrial dispute.
But he pointedly refused to do so. Indeed he did not even refer to the question of talks in his reply.
Instead he said, “Obviously, we want decent pay for all workers in this country, but we must also tackle inflation, and people have to accept settlements that will ensure that
inflation is low in the years to come. All workers should look at pay settlements as a means by which we can conquer inflation over the next few months.”
It was an extraordinary response. Think about it. Workers are supposed to consider their pay rise as part of the battle against inflation.
Postal workers – and dinner ladies, teaching assistants, hospital cleaners, teachers, and more – are supposed to say, “Mortgages on average have gone up 26 percent in the last year. Inflation is rising.
“So we must accept pay cuts for ourselves. And bus and coach fares are up 8.9 percent over the year, and fresh vegetables are up 11.3 percent. So we’d better take even less.”
This is Brown’s prescription. The victims of inflation are to be blamed for the existence of inflation.
What he would have liked to say was that the government has laid down a pay limit of around 2 percent in the public sector, and nobody is to be allowed to breach it.
So unions that fight back – like the CWU – must be smashed.
Dave Ward, the CWU’s deputy general secretary, was right to say last week that, “If Gordon Brown, John Hutton and other members of the government will not put pressure on Royal Mail management to negotiate that must mean they are backing them 100 percent.”
That is why the stakes are so high in the postal strike, and why the appeal for unity (see page one) is the absolutely central demand.
But there are also other measures postal workers are taking which are important and should be built on.
The strikes this week and last have caused a level of chaos inside the postal system. More strikes can ram that home.
Active picket lines have been a feature of the dispute, and a reason why the level of scabbing (which was always small) is getting smaller.
Those pickets need to be increased even further and become beacons for delegations of other workers, and launchpads for petitioning and strengthening the union.
The CWU has gained around 5,000 members during the dispute, a tribute to how struggle builds organisation. Every branch should find new forces to revitalise the union.
The marches and rallies that have been organised, such as the one in Bristol this week where hundreds took part, are good for keeping up morale and as a focus for solidarity.
The threat of an imposed change to the start time of thousands of delivery workers on 13 August is still looming. Preparation for that has to start now.
The “do your job properly” initiative – where postal workers do not use their cars on deliveries, stick to their proper start and finish times, take their meal breaks, and have their bags weighed – is not a form of industrial action.
But it is showing how much the service depends on the cooperation of the workforce. Every postal worker should be “doing the job properly” during the dispute.
The postal workers are battling for us all. They need the maximum solidarity, and reinforcements to join them from other unions.
The CWU postal executive was meeting this week to discuss the next round of strikes. For details as they are announced check this website.