The likelihood of a resumption of strike action in Royal Mail is growing as talks between management and the CWU union have produced little in the way of an improved offer.
The dispute centres on pay, conditions and the prospect of up to 40,000 job losses. It has seen extremely solid action at offices across Britain and led to a backlog of more than 2.5 million items. At that point Royal Mail management requested talks about a “revised offer”.
Bosses said they had found an extra £23.5 million to fund an improved pay offer. But the new money does not take the initial 2.5 percent pay offer much closer to the rate of inflation, and would therefore still be a pay cut in real terms.
Many CWU activists are rightly pleased that the action taken so far has brought Royal Mail back to the table – especially after bosses had insisted that their offer was final and that “the deal is the deal”.
But activists now think that the programme of strike action needs to be restarted quickly.
“Why call off the action and promise a ‘period of calm’?” asked Pete Firmin from London’s West End delivery office, speaking to the Post Worker rank and file newspaper.
“Management have used the breathing space of the talks to clear the backlog and, far from a period of calm, have moved against those who are ‘doing the job properly’ [sticking closely to agreed working practices].
“No deal is acceptable which includes cuts in jobs, conditions and service. We have to be prepared to step up the action if the talks break down.”
The leadership of the CWU was discussing its response to Royal Mail’s proposals as Socialist Worker went to press.
The strength of the strike action taken so far has forced Royal Mail management to postpone plans to impose later start times on thousands of delivery workers until 17 September.
The new start times will force many post workers to work until later in the day, causing disruption for those who have built their family life and other commitments around shifts that begin earlier.
Management has now promised to pay a shift allowance to all existing workers affected by the change in start times. But this would create a two-tier work force in deliveries paid different amounts.
Delivery office managers who were expecting to implement the new start times would have to announce the changes next week.
“Any attempt to impose later starts without agreement must be met with decisive strike action,” says Simon Midgely, the CWU’s area delivery rep in Bradford.
Another issue causing fury is the use of casual workers to clear the backlog of mail from the strike – while stopping post workers from earning overtime.
Already Bristol mail centre is preparing for a ballot for strike action on the issue, and Watford mail centre may join them.
Branch secretary Alan Walsh told Socialist Worker that there are between 50 and 150 casual workers employed in Watford – and that they are being used in a deliberately provocative manner.
“Royal Mail is breaking all its agreements with the union in its attempt to deny us overtime,” he said.
“There are people here losing between £80 and £100 every week, which is an incredible sum for workers on low pay. Meanwhile the quality of the postal system is going through the floor.”
The Watford Observer newspaper this week reported that with almost half a million packages stuck at the mail centre, many people have been waiting for weeks for their mail.
It also says casual workers have lost or misdelivered hundreds of items, adding to the general distress.
“It’s not the fault of those who are being sent out without adequate training,” added Alan. “The blame lies with those who are sending them. If management continues down this path, the union is going to be balloting for local strike action.”
Royal Mail managers are continuing to use disciplinary procedures in an effort to get revenge against effective trade union reps – even if they have no evidence to make a case.
Steve Gill, the area processing sub rep for Oxford, remains suspended after seven weeks – despite an agreement that ended an unofficial strike, which stipulated that any disciplinary action would be concluded within three weeks.
At the time of the initial disciplinary, managers leaked to the press that they had “incontrovertible” evidence that Steve had assaulted a member of the public. Oxford’s area manager told the union that the evidence was CCTV based.
“They’ve got no footage, no evidence and no case,” Bob Cullen, the CWU’s Oxford area processing rep, told Socialist Worker. “The other workers that they suspended at the same time have all been put back on the job.
“We’ve given management seven days notice of an official ballot that will start at the end of this week.”
In Leicester delivery rep Surbjit “Shabba” Khera remains suspended after he swore at a scab who drove a Royal Mail vehicle at a picket line.
A postal worker from his office told Socialist Worker that management’s attempt to create an atmosphere of intimidation was failing, and that the union was fighting back.
“We are planning a major campaign that will culminate in a ballot for strike action across north Leicester,” he said.