Socialist Worker

Growing anger at New Labour as post fight heats up

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2071

Labour delegates at the recent party conference gave CWU union members a mixed welcome (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Labour delegates at the recent party conference gave CWU union members a mixed welcome (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

The fight between the CWU postal workers' union and Royal Mail is a political dispute in which Gordon Brown is the real power behind the scenes.

The strikes of 130,000 postal workers this week and next are formally targeted at Royal Mail's management.

But the reality is that if the postal workers are to win, Brown's government must start to feel the pressure.

It is Brown's public sector pay limit that resulted in the original pay offer of just 2.5 percent to workers, and it is his policies of 'market freedom' that are threatening to wreck the postal service.

And it is Brown's assaults on the pensions of millions of workers that have inspired Royal Mail's latest proposals.

Royal Mail bosses Allan Leighton and Adam Crozier may be nasty without any encouragement, but they are Brown's appointees – and they respond to their master's voice.

Yet some in the leadership of the CWU still maintain that Labour is on their side in the battle with Royal Mail, and that the union's affiliation to the party remains crucial.

Little support

Billy Hayes, the CWU general secretary, made a speech to last month's Labour Party conference in which he said, 'We know that the Liberals want to privatise Royal Mail, we know what the Tories would do to Royal Mail.

'When we look at our party we see the difference that a Labour government makes.'

This view found little support among the several hundred union reps that this week gathered in London for a national briefing.

'Billy would have a hard time convincing anyone on a picket line in my area of his argument,' says London divisional rep Martin Walsh, who attended the meeting.

'He is saying that he has a hotline to the government, and that they are listening to what he says. But I reckon that they hung up the phone a long time ago.

'We either use the link with Labour to further our demands, and get the government to call off their dogs – Leighton and Crozier – or we should stop funding them.

'If the government told Royal Mail that it wanted a proper settlement of the dispute, there is no doubt that it would happen.'

Many at the reps' meeting felt that the union should suspend funding to the Labour Party, at least for the duration of the dispute, and use the money to boost the political side of the industrial action campaign.

'We should use the money to run full page adverts in the national press, in which we can explain to other workers what our fight is about, and counter what the newspaper editors tell them,' says Bob Cullen, the CWU's area processing rep for Oxford.

There was also a feeling that talk of an early election was cause to maintain industrial action, rather than consider calling it off.

Strong card

Bob said, 'Gordon Brown is thinking about an autumn election, which gives us a very strong card. There were more than five million postal voters registered in the last election.

'Even if we weren't striking on the week of the poll, the backlog of the strikes would be so great that the election would have to be postponed – after all, who else would deliver and collect those forms?

'We should send a message to Brown – if you want an election, there are some things that we want from you, one of the most important of which relates to pensions.

'We want our pension scheme funded by the government in order to end the current deficit.

'After all, Brown could find millions of pounds to bail out Northern Rock, why not a public sector pensions scheme?'

Gordon Brown is determined to force all public sector workers to accept pensions cuts, job losses and pay restraint.

Our trade unions must not be derailed in their fight to defend their members by any misplaced loyalty to New Labour.

Workers prepare to face down bosses' offensive

The CWU's two 48-hour strikes will undoubtedly hit management extremely hard.

Millions of items will be caught up in a backlog, while managers will run around like headless chickens in an effort to make it look like there is still a service.

CWU union reps from across Britain report an eagerness to get back to strike action.

More than 300 workers attended a union briefing in Bradford last weekend, and more than 50 in Leicester. There were similar sized meetings around the country.

Many reported that Royal Mail's latest proposals on pensions, which were being announced by managers in work time learning sessions this week, were encouraging even those who had worked through earlier strikes to agree to take action this time.

Royal Mail managers, who generally act as willing strikebreakers, are themselves considering action over the attack on the pension scheme.

However there are serious questions that the union needs to address.

The most important of these relates to the changed start times for thousands of delivery workers, due to be implemented by Royal Mail next week without agreement from the union.

At the national reps meeting Bob Gibson, the CWU assistant secretary outdoor, said that the union is considering a programme of strikes in response – and that there is a debate about what form that action could take.

Many groups of workers have decided that they will attempt to start and finish work at their normal times, even if their offices are not open at their regular start time.

This is likely to lead to workers having their pay stopped for the hours that they are not working. This opens up the possibility of large scale unofficial action.

The union must decide on a national response to the issue of start times. That must include strikes.

It is vital that Royal Mail does not get away with bringing in the change in a piece-meal fashion.

Solidarity, cakes and strike schedule

'It makes a real difference when other workers come to our picket lines, and I can guarantee those that do come will get a warm reception,' says Ryan Ward from the Romford Amal branch of the CWU union.

'People could take a collection for our strike at their workplace, or bake some cakes at home, and bring them to us on our strike days.

'Or better still, they could organise a workplace meeting with a speaker from the CWU, so we can explain our dispute and win solidarity.

'Making links between people in different unions is going to be vital to any future united action.'

Postal workers will walk out for 48 hours at the start of all shifts between 12 noon this Thursday and 12 noon on Saturday. Work will resume on Sunday.

Then there will be a second 48 hour strike with workers walking out on shifts starting between 3am on Monday of next week and 3am on Wednesday of next week.

Picket lines

Thursday afternoon/evening: Picket lines at mail centres from about 2pm. Pickets will run continuously, with a larger number at around 10pm.

Friday morning: Picket lines at mail centres and all delivery offices between 6am and 8am.

Saturday: As Friday, strike ends at noon.

Monday: As Friday.

Tuesday: As Friday.

Please send reports and pictures from the strike to [email protected]

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