Royal Mail bosses are talking peace while making war. Behind the warm words of a “new era in industrial relations”, they are trying to break the postal workers’ CWU union by harassing and victimising reps with charges relating to last year’s national postal strike.
Managers from across Britain last week met in London with the CWU to discuss “modernisation” and new working practices.
Yet despite Royal Mail’s promises of no victimisations – given verbally to TUC general secretary Brendan Barber during negotiations to end last year’s strike – reps have been threatened or disciplined in offices up and down the country.
The case with the highest profile is that of Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, where 12 postal workers – including all three CWU reps – have been sacked or suspended in a direct assault on the union.
Burlsem postal workers have been on strike against the victimisation since 18 December. They plan to stay out until at least the end of January, when they expect to be joined by around 1,500 colleagues from across north Staffordshire.
Meanwhile at the Morden delivery office in south London, managers have accused nine workers and the union’s area delivery rep of bullying.
A few miles away in Wimbledon, Ray Nnadi has been sacked for allegedly referring to somebody in his office who worked through the national strike as a “scab”.
In both these cases the national union has authorised local branches to ballot for strike action, but so far the cases remain the subject of negotiation.
These and similar cases being fought around the country have the hallmark of a serious management offensive – one that must be fought as a national issue by the CWU, rather than being left to local branches.
Royal Mail management still fears the strength of the union, especially as they are planning a major assault on the company’s final salary pension scheme in the next few weeks.
Bosses believe that if they can seriously weaken the CWU they will have a better chance of ramming through those changes.
The union must now show its teeth and tell Royal Mail that it will not accept victimisations.
There are some in the union who worry that such a strategy risks putting local and national agreements in jeopardy. But the Burslem strikers are not convinced by this argument, as the leaflet they distributed at the London meeting of reps and managers makes clear.
“How can we as a union seriously discuss a ‘fresh start’ when the reality is that Royal Mail out in the field is attacking the union and removing it from the workplace?” the leaflet said.
The best way to defend victimised members is for every branch to get behind the Burslem strike and join the national demonstration in Stoke this Saturday.
Everyone should take solidarity collections in their support. There should be strikes in every area where reps are threatened – and the union must be ready to spread the action nationally.
Local activist Stewart Crehan has been visiting the Burslem picket line. “We need to keep the solidarity coming,” he said. “Strikers told me that Royal Mail are hoping to starve them back to work. I took £75 that I collected at my workplace this week, and they were really appreciative.”
Demonstrate in support of the Burslem strikers
Assemble 1.30pm, Saturday 19 January, Burslem delivery office, Scotia Road, Stoke-on-Trent ST6.
The Burslem Strike benefit gig
With Skalinskis, Bleeding Hearts, Trent Vale Poet
Immediately following Saturday's rally
Burlsem Working Men’s Club, 5-7 Furlong Lane, Stoke On Trent.
Organised by Communication Workers Union Midlands Region
Send donations and messages of support to Lee Barron, CWU Midlands regional secretary, 46-48 Summer Lane, Birmingham B19, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org