Royal Mail’s attempts to undermine the CWU postal workers’ union have come unstuck at the Burslem delivery office in Stoke-on-Trent.
Around 100 workers there have been on strike since the end of last year, and plan to remain out until at least the end of January. The CWU union is demanding an independent appeal against the Burslem disciplinaries.
Last year Royal Mail launched an investigation into the office, claiming it had received reports of bullying by members of the CWU union.
A key witness, who provided a statement alleging that CWU activists had coerced fellow workers into not doing overtime shifts, last week said that his original statement was false and was only given under severe pressure.
He said that he has been trying to withdraw his statement since November, but investigators have refused to listen.
Despite the fact that almost 80 percent of those interviewed by Royal Mail said that management, not the union, had bullied them, the company used the statements of just two workers as the basis for disciplinary action against 12 others – including all three union reps.
All 12 were then suspended.
Royal Mail is not the only organisation that has victimised union activists in recent months. Health workers in Manchester are fighting to defend Unison union rep Karen Reissmann, who was sacked for speaking out against cuts. In local government Unison is in a battle for the reinstatement of Michael Gavan, sacked for opposing privatisation.
If the Burslem strike wins, it will give a boost to the other campaigns.
Last week around 1,000 postal workers gathered in Burslem to march in support of the strike. They carried 22 CWU banners representing branches from Exeter to Edinburgh.
Many leading reps feel that, on a national level, the CWU is not defending its activists as aggressively as it should.
“The agreement to end last year’s national dispute should have stated in much stronger terms that there will be no victimisations,” says Peter Hall, branch secretary of Cleveland Amal CWU, who joined the Burslem march.
“This harassment of activists is happening all over the place, and it is causing massive resentment.”
Hemel Hempstead drivers’ rep Kevin Kelly was summarily dismissed last week for alleged behaviour on his picket line. He joins a growing list of activists facing disciplinaries, and even the sack, including those in Bristol, East Midlands airport, south London, south west London, and Oxford.
In Bristol, workers at the south east delivery office have voted by two to one to strike in defence of victimised colleagues. This should be the response to attacks on activists in every area.
At the Burslem rally Dave Ward, the CWU’s deputy general secretary, urged postal workers to stand up to management bullying.
He said the Burslem office had done just that, and as a result was one of the strongest in the country.
“That’s why Royal Mail want to break the union here,” he added. “We will not leave people isolated and we will spread the action if necessary – even if that means pulling out of national agreements with the employer.”
Unfortunately the CWU leadership is sending mixed signals. In many cases where union members are facing disciplinary procedures, strike ballots in their defence have either yet to be organised or implemented – with the union placing its hopes in talks.
Ward told the rally that a deal between the company and the union might soon be struck. But despite happiness at the possibility of an end to the dispute, strikers made it clear that they were not for a return to work on management’s terms.
Striker Dave Condliffe told the rally, “We’ve got a 57 year old worker suspended – we cannot wait until he is nearly 60 before an employment tribunal says that was wrong. We need a victory now.” To cheers he added, “When we go back, we go back together – we want all our members back at the Burslem office, not dispersed around Staffordshire.”
There will not be justice for the Burslem strikers until every worker is reinstated and back at work in their own office, workers who have lost out financially are recompensed and the bullying managers are removed.
Send donations and messages of support c/o Lee Barron, CWU Midlands regional secretary, 46-48 Summer Lane, Birmingham B19, or send an email to email@example.com