'Next time there's an unofficial strike in the post we will sack those who have led it and encouraged it.' That is what Post Office bosses warned leaders of the CWU union at the end of last week.
They (and the New Labour ministers who stand behind them) are taking a huge gamble if they go ahead with their threat. As the reports on this page show, there are still strikes almost every day in the post. Most of them are unofficial and illegal. And most of them win. Management is enraged that it cannot force through the 'flexibility' and speed-ups that it wants to rack up still more profit.
The government is nervous that militant and hard-hitting strikes could sink its plans for privatisation by the back door through joint ventures and other schemes. So at some point there is very likely to be a full scale confrontation. The early clashes have already started.
In Cardiff, Liverpool and Oxford (twice), Royal Mail provoked unofficial strikes and then tried to isolate the offices concerned. In each case postal workers across Britain delivered the solidarity to stop the strikes being strangled. Instead the strikers notched up wins. Management hopes the CWU union leaders will curb their members. They may try but they will not find it easy.
CWU members have to prepare to fight. In some offices workers have already prepared strike committees. These committees should link up and plan now how to fight. There is also an important political argument. In a national strike the question of relations with Labour will be prominent.
It will be much easier to fight if a solid core of postal workers are won to the Socialist Alliance and can put forward a left alternative, both in terms of militancy and politics.
Around 250 people have signed forms to withdraw from paying the political levy in one CWU branch in the south of England. Rather than simply drop out from the levy, it would be better to demand that, if the members decide, the money can be used for left wing parties that represent CWU policy rather than only for the Labour Party.
This is a big debate already raging in the union. It is time to organise now for a political and industrial challenge.
Almost 1,000 postal workers in Watford struck officially for 24 hours on Monday in a dispute over shifts and breaks. From this week Watford postal workers will have to ask their supervisor for permission to go to the toilet and will be denied the right to smoke or get a cup of tea outside officially designated periods. Bosses also want to end shift rotations and leave staff on the same shift all the time.
CWU branch secretary Alan Walsh says, 'Rotations are very important to staff as the shift patterns vary so much and some are very anti-social. Rotations ensure staff have at least some time with their families. 'Staff also choose to work different shift patterns (some of which get overtime) to enhance their earnings-the basic is only £12,700 a year. We're also angry about the way these changes have been brought in. They are draconian and belong in another era.' A further strike is planned from 12 noon on Thursday 8 March to 6pm on Saturday 10 March.
Around 300 CWU members stopped work at the Springburn centre in Glasgow last week in a dispute over pay.
The walkout ended only when managers agreed to emergency talks with the union. The dispute centred on drivers who
work on forklifts one week in every four. They are paid £6 a month extra, but say they should get £18.
Postal workers in Stamford Hill, east London, walked out unofficially for the second time last week because of deadly asbestos in their office. 'I do not trust any of these managers with our safety. They would let us work up to our necks in a plague pit if they could get away with it,' one Stamford Hill CWU member told Socialist Worker.
Post Office Network (PON) management has conceded almost all of the demands made by counter staff in the dispute over the unagreed use of agency labour. Last Christmas PON recruited 250 workers from the Blue Arrow agency. In response staff walked out unofficially at 60 London branch offices in October. The Post Office is so alarmed by possible strike action that it has offered a deal which effectively gives CWU reps the ability to keep agency staff out of offices.
Royal Mail delivery workers reluctantly accepted a 3.2 percent pay deal by 66 percent to 34 percent. Over 27,000 voted to reject the offer, but the majority accepted that other issues-such as privatisation-are more immediately pressing if there is going to be a national strike.