THE POST Office has launched a policy of slash and burn through the workforce combined with a relentless drive for privatisation. It is the greatest challenge the postal workers' CWU union has ever faced. The board of directors had gathered on the day of the World Trade Centre suicide attacks to finalise their latest strategy.
With media attention concentrated on war and New Labour demanding 'national unity', they knew that they should get their punches in as soon as possible. So Post Office bosses announced last week that they want to cut 15 percent from all costs within 18 months.
A management bulletin said, 'Our costs are running ahead of income, and unless we take drastic action we will fail as a business. We must take steps to create a much leaner business. The levels of inefficiency are crippling us.' Wages make up around 70 percent of Royal Mail's basic costs. The plan means mass redundancies of up to 30,000 workers, according to the postal workers' CWU union.
Bosses at Consignia, the bosses' ridiculous new name for the Post Office, admit 20,000 could go. Nobody thinks the level of work will go down. For all the growth in e-mail and other forms of communication, mail volumes are still rising. Post Office plans mean those who survive the jobs cull will be pushed to work even harder. They will mean more 4am starts, more management bullying and more stress.
They will also mean more privatisation. Consignia is already looking for bids to take over part or all of its entire fleet of 40,000 vehicles plus 180 depots and workshops. This could lead to every item of post being moved by a private carrier.
The company also underlined last week that it wants to 'outsource' (hand over to private contractors) engineering and buildings maintenance, internal communications, employee health services, administration, cleaning and information technology.
It is also looking at handing entire sorting offices over to private firms like Siemens.
As if that isn't enough, the Post Office and the government are discussing splitting the Post Office into two companies. Royal Mail and Parcelforce would go into one and Counters into another. This would again smooth the way towards privatisation.
Derek Durkin, branch secretary of the Scotland Number 2 CWU branch centred on Edinburgh, says, 'The private firms are going to take away our work, and tens of thousands of workers are going to be thrown on the dole just as the recession bites.
'We have to fight back. In Edinburgh we have organised a demonstration against privatisation on Saturday 17 November, which is now backed by the Scottish TUC. The CWU should be pushing for protests like that across Britain. The union needs to launch the high profile campaign which has been promised.'
Leading the attack
BOSSES BLAME the level of strikes for the problems in the Post Office. But, although postal workers are rightly ready to defend themselves, strikes accounted for just 0.2 percent of days worked last year.
The real problem is an aggressive management, lack of investment and a crazy desire to buy up companies abroad rather than make the Post Office work.
When will our union leaders fight back?
HOW MUCH more has to happen before CWU union leaders launch a real campaign to fight redundancies and privatisation? So far the response has been disgracefully slow and ineffective.
A leading CWU member in Oxfordshire told Socialist Worker, 'The union's campaign is a pack of playing cards sent to each branch with a message against privatisation on them. 'I don't really think that is going to scare managers and a government hell-bent on selling off parts of the industry and cutting jobs. We need to get out to the public, take our message out widely with leafleting and protests, and get ready to strike. The union leaders keep going on about 'broadening the campaign'. But there isn't a campaign to broaden at the moment. Managers are quite prepared to run down the service so that 'radical' solutions seem to be the only option. We have a workforce which has shown again and again that it is prepared to fight back, and has the power to beat the other side. It will be a tragedy and a scandal if that strength is frittered away.'
In May around 50,000 postal workers struck illegally, unofficially and against the strong advice of their union leaders. The workers beat back Royal Mail's attacks. The CWU has even agreed to halt all strike ballots in return for a worthless pledge from the bosses not to impose new work schemes.
Obviously the biggest ever shake-up in the industry was not covered by this. John Keggie, the union's deputy general secretary, said last week that 'the madcap plan to slice up the industry and reduce the workforce is ill conceived and destructive. It will be vigorously opposed.' But he is not organising a fight.
The union has a new general secretary, Billy Hayes. He won his position because people were fed up with getting rubbish deals and being told they were in 'partnership' with vicious bosses. Billy Hayes has to put forward a plan for strikes and demonstrations now. If he won't, then the rank and file will have to do it themselves.
Even before last week's announcement the Post Office regulator had unveiled plans for a scab mail service and widescale privatisation. PostComm has licensed private firm Hays to deliver mail. Deya Ltd wants to provide a British-wide postal service. It would deliver bills 'in periods of disruption-such as industrial action by Post Office employees'.
Stop this sacking
TOP MANAGEMENT in Consignia are out to sack leading London union activist Mark Dolan. They have accelerated the normal disciplinary code, and have already said he is guilty of harassment and gross misconduct. They will now have formal interviews and hearings!
A worker at the NDO office made a complaint against Mark after he had overheard a discussion about the World Trade Centre suicide attacks. When Mark tried to settle the matter amicably, the same worker made a further complaint.
Some local management sources made it clear they did not believe there was any case for Mark to answer and that they were prepared to let the matter rest. But top bosses are out to get him as an example to every CWU activist. Mark has worked for the Post Office for over 20 years and has been central to building the union at NDO.
North/North West London CWU has launched a campaign to defend Mark. For copies of the petition phone 020 7239 3477.
Workers in the N1 delivery section where Mark works showed last week that they are far from broken by management's attacks.
Strikers won a stunning victory over the new work arrangements and forced the managers to back off. Bosses had simply imposed a different set of duties on the section. Workers refused to accept them and walked out unofficially. 'It was a concerted and very determined response from the floor. Everyone was acting like a union steward,' says one of the strikers.
POST OFFICE Network (PON) has announced the closure of two major post offices, at Marble Arch and Great Portland Street in London's West End, on 21 December. This follows plans to close the Elephant and Castle offices in south London on 10 November, and makes clear New Labour's intention to continue the Tories' closure plans.
The CWU has just signed a new national staffing agreement with PON that is supposed to protect long term job security. Workers are discussing a campaign and possible strikes.