Business secretary Lord Mandelson’s plans to hand a chunk of the Royal Mail to a private equity firm are set to receive a blow on Friday, as 10,000 postal workers in London prepare to strike.
Postal workers across Edinburgh are set to join them by striking on the same day.
And their fellow CWU union members in almost every part of Britain could be part of a wave of strikes within a few weeks.
Royal Mail bosses’ determination to ram through 'cost savings' which will lead to massive job losses is provoking the action.
Ministers and management are united in wanting the CWU union cowed in the run-up to privatisation.
'In my office in Islington management have announced that they will be taking ‘executive action’ to break a national agreement with the union,' says Mark Dolan, the union’s north London delivery rep.
'Weekly earnings are to be capped, which means workers will lose up to £180 a week.
'We will be expected to work a five-day week, instead of the four days we negotiated last year. The working day on Saturdays is also going to be extended.
'In effect Royal Mail has just broken the pay and modernisation agreement agreed with us at the end of the last national dispute in 2007. It is now taking benefits away from us.'
But the scale of workers’ response to the attacks shows that the CWU remains a force powerful enough to derail the bosses and the government that stands behind them, says Mark.
'The reaction in Islington has been furious,' he told Socialist Worker. 'Over 100 of us met on Monday morning and unanimously refused to sign up for any unagreed duties.
'We’re also going to press for more strike dates on top of those already announced.
'The feeling is the same at other offices across north London and at the Rathbone Place sorting office in central London, which is also refusing to sign up for unagreed duties.'
Willie Marshall, from the union’s Edinburgh-based Scotland No.2 branch, told Socialist Worker that the mood there is similar.
'We’re demanding that Royal Mail treat us with respect,' he said. 'If not, then we’re prepared to strike and ensure that the union and our national agreements are protected.
'That’s why Edinburgh mail centre is going to be out alongside London on Friday and delivery offices in the city and surrounding areas – including Alloa, Cowdenbeath, Grangemouth and Bathgate – will be out from 9am on Saturday.'
Mandelson wants to get his legislation to sell off 30 percent of Royal Mail through parliament before its long summer break.
But senior Labour figures and trade union leaders are warning the government that privatising Royal Mail will be political suicide when it is on the ropes over so many other issues.
A series of strikes to defend a vital public service would be extremely popular with the public and other trade unionists – and could put an end to New Labour’s plans.
Already the potential for action can be seen across the country. Strikes are likely in Essex, Watford, Norfolk, Suffolk, the west of England, and elsewhere in the east of Scotland, where successful ballots have already taken place.
Many other areas are also balloting. Tam Dewar, a CWU area delivery rep, told Socialist Worker that 17 units in the Glasgow branch he is a member of are balloting for strikes.
Other requests for ballots will be discussed at a meeting later this week.
Dave Scott and Mick Loube are union activists in the east of England, where the Ipswich mail centre has voted for action.
They told Socialist Worker about a small delivery office in Thetford, Norfolk, where 41 out of 48 workers voted for strikes, the second of which was set to take place on Wednesday this week.
Tony Bouch, a CWU branch secretary in Plymouth, told Socialist Worker that a small delivery office in his area, with just 21 workers, struck last week to defend nationally agreed terms and conditions.
'That spirit is now spreading,' he said. 'We’ve just served notice that we intend to ballot at the Plymouth mail centre too.
'It’s clear to me that we are facing a full-on management attack and that industrial relations in Royal Mail will not be sorted out until we defeat privatisation.
'At our union’s national conference last week we offered Royal Mail a three-month moratorium on strike action if they would agree to talks about any changes. But so far it seems they want to ignore us.'
Tony believes that Mandelson and his privatisation plans stand behind Royal Mail bosses, but that strikes could force them back to negotiations.
'This government is weak and there has never been a better time for us to show we mean business,' he said.