Business secretary Lord Mandelson’s plans to privatise Royal Mail are in tatters. But bosses at the company are determined to wreak revenge against those they believe are responsible for the calamity that has befallen them – postal workers and their CWU union.
The government was forced to concede that “poor market conditions” and a “tight legislative timetable” meant that the sell-off is going to be postponed indefinitely.
But Royal Mail, backed by the Labour Party, is pressing on with job cuts, attacks on the union and an assault on conditions. This will mean a serious fight.
Within days of the privatisation retreat, the CWU announced that its members in London would strike for three days from Wednesday of this week. This follows a solid 24-hour strike last month.
There were rumours that Royal Mail was seeking to have the strike declared illegal as Socialist Worker went to press.
If this were to happen it would mean that is now almost impossible to organise an industrial dispute within the law.
Trade unionists should not allow themselves to be cowed, and instead launch an unofficial strike in response to any such attack.
The meltdown of the government and its chaotic weakness are the main reasons why Mandelson’s pet privatisation project had to be shelved.
Privately, ministers admit that fierce union opposition and fears of a parliamentary rebellion and public backlash forced the humiliating climbdown.
Activists in the CWU are jubilant. “We’ve scored a major victory,” says Merlin Reader, a rep at the Mount Pleasant mail centre in central London.
“By showing we are prepared to take action to defend the service we provide, the union has scared away most of the asset-stripping companies that were circling around us like vultures.
“I think that the government backed off for three reasons. First, carrying on with the plan would have been political suicide.
“The public would have punished Labour for privatisation at the next general election. The union’s campaigning at a national and local level definitely helped galvanise that mood.
“Second, because we put up a fight only one company was prepared to buy into Royal Mail, and even then at a low price. So the sell-off didn’t make much economic sense.
“Third, strikes and our threat to withdraw funds from Labour showed that we’re not simply going to allow the government to walk all over us.”
Royal Mail bosses, who hoped that privatisation would see their already bloated salaries soar still further, are livid.
And in recent weeks managers in hundreds of offices across Britain have broken agreements with the union and pushed through “cost-saving measures” that will lead to thousands of job losses.
A union rep in Ilford, in east London, told Socialist Worker that the scale of management attacks is “breathtaking”.
“They want to cut 42 delivery rounds out of our office in the next four weeks,” he said. “If they get away with it, at least a quarter of us will lose our jobs.
“Those left will be forced to cover all the extra work. Management expect us to cover any sick leave as part of our normal duties. People are furious.”
As a result Ilford has joined the list of offices that have applied for a strike ballot – a list that is now thought to have requests from 300 units on it.
“We have been doing gate meetings at all the other offices that are part of the Romford branch over the last week,” says the rep. “The whole of our Anglia division is going to ballot too.
“I think that we should be having a national strike. But as our national leadership are ducking that issue its important that we coordinate all the local disputes and strike on the same day.”
Pressure from branches across the country has forced the national union to do just that. Now 17 July will be a national day of action and all offices that have returned a yes vote for industrial action should strike together.
Following a week of fresh ballot requests, offices in the east of Scotland and the south west of England are also set to strike this week.
There are also reports of unofficial walkouts against management bullying – including offices in Dalkeith, in Scotland, and Middlesbrough, both of which took action last week.
“It’s vital we keep up the pressure,” says Merlin. “In addition to fighting to stop the cuts and defend our union, the strikes are about all the issues associated with privatisation.
“We may have won round one, but the issue hasn’t gone away.”
Distribution workers at Edinburgh mail centre are set to strike on Friday of this week. Delivery offices in Clevedon, Yatton and Bridgewater in the south west of England, and Dumfermline, Alloa in Scotland are expected to join action on Saturday from 9am