The battle for the future of Royal Mail is hotting up – with over 20,000 postal workers in the CWU union set to strike this week.
The sight of new forces joining the fight will bolster those who have already taken to picket lines several times in recent weeks to stop bosses slashing jobs and attempting to smash the union.
Thousands of drivers in the company’s network were set to take action on Thursday of this week, with many depots striking for the first time.
They were to be joined on Friday by workers in mail centres in Edinburgh and London, and on Saturday by delivery offices in London and elsewhere.
Scores of other delivery offices around Britain will also be taking action.
With Royal Mail on the offensive, the escalation of official strike action could not come a minute too soon.
Bosses across Britain have been attempting to punish workers who follow the principles of trade union solidarity, with the question of respecting picket lines becoming a crucial test.
During last week’s strike, many network drivers who were not on strike refused to cross the picket lines of those who were.
In response, bosses hauled workers into their offices and told them that they would lose pay as a penalty.
This led to an unofficial walkout by workers at East Midlands Airport, and bitter resentment among drivers in Warrington and the northern Home Counties.
At Stoke mail centre – where more than 100 strikers are fighting job losses and redeployment to Wolverhampton – 200 delivery workers walked out unofficially on Friday of last week.
This came after bosses decided to dock a day’s pay from those who would not drive through their colleague’s picket lines.
Andy Plant, branch secretary of the Midland No 7 branch of the CWU, told Socialist Worker, “More than 100 of us have been on all-out strike for over three weeks now.
“Those who have struck unofficially are people who work together in the same building, yet management is expecting them to help undermine the strike.”
Another worker said, “Management is escalating this – and we cannot back down now. Whatever the pressure, the national union must not repudiate this unofficial action.”
“We’ve got a fast-track ballot for official industrial action that opened last week,” added Andy. “But it will still take time for those who have walked out to be able to do so officially.
“Frankly, we can’t wait too long. Our members have got to send a signal that we will not tolerate union-busting.”
He is absolutely right. Everyone knows that the most effective way to respond to management bullying is to act quickly by walking out and trying to spread the action where necessary.
While many union activists know this from personal experience, this kind of militancy has been largely absent from the struggle so far.
Dozens of union reps have told Socialist Worker that despite management provocation on a scale that would in the past have led to walkouts, pressure from some national officials is preventing action.
A ballot of the more than 100,000 postal workers in the CWU is set to start at the beginning of September, with the earliest action being a month later. There are dangers in waiting for national action in October. Lack of action can demoralise the union’s members.
By responding to management attacks with militant action, the union can create a climate of confidence among activists and win a convincing yes vote in the ballot.
This atmosphere can be helped by continuing to implement the union’s Do the Job Properly campaign – where workers take meal breaks at the appointed time, and refuse to use their own cars and take out over-heavy bags.
Official strike action this week will likely see a repeat of management demands that workers who are not striking must sign a “waiver” to say they are prepared to cross picket lines.
The CWU must issue a clear statement in support of effective picketing to help maintain basic solidarity. And local reps must prepare for action to defend anyone who is disciplined for supporting their colleagues.