The wave of strikes at Royal Mail is entering a crucial period.
Industrial action by postal workers in many parts of Britain is starting to hit the company hard as the volume of mail increases and backlogs grow.
Next week will see more than 100,000 members of the CWU union start a ballot for nationwide strikes.
The need for concerted action across the country could not be clearer.
In the same week as voting starts, Royal Mail is hoping to ram through its Network 2009 plan. This will involve a huge assault on the drivers who truck large volumes of mail around the country.
Many workers will lose hundreds of pounds a month, as well as hard-won terms and conditions.
And in mail centres and delivery offices across Britain union reps report managers deliberately provoking confrontation and attempting to push through job cuts and “flexibility” without even consulting the union.
“The stakes in this dispute could not be higher,” says Mark Dolan, a senior union rep in north London.
“Management are out to smash the union once and for all – and they have the complete backing of the government.”
Trade secretary Lord Mandelson last month attacked the union, saying, “Time and again in the past, the CWU has asked ministers to intervene in their disputes and their strikes to frustrate Royal Mail modernisation.
“I have instructed this will not happen. It is time for the union to wake up to the need for change to stop Royal Mail’s further decline.”
Mandelson wants mail bosses to inflict a humiliating defeat on the union so that he can prepare the ground for a further attempt at the privatisation of the company.
With the future of the union on the line it is vital that when national action finally arrives, it hits as hard as possible, says Mark.
“My members have taken ten days of action so far and now the mail is really starting to pile up. But if we are really going to make them hurt, we’ve got to up the pressure.
“I want the local action taken by branches in London and around the country to carry on until the national strike – and I want national action designed to create the biggest possible backlog.
“We must not have the odd one-day strike separated by a week or two of a lull.
“That would allow management to clear any backlogs before we start the next action.
“And there must be no ‘moratorium’ that suspends the strikes but allows management to keep their changes. Autumn is a great time to be on strike in the post. Christmas catalogues are going out and mail volumes increase every week. The union must not waste this chance to hit back at those who want to destroy our jobs and the public service we provide.”
Paul Turnbull, a senior union rep in Cambridge, agrees.
“Members in my area are on strike this week, and in many parts of Britain postal workers have already made big financial sacrifices by striking locally over what is really a national issue.
“We owe it to them to make sure that the national strikes hit hard enough to win quickly. There’s no point us taking one-off strikes – we need regular action.”
Paul says that picketing and preventing mail being moved from striking offices will remain crucial if local strikes continue through September.
“It’s time we returned to our union’s traditions. That means arguing hard with drivers not to cross our lines and refusing to touch mail from striking offices. Those are some the tactics that built the strength of this union.”
It also means that the national union must stop the practice of telling its branches to handle such mail.
“This is life or death for us as a union and an industry,” says Mark. “I want our leadership to treat it as such.
“When the national action comes, there must be no phoney deals with the company. We must not give in until we have an absolute victory.”
London CWU has called demonstration in support of striking postal workers on Thursday 3 September, 11am, outside the headquarters of the Unite union, 128 Theobalds Road, London WC1X. It will be followed by a rally at 1.30pm at Friend’s House, Euston Road.
Members of the CWU in London expected to be balloted this month on whether they wish to carry on funding the Labour Party.
With huge anger at the way the government has attempted to privatise Royal Mail most expect that the poll will result in an overwhelming vote to stop sending cash to Gordon Brown.
Results are expected during Labour’s conference.