Strikes by postal workers in many parts of Britain are hitting Royal Mail hard, with millions of letters and packets clogging up mail centres and sorting offices.
With so many workers taking action, and the prospect of a national strike looming, the company is finding itself unable to break the power of the dispute.
“It’s chaos in there,” a picket outside London’s N1 sorting office told Socialist Worker during last week’s strike. “We’re backed up with mail and it’s clogging up the whole office.”
Royal Mail now estimate that there are more than 20 million items of undelivered mail in the system.
Angry at the success of the strikes, the company is desperate for revenge. And bosses know they have the full support of the government.
Attacks on the workforce continue on a daily basis—and could spark unofficial action at any point.
At Springburn mail centre in Glasgow bosses have announced that they intend to replace
49 full-time posts with 34 part-time posts by the end of the month—all without any consultation with the union.
Meanwhile network drivers at depots across Britain this week faced the imposition of new working arrangements that will wreck family lives and slash pay.
“Management is imposing new duties with extra weekend work,” Andy Bell, a union rep at Wishaw service delivery centre, told Socialist Worker.
He said that bosses would attempt to implement the shift patterns when drivers returned to work, following a two-day strike earlier this week (see story below).
With similar attacks being launched up and down the country it is vital that the union launches the biggest possible campaign to win the national strike ballot. Ballot papers will go out on 16 September.
“The only way to win the size of yes vote that we need is to get face to face with the members,” says Johnny Hunt of Essex CWU, where 3,000 postal workers struck solidly this week.
“That means having gate meetings at every unit, and reps that are prepared to answer difficult questions. That’s how we won our local strike ballots in Essex.”
Like many other reps that have spoken to Socialist Worker, Johnny believes that when national strike action finally arrives it must build on the backlog already created and be designed to hit Royal Mail hard.
“There is no point us having a 24-hour strike separated by a week without any action” he says. “In my area there are many who believe an all-out, indefinite strike is the only way to win, and some others who are less sure.
“That’s a debate we need to be having across the union.”
Many union reps are concerned that local strikes will be suspended while the national ballot takes place.
But any halt to the wave of local strikes would be a green light to continue the attacks. It is a good sign that further strikes have been planned in London.
“The scale of management provocation means that our delivery offices are taking an extra day of action, in addition to the London-wide strike, this week,” says CWU branch secretary, Greg Charles in south west London.
“That’s something that is being driven by the members determined to hit back. I think we need to up the action to keep the pressure on.”
Flash point among drivers
A major potential flash point in the postal dispute was expected this week when network drivers returned to work after taking strike action.
Royal Mail expects to implement its Network 2009 changes to workers’ terms and conditions—all existing shift patterns will be ripped up and many drivers expect to lose hundreds of pounds a month.
There is now a serious debate among drivers’ union reps about how to respond. Some have told Socialist Worker that the new arrangements are so bad that it is inevitable that many drivers will refuse to work them.
What happens then will depend on Royal Mail. “If drivers then have their pay stopped for not working the new shifts it could lead to whole depots walking out,” one rep told Socialist Worker. “And in my opinion that is entirely the right thing to do.”
It is clear that management has been preparing for just such an eventuality. At the National Distribution Centre in Crick, Northamptonshire, a large number of contractors have been brought in the run-up to the strike.
The only way to ensure that Royal Mail’s plans are derailed is for activists to spread any unofficial action quickly across the whole network and the entire workforce.
Additional reporting by Graham Campbell in Glasgow