The days leading up to what could be the most important industrial conflict for many years saw one side preparing for all out class warfare – while the other was desperately looking for peace.
Tough-talking Royal Mail bosses enlisted their friends in the government and media to insist that strikes planned for this week should be called off.
Meanwhile, the CWU union pleaded with bosses to continue talking.
It seems that the union leaders are prepared to do almost anything to settle.
That’s despite having previously declared that the dispute will not be ended until all unagreed changes to working practices are rolled back and victimised union reps restored.
So why did the union show such weakness?
After all, it won a thumping 76 percent vote for action, and the determination of its members has been put beyond doubt by the wave of hard-hitting local strikes since June.
With the volume of mail reaching its highest point in the run-up to Christmas, postal workers are in a strong position to deliver Royal Mail a knock-out blow.
A national strike has the power to bring the bully-boy managers to their knees.
Yet the talk from the top of the union continues to be endless calls for the government – which has backed Royal Mail all the way – to intervene.
It asks ministers to bring the two sides together at the conciliation service Acas.
There are two key reasons for the behaviour of the union’s leadership.
First, trade union leaders are in a unique position where they are not in a workplace themselves and their main role is negotiating between the employers and union members.
This means that they have a tendency towards conciliation rather than confrontation.
Second, there is the relationship between the union and the Labour Party.
With an election just around the corner, there are many at the top of the CWU who believe that any struggle that damages the government will help bring about a Tory victory.
This, they fear, will usher in a new wave of assaults on working class people – including attacks on pay, pensions and public services.
But the reality is that Tory and Labour governments will follow similar policies.
The only way to resist them, and Royal Mail’s aim of breaking the power of the union, is to build effective strike action.
Postal workers already face the most outrageous management provocations.
The only thing that has so far prevented a wave of unofficial strikes from spreading across Britain has been the union leadership’s promise that national action is on the way.
Local reps and other rank and file activists need to organise now to put pressure on the union leaders to call the sort of sustained national action that can win. But they also need to be ready to act independently of them if necessary.
Who is on strike?
- Thursday 22 October:
Mail centre staff and network drivers (around 42,000 postal workers)
- Friday 23 October:
Delivery and collection staff (around 78,000 postal workers)