Socialist Worker

Reports from the second day of the post strike, 23 October 2009

Issue No. 2174

The picket line at Old Trafford, Manchester (Pic: Mark Krantz)

The picket line at Old Trafford, Manchester (Pic: Mark Krantz)


Royal Mail bosses were rocked today by the second day of the two-day national strike by postal workers.

Around 80,000 workers in deliveries and collections joined today’s action, which followed yesterday’s strike of 40,000 workers in mail centres and the company’s network.

Strikes are set to continue as the CWU union has announced a further three days of action beginning on Thursday next week.

Leading activists report that today strike is “rock solid” and that management threats of large scale scabbing have come to nothing.

In London, Bristol, Scotland and the east of England – all of which have seen local strikes since the beginning of the summer – strikers say that being part of a national action boosted their picket lines.

One CWU union member in Glasgow said, “This union is solid and we have leverage now – there are millions of pounds at stake for Royal Mail before Christmas.”

There were also harsh words about the role that Royal Mail managers have been playing through the dispute.

“They get bonuses of between £2,000 to £9,000 because of our hard work, and all we get are bad backs, shoulder injuries, longer days – and now we’re being told we are not good enough.”

Many pickets told Socialist Worker that the stakes in the dispute are rising.

“Management want to break the union,” said Tony, in St Albans. “They’re Thatcherite in their willingness to bring the union down. They want to impose their will on us.”

Another picket in Luton added, “If we don't win this one, there won't be much of a post service left.”

The mood of determination on the picket lines stands in some contrast with some among the union leadership who seem desperate to enter into talks with Royal Mail.

Many leading activists have told Socialist Worker that they fear the union might suspend action if the company offers to go Acas.

Any such move risks wasting the mood of anger – and the huge build up of mail that has created by weeks of local action.


Cornwall

Matt Bradbury reports that more than 20 strikers were picketing the entrances to St Austell delivery office at 6.30am on Friday morning.

The workers were determined to win, and angry over Royal Mail's intransigence and at the government's role in the dispute.

There was also recognition of the wider importance of the dispute as a well-organised group of workers defending trade union rights, even with all the weight of the mainstream media condemning the strikes.

'If you haven't got the union, you've got nothing,' said one picket.

Keith Shilson reports from Helston in Cornwall. Pickets got a good reception from the public, demonstrating their support for the strike.

A few postal workers did cross the picket line, but these were mainly new, young, part-time workers on their probationary period.

One of them was persuaded to fill in a form to join the union – and promised to join us on the picket line next week.

The strike of mail centre and driving staff at Truro mail centre yesterday was at least 70 strong.

A gate meeting with regional CWU rep Chris Webb discussed with all sections about the importance of the strike.

One picket, Steve, who has been part of every strike there for 26 years, told Socialist Worker of the payouts to low level managers of £2,000 and £9,000 for the mail centre manager recently, as part of a rumoured £10 million payout to managers throughout Royal Mail.

'And it's a Labour government that is supporting all this,” he said.

“There has been a lot of public support here. If we don't win this one, there won't be much of a post service left.”


Fife

Cupar delivery office was completely solid. There was a large picket. Strikers enjoyed bacon rolls, cakes and coffee.

Carlo Morelli


Glasgow

Penny Howard reports that there were 10 CWU members on the picket line at the Burnfield Road delivery centre on the southside of Glasgow this morning – one of three shifts that will be covering the picket line today.

One picket told Socialist Worker, “This union is solid, and we are one of the biggest and strongest ones in the country. We will fight and defend our members. We have leverage now, there are millions of pounds at stake for the post office before Christmas. We have to fight for our rights.

“If it wasn’t for the trade unions and people going on strike like this, we wouldn’t have the NHS or any health and safety. As this strike goes on, the propaganda we are hearing from the management will start to slip. People will see through it.

“The public don’t realise that if they bring in more machines, their deliveries will be even later. It will take the machine longer to sort the post than it does a group of us working together. The management does not want to share its future plans with the workers or with the public.

“There was one guy who works here who was off sick last week, and they had seven managers doing his job between them. They were complaining how heavy his bag was – and they still didn’t finish on time!

“But the same people will turn around and tell you that you are not good enough if you don’t finish your run on time. They will stand a foot behind you for an hour while you sort your frame, just to intimidate you, and tell you aren’t fast enough.

“It’s good being out here on the picket line, you get a chance to speak to folks. They won’t let you do that in work. They treat us like machines.”

Norrie Watson, CWU divisional rep for Scotland and Northern Ireland, visited the picket line. She told Socialist Worker, “I‘ve been to six picket lines so far this morning, and they are all completely solid.

“I’ve been involved with the CWU for 35 years, and never in my life have I seen such solidarity as I have seen this morning. Even workplaces where in the past you might have wondered, those places have solid picket lines this morning.

“The ballot result was amazing, especially considering the bullying that people were getting from their managers, telling them that they would have 1,000 people lined up to take their jobs if they were on strike. The bullying in some of these workplaces is shocking.

“This strike is solid because people have had enough. Royal Mail has broken the pay and modernisation agreement we signed with them.

“They got massive savings from Phase 1 and 2, but when it got to Phase 4, they walked away from it. They want to make our members do more work, but now they are refusing to pay them for it.

“And then they saw blatant interference from the government, from Peter Mandelson, and the public are seeing that too.

“The agency workers they are hiring are illegal, and the CWU will be going to court against that. They want to destroy this workforce. That is who the union is – these guys here, doing the job every day.”

I visited the picket line with Sobia Rasool, a Unison member and day centre worker for Glasgow Council, who two years ago was on strike for eight weeks. She spoke to the CWU members about her experience of being on strike and the importance of building support groups.

Sobia Rasool said, “Having people supporting our strike was so important, it really kept us going. The propaganda from the media was disturbing.

“But to have people visiting us on our picket line was a great morale booster because they represented the general public. They recognised our worth, and the importance of our struggle.

“At football matches we would get £1,500 in donations, and other unions donated money too. We would organise ourselves, with people taking different tasks, some doing the picket line, some doing collections and going to other workplaces.

“I’m taking a collection sheet into my work today, and I will arrange to have the CWU rep we met on the picket line come and speak to us next week. They will get a lot of support.

“They are representing the fight of the working class against the attacks of the Labour government – their fight is for all of us.”

Dave Sherry adds, there were 20 pickets on the early shift at the Lincoln Avenue depot in Knightsbridge, Glasgow. The strikers were in good spirits but said they want to step up the action. The strikers are going to send speakers to our housing Unite union branch and to the support group that will be launched next week.


London

Sarah Cox reports from north west London. Cricklewood office (NW2) this morning was a gourmet picket line, with sandwiches, noodles and spring rolls as well as tea, coffee and soft drinks.

There are still workers there who took part in the Grunwick dispute in the 1970s, when they were on strike for seven weeks – and some of those who have retired come back regularly to join the picket line.

One of them suggested that the best way to win the dispute would be to occupy the offices. “There's no way the police could take back all the equipment and set up alternative offices to cover all the work,” they said, “and the offices have canteens so the workers could last out for a long time if necessary.”

I was told that people who'd been brought in from Wembley and Harrow, where new walks haven't been introduced yet, were gobsmacked by the amount of work the London workers are expected to do. The walks are totally illogical.

At Willesden, Sabrina quoted the manager, who just parrots, 'The computer says, the computer says...' The managers won't go out and try the walks themselves to see if they are sensible or manageable.


At the N1 office in Islington this morning we saw the sort of solidarity we need everywhere. Groups of trade unionists came from the local area with their banners to deliver solidarity – and cakes.

Union reps from City and Islington College, Islington Teachers Association, and City of London Academy handed over collections ranging from £25 to £350. There was also a cake-laden delegation from Simpson Millar solicitors (who do work for the CWU union) and biscuits from local Labour MP Emily Thornberry.

The CWU members were in confident mood as the office struck as solidly as ever. “We have been striking in London since June, and our colleagues in N18 have been taking action since March,” one picket told Socialist Worker. “It's great to see the whole country out together now.”

Around 50 postal workers and their supporters had gathered on the picket line by 8am and they held an informal rally. They heard pledges of support from speakers including Emily Thornberry, Sean Vernell from the UCU executive, Ken Muller from the NUT and Charlie Kimber from the London Support Group.


There were nine workers on the picket line at Camberwell delivery office in south London today on the 17th day of strikes at the office.

Strikers' spirits are high, with all believing they have got management on the run and have a big chance of winning the dispute.


Esme Choonara reports from Waltham Forest. The solidarity was live and kicking outside Walthamstow delivery office this morning as strikers were buoyed by local trade unionists and supporters bringing banners, collections – and breakfast.

There were banners from Waltham Forest trades council, Waltham Forest local government Unison and the London Fire Brigade Unison.

Supporters queued to hand over collections from local workplaces and union branches. A local NUT rep had collected £50 in her school. Members of the newly-formed local support group brought £54 collected at Walthamstow tube the day before.

Around ten strikers were picketing the office. They all said the solidarity was very welcome, especially in light of the media onslaught against the post strikers.

Striker Jason, said, “It is great to see so much support, especially when everyone is suffering themselves under the recession.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the people we deliver to. We know we are doing the right thing by striking. And it’s good to know the whole country is out today.

“The government and Royal Mail seem to be in it together. They want to privatise the post – that’s what this is really about.”

Terry, the CWU rep, added, “The most important thing is that we are striking to defend a decent service. The post is still a public company and we are fighting to defend a service and to preserve jobs.”

Many of the strikers talked about how the post service has been run down in recent years. There was also a lot of anger that postal workers are expected to do unpaid overtime to get their work done.

Dave Knight, branch secretary of Waltham Forest Unison branch was one of a delegation of council workers who joined the picket. He told Socialist Worker, “Everyone in the public sector is facing cuts, bullying and privatisation – so this is a very important strike for us all.

“We had three postal workers in to speak at our branch meeting this week. They were very well received and we collected £44 from the people at the meeting.”


Bus workers at Metroline in North London have been building solidarity with the post strikers. Unite union reps at the company voted this week to donate £400 to the postal workers strike fund. Amanda, a driver at Cricklewood garage, collected a further £22 in her garage. She told Socialist Worker, “I took the collection down to the local delivery office on my way to work. The strikers were really pleased. It’s about building working class solidarity.”


Sussex

Bus driver Colin Frost Herbert reports: “There were about eight pickets at the Haywards Heath delivery office. Lots of passing motorists hooted in support. I took £18 collected from a handful of bus drivers that I could reach yesterday.

“I told them that more drivers gave than refused – an indication of the hidden support for fighting back is out there. I talked to them about one bus driver’s comment that British people would not fight because of lacking backbone.

“I talked to them about French workers who said the same about their own country folk back in the 1960s. They referred to strikes as the British disease, because they only appeared to happen in Britain.

“Then the biggest general strike in history took place in France in 1968. I told them that workers are the same the world over and that militancy travels to different lands at different times depending on the trigger of the moment.”


Luton

Luton distribution office was effectively picketed by more than 20 upbeat pickets.

Representatives of the PCS, NUT and TSSA unions came to show solidarity with the strikers.

Dave Barnes


Manchester

There was a solid picket of up to 20 strikers outside the delivery office in Fallowfield, South Manchester this morning.

One of the strikers told Socialist Worker that he was disgusted with Gordon Brown, and thought that Peter Mandelson had a personal determination to break the union and drive through the unfinished business of privatisation.

New starters in the office are not being offered full-time jobs, only a part-time contract of 24 hours a week. Bullying and harassment are rife.

Fallowfield is rumoured to be threatened with closure or alteration, meaning people calling in to collect parcels will have to travel several miles to Whally Range.

A local teacher brought down a collection from his school, which was well appreciated. They will be out again next Saturday.


The picket line at Oldham Street mail sorting centre yesterday was bolstered by support from groups including Manchester university students, Manchester trades council and Unite reps from Fujitsu.

The mood was buoyant and determined. Len Callahan, the area CWU rep with 32 years experience as a postal worker, said, 'The government has to keep it as a public service. The threat to bring in 30,000 casuals is inflammatory.'

He pointed out that several mail centres across the north west have been shut in the name of modernisation.

Oldham, Rochdale, Bolton, Stockport, Crewe and Liverpool mail centres have all been closed and many of those workers are now crammed into the Manchester centre, where over 1,600 workers now operate.

Tony Harper


St Albans, Hertfordshire

“This is the big one.” That was the view on the picket line outside St Albans delivery office at 7am.

“If we lose this one, we’re stuffed,” explained Alan. “It could be a long haul, but I’m confident. This is make or break.”

Pickets reported that the strike was the most solid at St Albans for years. Then the news came through on the union rep’s mobile that it was solid across the whole area.

Little wonder. Local management had ignored agreements to negotiate modernisation and install new machines. Instead, they had imposed extra deliveries for no extra pay. Computers dictate how long a round should take and there is constant pressure to increase work rates.

Many pickets were convinced Royal Mail had provoked the dispute. “Management want to break the union,” said Tony. “They’re Thatcherite in their willingness to bring the union down. They want to impose their will on us.”

Behind management stands the New Labour government and its privatisation plans. “We haven’t got a working class political party any more. New Labour represents big business.”

Everyone had a sense the stakes were high, and that Royal Mail would dig in. Colin was worried that if the dispute dragged on, people would lose heart.

But Alan disagreed with staggered strikes, and felt everyone should be out together. “We should be hitting them hard.”

The key will be to escalate, to send out delegations to other workplaces, to set up support groups, and to get collections going to sustain the strikers. Royal Mail should get no breathing space.

Paul Grace, CWU area delivery rep, sensed a new determination. “Our members are finally seeing the real character of bully-boy management, not interested in negotiation. If we lose this, they’ll walk all over us. We’re going to have to beat these people.”

Neil Faulkner


Teeside

Bernard Metcalf reports that the postal strike at Teesside mail centre brought processing and distribution members out on strike yesterday (Thursday) and delivery staff are out on strike today.

The feeling on the picket line is one of determination to win a fair and just settlement, and not to bow down to the bullying of the managers and Gordon Brown, and “minister without responsibility” Peter Mandelson.

Even scabbing managers themselves are having second thoughts about doing our work, after hearing “Lord” Mandelson refer to them as “not up to the job” and saying private TNT managers would do a better in there place.

Pickets in Luton

Pickets in Luton


Pickets in Cricklewood, north west London

Pickets in Cricklewood, north west London



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