The strikes at Royal Mail are a clear sign of the growing bitterness in working class Britain.
The burning anger on picket lines on Thursday and Friday last week was ignited by management’s attacks on conditions and its attempt to break the union.
Everywhere there was a visceral hatred of management. Bosses are charged with bullying and lining their own pockets with bonuses while workers are forced into unpaid overtime.
But the anger is also fired by years of betrayal – and there’s nothing worse than being betrayed by someone you once thought was your friend.
The Labour government is 100 percent behind Royal Mail in this fight, despite the postal workers’ union handing the party millions of pounds of its members’ money.
The name “Mandelson” was bandied around picket lines as though it were swear word.
Almost everyone expects that if the company gets its way, there will be another attempt to privatise the Royal Mail.
Many strikers were quick to generalise from their own dispute to talk about the war in Afghanistan, the bankers’ bailout and bonuses, and the coming cuts in public spending.
All attempts by the bosses, government and media to intimidate the union backfired. The strikes were completely solid, despite claims of an “army” of casual workers to do the strikers’ jobs.
The picture at Romford mail centre in Essex was typical. Bosses there had insisted that the over 200 casual workers employed on three-month contracts in the area would do the work of the strikers.
Early pickets expected to see a convoy of scabs – but by 6am the mail centre’s gates were shut and only a dozen casuals had gone in.
The strikers were buoyant.
“All week we’ve had the papers going on about these 30,000 casuals that Royal Mail is supposed to have recruited to break us. Well, where are they then?” asked senior CWU union rep, Ryan Ward.
There was a similar mood at the Edinburgh APC distribution depot.
Alec, a former Labour Party member, told Socialist Worker, “I believe this could be the most significant strike since the Miners’ Strike.”
One striker in Glasgow said, “Management 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 talked about the way the stakes in the dispute are rapidly rising and said that they were disappointed with the way their union is appealing for mediation, rather than rallying troops for war.
They are right to be wary, and the determination on the picket line points to a different way to win this vital dispute – escalate the action and appeal for class solidarity to sustain it.