The postal workers have not been defeated or crushed. Instead their fightback has been curtailed by the CWU union leaders’ decision to conclude an “interim agreement” and halt the action.
They were wrong to call off the strikes in this very important dispute.
As the documents highlighted in Socialist Worker show (» Secret management documents exposed) Royal Mail management and the government had a strategy to ram through “modernisation” – job cuts, harsh new conditions and brutally intensified workloads – through bullying and by sidelining the union. In the next phase the union itself would be crushed.
But these plans have faced substantial opposition. The union was slow to call national action, and this meant that huge changes were railroaded through offices across Britain before the strikes began.
But eventually the pressure from below forced a national strike ballot. The subsequent national strikes have been almost totally solid and the dispute became a significant element in the government’s political crisis. Far from the public spurning the postal workers, a poll for the BBC showed that while 50 percent backed the workers, and only 25 percent supported management.
This was further evidence of the huge well of support that a fightback can get at the moment because of the growing class anger over working people being asked to pay for the crisis.
The decision to call off the strikes has provoked widespread anger among workers – and no wonder. Royal Mail have made some concessions, but on key issues such as withdrawing imposed change the agreement only offers talks.
These talks will go on until the end of the year.
As many postal workers said this morning, “They will string us along until after Christmas, and then stuff us. Why didn’t we keep going when we were strong?”
As workers grudgingly walked in to work today they found the same bullying managers in place, the same excessive workloads, the same lack of respect and the same pressure for cuts.
This deal does not in any way match the resolve of the strikers – particularly those in London, the South West of England, and parts of Scotland who have held up to 19 days of strikes.
This does not mean it will satisfy the hawks in the government and management. They wanted much more blood, to leave the union in tatters, and to clear the way for swift privatisation.
To quote the Daily Mail, “Nothing has been resolved – there's no consensus on modernization… the long overdue reform of Spanish practices remains to be tackled.
“The major problems facing the business – militant unions, incompetent management, weak politicians, technological change and aggressive competitors – haven't been considered. Only privatisation can save the Royal Mail now.”
The battle in the post is not over. Further outbursts and strikes remain possible, particularly if management push too hard.
Postal workers much fight to get the action back on, and not to waste the mood.
There is also a massive political issue raised and heightened during the strike – what sort of political representation workers need. The vicious attacks from Lord Mandelson, and the government’s support for management, left many workers bitterly angry at Labour and open to the need for a left alternative. The task of building that alternative cannot be ignored.
The government has not got what it wanted – an example to drag in front of every public sector worker to show the futility of resistance to the cuts that are coming like an avalanche.
The broader struggle in the working class is still growing – partly inspired by the postal workers’ fight.
The bins strike in Leeds and Brighton, the British Airways dispute, the all-out strike at Superdrug, the strikes at First Bus and East London Bus Group, the firefighters’ disputes, the strikes at Fujitsu, the strike ballot at Diageo and a series of other battles are evidence of the readiness to fight. But calling off the post strikes is also evidence of the need to develop a much stronger rank and file and socialist presence in the unions.
The support groups that have been organised during the post strikes are a sign of how people can work together to raise the level of struggle and deliver solidarity. The Right to Work conference on 30 January is the place for these activists and hundreds like them to get together.
And anyone inspired by the fightback should think about joining the SWP.
A Royal Mail source quoted in the press today gets it wrong when they say, “The stumbling block to a solution was a small group of union activists in London who seemed to think they were fighting a class war. They were being driven on by the Socialist Workers Party.”
But it is true that the stumbling block was the defiance of the great majority of postal workers and wider solidarity – and the SWP is proud to have played its part in that.
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