Royal Mail is using divide and rule tactics in a bid to prevent postal workers resuming their industrial action in the run up to Christmas – and, if the union doesn’t act quickly, there is a danger its strategy may work.
Bosses and the leaders of the CWU union signed an “interim agreement” earlier this month that put an end to national strike action.
It stipulated that the company must negotiate changes to workers’ terms and conditions rather than using “executive action”, which forces through job losses and new working practices without the union’s agreement.
But it is clear that managers in some parts of the country – including east of England, Essex and London – are continuing their rampage.
They are refusing to even discuss the most contentious changes, such as new delivery rounds that cannot be completed in normal working hours.
Elsewhere, however, Royal Mail seems determined to “soften up” the union, and is apparently prepared to enter negotiations.
“This smells like a set up to me,” says Ryan Ward, a senior union rep in Romford, Essex. “They are trying to turn us against each other.
“Managers here are being deliberately obstructive. Last week I asked for a meeting to discuss the executive action imposed on delivery offices. I was given a flat ‘no’.
“Instead they said they wanted to talk about doing a deal to ensure that Christmas working patterns were to their advantage.”
A few miles east in Chelmsford, union branch secretary Johnny Hunt feels that Royal Mail has singled out Essex for attack.
He says, “The interim agreement says clearly that there should be no settling of scores and that there should be a period of calm.
“If that’s the case, why did managers at our mail centre choose to sack one of our reps on trumped-up charges when all our senior reps were attending a meeting in London?
“I believe that this was a calculated act of revenge on the union. We asked for our local strikes to be put back on after Royal Mail refused to enter meaningful negotiations about changes to our conditions.”
In north London, senior CWU rep Mark Dolan told Socialist Worker that management’s failure to honour the interim agreement means the union is in danger of losing credibility with its members.
He says, “People are rightly asking questions, such as why has only some of the mail that was due to return to our mail centres come back?
“Why has the amount of overtime not returned to normal? And why are our people still being bullied by managers?
“The London division of the union has agreed that if there is no progress on these issues by the middle of this week, we will be demanding a return to national strike action.”
The national union’s postal executive was set to meet on Wednesday of this week to discuss its response to the catalogue of local attacks. It is facing calls to restart strikes before Christmas.
But there are many within the union’s leadership who are absolutely opposed to this, fearing it will scupper any opportunity to reach a deal with Royal Mail.
They are highlighting the areas where management are negotiating, saying they prove the deal can be made to work.
This is a dangerous strategy and risks leaving those areas at the brunt of the company’s assault to fight alone.
Crucially, it ignores the Royal Mail strategy document, published in Socialist Worker last month.
This shows that management is determined to string out talks to avoid strikes during the Christmas period, only to return to the attack in the new year.
It is clear that the “interim agreement” was part of this plan.
The agreement allows management to repeat the lie that the dispute is about CWU London’s refusal to agree to working practices in place in the rest of the country.
Postal workers in the capital have already taken 19 days of strike action seeking to secure national agreements between Royal Mail and the union.
Are they to be told by their union that they must either fight on their own or accept management’s attacks?
Both Ryan and Johnny are against this and want their union leaders to resume the national strikes.
“Personally, I don’t have a problem with words in the interim agreement,” says Ryan. “But there just doesn’t seem to be any sign of Royal Mail sticking to them.
“I worry that our leaders have lost the stomach for a fight.”
Johnny is more hopeful. He says that if the union explains the issues clearly to the members there is every reason to believe they would be prepared to fight.
“We need to tell our members the truth,” he says. “Royal Mail is out to divide and rule us. Once it has isolated and defeated the stronger areas, it will announce a new wave of attacks on the weaker ones.
“I believe that if we get that message across, there’s not a part of the country that will want to stand aside.”
Postal workers can sign a petition calling for the resumption of national strikes at » www.petitiononline.com/CWU1109/petition.html