Socialist Worker

Bitter battle heats up as 400 walk out

Issue No. 1870

ON FRIDAY of last week over 400 postal workers in Oxford's mail centre walked out unofficially on strike. An Oxford CWU union rep told Socialist Worker, 'Union headquarters sent out an excellent circular detailing the attacks from the top of Royal Mail. Our reps wanted to distribute it to the members.

'Management stepped in and tried to stop them. That was bad enough in itself, but I think many people felt it was a foretaste of what was to come if they break union organisation and get a whip hand over us. 'Mail centre workers walked out. It was a very important statement of the strength that the union still has.'

The next morning workers at the Headington delivery office also came out in a tremendous show of solidarity. At a mass meeting on Sunday Oxford workers voted narrowly to return to work. But the next morning management carried out new provocations.

They approached other offices such as Swindon, Gloucester, Reading, Southampton and Plymouth to handle Oxford mail. Reps believed this was preparation for strikes. Extra managers were drafted into Headington and delivery arrangements altered without agreement.

As tension grew, news came in that postal workers in Reading had walked out for 40 minutes. Then at 2.30pm management told workers at Oxford mail centre that they were going to impose changes to a whole range of disputed issues. They also announced all overtime was cancelled and there would be new leave regulations. The bullying tone meant that even some managers at the meeting were shaking their heads.

A driver was then told to take mail to Swindon, off his normal delivery route. He refused and was sacked on the spot.

He was told the police would be called and he would be charged with theft if he tried to move his van. A second driver was suspended and two more drivers were threatened with suspension. At about 4pm the vast majority of the workforce walked out. An acting manager was ordered back into uniform for supporting the walkout.

Workers then voted to return to work if management went though normal procedures over the sacking. This was hurled back in their faces as managers announced all union facility time was withdrawn for one month.

Workers voted overwhelmingly to continue the strike-which quickly spread to East Oxford, Kidlington and the Royal Mail Centre. Other delivery offices were expected to come out on Wednesday.

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Sat 27 Sep 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1870
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