A BITTER battle has been taking place which raises issues relevant to every worker. Over two weeks ago postal workers at Oxford mail centre stopped work in protest at management's failure to take action against a gang of bullies in the office. Hundreds of workers remained out as Socialist Worker went to press. Other postal workers were discussing how best to support them, with some arguing for immediate walkouts.
There is already solidarity locally. Workers at the Headington delivery office walked out on Tuesday of last week and then, on Thursday, workers at Oxford's Royal Mail House also stopped-even though it meant many of them risking all their Easter holiday pay.
Steve Gill, a CWU union processing rep at the mail centre, told Socialist Worker, 'Management could have taken action and avoided this dispute. Instead they brushed the issue under the carpet. We are not prepared to accept a regime of fear and intimidation in the workplace. 'Nor should we be punished for standing up for basic rights.'
At a rally last week trade unionists from the surrounding area came to pledge their support. Doug Williamson, from the nearby Macmillan publishing firm, said, 'During our own strike last year postal workers refused to cross picket lines. Now we want to return that solidarity.'
Health worker Tracey Ellicott said, 'Bullying is rife in the NHS and management does not treat it seriously. The issue you have raised is one that is important for all of us.' Paul Hardcastle, a civil servant, told Socialist Worker, 'I was a postal worker for 15 years. Management use bullying as a tool against the workforce. They are right to fight and defend union rights.'
Winston Palmer, a union rep at the mail centre, had a question for Royal Mail chief Allan Leighton: 'Are you going to stand on the side of those who have exposed bullying and intimidation or are you going to stand with the local bosses? 'We could not wait any longer for action over this issue.'
Oxford postal workers have an excellent record. In November 1990 they struck unofficially over sexual harassment and forced the issue to national prominence in the Post Office.
In almost every case they have been the first branch to walk out in support of other branches in struggle. That is why Royal Mail management don't like them. And it is why every postal worker should now be pushing for solidarity with the Oxford protest. The best form of support would be for other offices across Britain to stop work, hold their own 'safety protests' and not go back until Oxford workers get the justice they so richly deserve.
'What our protest is really about'
POSTAL WORKERS at Oxford Mail Centre walked out on 30 March in protest at the harassment and bullying that had been taking place both in and outside their office. Almost a week earlier, seven part time workers there had attacked a postal worker in the office's canteen area. The attackers went on to threaten the postman further and they also visited his son's school.
A similar group of attackers also went to the home of the union's area processing rep and tried to intimidate him. Managers promised to investigate the canteen incident. But a few days later staff arriving for work found that a worker suspended in connection with the canteen incident was also back at work-as an acting manager!
Some staff threatened to walk out in protest. As a result, this individual was sent home. But then another manager confronted a postal worker, made disparaging remarks about his character and accused him of physical assault. When the manager was not suspended 39 workers walked out in protest for 45 minutes.
In response managers sent a letter stating that punitive measures would be taken against the 39. This all helped to create the atmosphere that led to the total walkout on 30 March.
Postal workers want to work in an environment that has a zero tolerance approach to harassment and bullying. They also want the local management to treat the wellbeing of their staff seriously. Management has agreed to an independent inquiry into the issues raised by the Oxford postal workers.
But they have not given any firm decision to remove or suspend the individuals concerned until after an inquiry has been completed. The management team has also stated that punitive measures will be taken against all who walked out.
These measures include suspension of overtime for a period of time and suspension of facility time for CWU branch officers and reps for three months. We also believe individual reps will be targeted. As you can imagine, the Oxfordshire postal workers are not prepared to return to work while the threat of punitive action remains.
Extracts from the appeal by Oxfordshire postal CWU branch committee.
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