Postal workers are building for strikes against government plans to sell off Royal Mail. Ministers have announced that it could be privatised in as little as six weeks.
The sell-off goes further than even Margaret Thatcher dared. The government wants to float the 500 year old postal service on the stock market for an estimated £3 billion.
A massive 96 percent of postal workers said that they were opposed to privatisation, in a consultative ballot by their Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) in June.
It is now holding a ballot for the first national post strike in four years. “A lot of workers are describing it as the fight of their lives” Dave Fuller, a post worker from Oxford, told Socialist Worker.
“There are workers who can’t afford to strike, but are saying they can’t afford not to strike because under privatisation their wages and terms and conditions will be heavily impacted in the future.”
The ballot opens on Friday of this week and is set to run until 3 October. Workers are pulling out all the stops to build a yes vote, so they can disrupt the sell-off and put an end to the privatisation plans.
Around 2,000 furious CWU reps faced down Royal Mail boss Moya Greene in Birmingham on Thursday of last week. The union had invited Greene to speak at the union meeting, in order to get paid leave for reps to attend.
She was heckled and booed when she tried to describe her plans for workers’ pay as fair. In the end she was forced to take enraged questions from the floor.
Later, CWU general secretary Billy Hayes spoke about the dispute. And workers from the floor questioned what kind of industrial action it would involve. Reps stressed that the government is weak, and that the postal workers beat back attacks from Thatcher. They also stressed the need for serious action.
The last dispute was derailed in December 2009, when a solid strike was called off just as it was causing massive disruption to the Christmas post. Many reps expressed concern that many members “feel it wasn’t enough in 2009”, and that “members will remember being disappointed when action was called off”.
Deputy general secretary Dave Ward assured reps, “If we call a 24 hour strike, we want to coincide that with the biggest national demonstration of postal workers since 1971.
“We want you to come in coaches and we want it to coincide with action by members in Post Office Limited who have been out already 11 times this year”.
Billy Hayes stressed that “If there’s a victory for postal workers that will give heart to those in the NHS, to others in this country under attack”.
Reps were buoyed by the meeting. Paul Garraway, a rep from CWU South Central Number One branch, told Socialist Worker. “Greene convinced nobody. My branch certainly came away feeling that there was a momentum happening in the union to get the strike going.
“Our office in East Oxford is out on strike for a day on 27 September over the sacking of two workers. The reps’ meeting has now given us a lift to go out there and get a big yes vote in the strike ballot.”
'We won't be bought'
The government claims that the 150,000 Royal Mail staff will receive a 10 percent stake in the company under privatisation.
It promises up to £2,000 each and around £90 each in dividend payments in the first year. But privatisation will cost workers much more.
“Workers know the shares are an attempt to try and lure them into accepting desperately needed quick cash at the cost of less terms and conditions under a privatised company,” Dave Fuller, a post worker in East Oxford, told Socialist Worker.
“But workers also know that Royal Mail made £404 million last year and we should get our share of that.”