Stab in back for NDO fight
PLANNED OFFICIAL strike action by postal workers in north and north west London collapsed last week. It was not the fault of the union members. It was the result of the cowardice of union leaders.
Billy Hayes, the new general secretary, faced a big test just one week into his term of office, and he comprehensively failed it. The big NDO office and other sites were supposed to be on strike on Friday of last week and Monday of this week.
The action was in protest at Royal Mail's plan to close NDO, forcibly transfer workers to other areas and take 1,300 jobs out of north London. NDO has a proud record of taking unofficial action. But union leaders insisted that this time there should be a proper ballot and full compliance with the anti-union laws.
For the last nine months there has been an energetic campaign. This has included a big public meeting and a demonstration of around 600 people through Islington. Union leaders delayed a strike ballot for a long time. But eventually it took place, and workers voted four to one for action. On the eve of the strike Royal Mail threatened to take the union to court. Management said it was more than 28 days since the end of ballot and that therefore the strike was illegal.
The union said it had agreed with Royal Mail that to smooth negotiations there would be an extension of the 28-day period.
This is allowed under New Labour's rights at work legislation. At first union leaders said they would stand up to the legal threats. But they soon had second thoughts. At around 9.15pm on the night before the strike was to start general secretary Billy Hayes issued a letter to members at NDO instructing them to work normally. Union officials were sent to speak to parts of the night shift to stop them striking, and to split them off from the sections that it was too late to stop from striking the next morning.
At 5.30am the office was quiet. Hundreds of workers who had not heard the news of the betrayal had stayed away. Those who did come to the office to picket were met by a posse of managers who were armed with Hayes's letter.
They approached union reps, gave them the letter, and then asked if they were going to work. The implication was clear-your union has abandoned you, and we will sack you if you don't come in.
Workers discussed what to do and felt they had no alternative but to go in. There is bitter anger at NDO that they were so utterly let down by the top of the union. Management were very much on the defensive a fortnight ago because of the strength of the campaign. Now they feel much more confident. The only hope is for workers to regroup and fight unofficially as jobs start to leave NDO this week.
The recent strike victories in the post have come from rank and file solidarity. This defeat is solely down to the national leadership. It is a lesson for the future.
If Billy Hayes runs away from a potential threat of court action, he is not going to stand up to the government and smash plans for privatisation of the Post Office. The rank and file must urgently build the networks to fight independently.
"I CAN hardly believe what has happened. We voted for Billy Hayes because he was supposed to be against the sell-out attitude of people like John Keggie. Now he has done us over. Why didn't he come to NDO and talk to the members himself? Why didn't he address us and go through the words as required by the law but with a nod and a wink to us to strike? Any old rotten right winger can tell you to surrender-you don't need a left winger for that. It's no good Billy Hayes talking about the revolt in Seattle and globalisation if he's not prepared to fight the bosses in his own backyard. We did everything the union leaders demanded of us. It's their fault it went wrong. In this situation they were management's best friends."
- CWU MEMBER at NDO
ROYAL Mail managers have backed down from their earlier position after strike action hit deliveries in key areas of Essex this week with a series of 24 and 48 hour strikes.
The offices involved were Woodford Green, Barking, Harold Hill, Romford, Rainham, Loughton, Hornchurch and Dagenham. The official action took place after managers took away the trip payment bonus that is paid on mail volume (the more mail you get through over a certain threshold, the more you get paid).
This is a system that management demanded. But they went cold on it when they had to pay out large amounts. Now suddenly they say the sums don't add up. The result is that each worker is owed �800, and we want this back. Each and every one of us was prepared to do whatever it takes to get our money. Management are now talking and have offered some money, but not enough.
The strike was a brilliant success, involving hundreds of workers. We even got on ITV news at six o'clock and got great support from the public. We worked together as a team over this, side by side, office by office, rank and file trade union members with one aim.
We have proved that solidarity can win now and in the future for all workers And if we don't get a decent deal we won't hesitate to go back to the picket lines to get what is rightly ours.
- KEN PENFOLD, CWU Member
SHEFFIELD POST workers have voted for strikes in a dispute over working conditions. The local union reps know they now have to call action. The first strike is likely to take place next Tuesday, 17 July. A further strike could take place on 31 July.