Give Blair a sorting
By Charlie Kimber
THE POSTAL workers' CWU union conference this week offered a direct challenge to the government. Delegates made it clear that there will be strikes if there is any attempt to privatise any part of the Post Office. An emergency debate on Sunday followed reports that Post Office bosses are poised to hand over sections of sorting and delivery work to a private firm, Siemens.
Union leaders can feel the pressure from below. "I believe we are months away from a national postal strike," CWU deputy general secretary John Keggie told the conference. Opening the debate on privatisation, Pete Keenlyside from Greater Manchester said, "The sharks are circling. The private companies are after our business and the pale pink sharks of the Labour government are ready to back them. Stephen Byers openly boasts he could achieve what a Tory government couldn't manage. If they go for it they'll find us kicking, screaming, punching and fighting."
Earlier the conference voted to back a campaign against all anti-union laws. Peter Boswell from Oxfordshire said, to huge applause: "I'm sickened when I see a Labour government and Tony Blair boasting we have the most restrictive union laws in the Western world. They should be bloody ashamed of it."
Billy Butterworth from Merseyside said, "Is it any wonder that people call for severing of the links with the Labour Party when anti-union laws don't get challenged? I also tell our union leaders that when official action spills over into unofficial action you can't continue to say, 'Get back to work-you're breaking the law'."
Derek Durkin, from Scotland No 2 branch and the Scottish Socialist Party candidate in Edinburgh East, said, "More and more people are ready to stand up to employers and people who oppress us. The CWU has to get on board with that feeling in society."
The conference did not just concern itself with matters relating to the industry. Delegates voted to support asylum seekers and condemn politicians who whip up racism. There were only two votes against, out of 1,100. Amarjite Singh from south east Wales condemned "the press and government ministers who are creating a climate of fear. We condemn the degrading, divisive and stigmatising treatment of asylum seekers."
Chris Murphy from Manchester added, "The government and the opposition have tried to outbid each other in their statements over asylum seekers. Six miles away from my office, in Oldham, you can see the results. The BNP are trying to cash in from the problems in the area."
Ramon Corria from South Wales said, "In Cardiff prison there are 50 asylum seekers locked up." The conference also voted for an emergency motion from Oldham and Rochdale which condemned the BNP and National Front for whipping up racism and "forcing Asians to defend themselves" in Oldham.
The first day of the conference showed a determined mood to fight back against the government's plans for a second term in office. Union general secretary Derek Hodgson told delegates in his opening address to look at the manifestos to see why they should vote Labour. Not a single delegate applauded him.
Sections of the union leadership are trying to move left to catch up with the mood on the ground. There have been repeated strikes by post office workers, including a mass walkout two weeks ago. Executive member Pat O'Hara was applauded when he said, "I tell the employers that not only will we defend people on official strike, but we are also going to stand with those who strike unofficially."
However, many delegates have learnt that to continue and develop the fight in the future requires building rank and file organisation, and a political challenge to New Labour.
ABOUT 800 postal workers in Sheffield walked out on Friday of last week over management attempts to impose changes to working conditions. More than 150 workers at the city's Pond Street delivery centre decided to strike illegally at 4am.
They were supported by more than 600 workers at the Brightside Lane mail depot who walked out in sympathy. Pressure was growing this week for strikes across the whole of Yorkshire.