Socialist Worker

Unofficial action brings post bosses to heel

In Oxford and east London postal workers show the way to fight back

Issue No. 1898

AFTER A 17-day unofficial work stoppage, Oxford postal workers have won a crucial battle. Their courageous stand against bullying and management's failure to take the issue seriously is a massive step forward for workers everywhere. Bullying occurs in every industry. Management invariably do nothing about it or actively instigate and encourage it. Oxford postal workers have shown how to fight back.

Bob Cullen, Oxfordshire CWU union area processing rep, told Socialist Worker, "The deal we are going back on is without doubt a victory. Management have clearly been thrown back by the action we took to ensure a safe environment at work. We have highlighted the issue in the starkest possible way and humiliated Royal Mail by showing to people across the country that they did not take appropriate action against a gang of thugs. We have changed the atmosphere at work.

People have come back bouncing and smiling. They don't like returning but they do like knowing they were right and the bosses were wrong. At the mass meeting a large number of people voted to continue the action. I fully appreciate why they wanted to go on and secure even greater concessions. But we went as far as we could as a single branch and realistically could only have secured more by achieving a wider stoppage.

The sort of deal we were offered made that unlikely and that is why the majority, even if only a small majority, thought it was time to go back with the very real gains we have made. I think every postal worker, and workers more generally, should celebrate what the mail centre workers have done. Let the message go out to management-if you let thugs run amok in the workplaces then we will take action to bring you to heel. Other people may talk about it, we act. I am extremely proud of the determination and resilience of the workforce at the mail centre and also at the delivery offices, Headington and Royal Mail House, which came out in our support."

The stoppage shows the power workers have. Local bosses screamed about unpaid bills, lost orders and missing payments. Oxford has big publishing firms, science companies and mail order firms which rely on the post to move their deliveries.

But the stoppage was also effective because it mobilised a wider solidarity from workers who recognised that this was a crucial issue. Firefighters, civil servants, journalists, health workers and others came to a support rally for the postal workers. One CWU member who voted to continue the protest told Socialist Worker, "I'm a bit disappointed we went back, but that doesn't mean I feel we lost. We won the great majority of our demands.

"I think we have to recognise that Royal Mail have changed tactics when offices go on strike. In most cases they don't move mail from strikebound offices to other areas for sorting. They know this would probably lead to solidarity walkouts and a wider strike. Instead they stockpile the mail. This is largely what happened during the big unofficial strike last year and it happened again here. Officially our strike has held up 5 million items from delivery. But the true figure is nearer 10 million. That's power, but it also means that to get wider action other offices have to walk out even if they are not directly asked to handle strikers' mail. We must not let offices in struggle get isolated. We have to stick together."

Royal Mail boss Allan Leighton has repeatedly says he wants the post to be "a great place to work". Oxford workers have made it at least a bit better by defeating Leighton and his management crew.

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    The deal in Oxford

    OXFORD POSTAL workers walked out on 30 March against management's failure to take action against harassment and bullying inside and outside work. The deal agreed on Thursday of last week means:

  • An independent investigation into the bullying, threats and physical and verbal assaults at the mail centre.

  • The removal of most of the alleged thugs from the mail centre while the investigation takes place.

  • "Punitive measures" in response to the walkout are greatly reduced compared to those which management originally wanted. Workers became eligible for overtime on Monday this week, just three days after the protest finished.

    Management insisted that union facility time would be removed for an extended period and that union reps would have to return to their work duties. But although the agreement says this will happen, in practice reps have kept much of their facility time.

    Victory in east London

    'The management seized on lies. This appeal has vindicated us'

    By Angie Mulcahy the CWU union area processing rep in east London

    After an unofficial strike in January and then a vote for official strikes, workers in east London are cheering an appeal ruling that overturns the wrongful sacking of two colleagues.

    'BOBBY AND Galten, suspended from work at East London Mail Centre on 18 November last year and sacked on 31 January, have been totally exonerated. We are left with a feeling of deep relief, but also anger at what has happened. Bobby and Galten should never have been charged, suspended or sacked. They have been on an emotional rollercoaster for months-and the tension was very high last week when we received the decision of the national appeals panel on their case. The charges were that the lads had intimidated a witness or witnesses to a disciplinary case. The appeal decision arrived at their homes by registered letter.

    I met with them both in the morning to support them during this stressful and nerve-racking day. When the envelopes arrived they handed them both to me and we tore them open.

    Inside was a 28-page report from the appeals panel. This panel is made up of a Royal Mail manager, an independent QC and a member of the CWU union executive. We tried to read through the thousands of words but then jumped to the conclusion. As we have been trying to get management to recognise throughout, the charges against Bobby and Galten were dismissed and their sackings were revoked.

    The decision was unanimous-the manager said we were right! Following our initial relief that the right decision had finally emerged, we then read further.

    We found that the questions we had raised about procedural matters, the reliability of the accusers, the bias of the immediate managers and those who pulled their strings were picked up, accepted and even elaborated on by the appeals panel.

    Charges such as "subterfuge" and "fitted up" are all laid at the door of management in this case. To say this is a win for East London, the boys and the CWU union is true-but at what cost?

    They have faced five months of not knowing whether they would get their jobs back. All of this was a result of management seizing on lies. This case is not concluded. The fight for justice goes on. It is chilling to think that Bobby and Galten would have stayed sacked if it had not been for a strong union and the support of their fellow workers.

    I shudder to think what goes on in offices where the CWU is not so strong. Bobby, Galten and all of us at the mail centre send thanks to everyone who supported them. We always knew we were right and now we have this decision that has vindicated us.'

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    Article information

    Sat 24 Apr 2004, 00:00 BST
    Issue No. 1898
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