Socialist Worker

How we posted a yes vote - Royal Mail workers discuss their ballot for strikes

Postal workers have delivered an 89.1 percent vote for strikes on a 73.7 percent turnout, smashing the thresholds under Tory anti-union laws. Nick Clark spoke to postal workers about how they built the ballot

Issue No. 2574

CWU union members at a gate meeting in north London last month

CWU union members at a gate meeting in north London last month (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Postal workers in Royal Mail have delivered an 89.1 percent vote for strikes on a 73.7 percent turnout, smashing the thresholds under Tory anti-union laws. The CWU union has announced that 72,873 workers voted for action, just 8,954 voted against.

The CWU union has run a campaign to smash through the 50 percent turnout threshold the Tories forced on ballots to stop strikes from happening. The result—a thumping success for workers’ organisation.

Union leaders and rank and file workers knew in advance they had run a successful campaign.

At the World Transformed festival in Brighton last week Tony Kearns, CWU senior deputy general secretary, had rightly predicted the result could be “the biggest yes vote we’ve ever had in an industrial action ballot in Royal Mail.”

Mark Dolan, a CWU area delivery rep in north London told Socialist Worker, “I think it’s going to be the biggest yes vote and more importantly the biggest turnout there’s been in a big dispute anywhere in many, many years.”

“I know for a fact we’ve smashed the 50 percent threshold.”

That high turnout didn’t come out of nowhere. CWU activists pushed hard for it with a campaign that actively involved thousands—if not tens of thousands—of rank and file union members.

Mass meetings have drawn postal workers together at workplaces across Britain. A torrent of pictures on social media shows workers supporting the yes vote at their gates, in their canteens, or on the office floor.

They reached their high point with a “national gate meeting day” last month. The CWU said thousands of meetings have taken place overall.

Organising in work to build the yes vote

Organising in work to build the yes vote (Pic: The Communications Union/Facebook)


CWU Eastern Region secretary Paul Moffatt told Socialist Worker that the meetings were “probably the best thing we could have done”.

“The turnout at the meetings has been fantastic,” he said. “The mood has been positive and the general message is that people are now up for a fight with Royal Mail.”

Although the initiative came from leaders at the top of the union, it was up to regional and workplace reps to organise the campaign. That focus on direct contact with the rank and file has strengthened and reinvigorated the union’s organisation.

Paul said, “We’ve not been out on a national dispute since 2009. And this is the first real test of the new anti-union legislation.

“We needed to get out to our members—we needed face-to-face meetings, not just literature.”

Mark explained, “For me the meetings are a way of sharing information and rallying the troops.

“When I had meetings after the ballot papers came out I got people to do a show of hands of who had voted yes. It was a good way of indicating how the ballot was going.

Units

“After the gate meetings a lot of units brought their ballot papers into work and walked out together to post their ballot papers one-by-one.”

He added that the pictures of meetings shared across social media were more than just a show of strength. They encouraged workers in other offices to organise their own.

At the same time, CWU deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger kept union members up to date on the dispute with regular video messages posted on Facebook.

“Without a doubt there’s been a big push to use social media,” said Mark. “People were keen to get on the union’s WhatsApp groups.

“It’s helped in terms of getting the vote out and demonstrating that this is a national dispute. It gave encouragement to other reps who might have been nervous to have meetings.

“And it probably put some reps under pressure because members were seeing what was going on and asking when their meeting was.”

Postal workers know that they’ll lose thousands of pounds from their pensions, and conditions will change drastically for the worse if Royal Mail management get their way (see right).

They also know Royal Mail is still raking in profits—and that their directors pay themselves hundreds of thousands of pounds each year.

Queuing up to post votes for strikes

Queuing up to post votes for strikes (Pic: The Communications Union/Facebook)


So efforts by Royal Mail management to derail the vote have only fuelled people’s anger.

Relentless postcards sent to workers’ houses—and even messages to their handheld PDA delivery devices telling them to vote no—have backfired.

Peter Hall is branch secretary of the CWU’s Cleveland Amal branch. He told Socialist Worker, “I’ve heard some people say they’re getting 20-30 messages a week to their PDAs.

“But the more people receive the more it winds them up. Some people find it insulting—it’s like the people high above think the average postie is a little bit thick. They insult people’s intelligence and it gets people’s backs up. In a way they’re doing our job for us.”

And JP, who works in a mail centre said, “We have had a barrage of postcards and letters from Royal Mail urging us to vote no. These have included threats aimed at our terms and conditions if we choose to strike.

“Every Monday the night shift gets a ‘work time learning session’. This includes ten minutes of ‘Royal Mail TV’, which in recent weeks has been full of anti-strike propaganda.

“But the mood at my mail centre is very positive. When strike days do come I feel there will be very few, if any, who will consider crossing the picket line.”

The number of unofficial walkouts has also grown as the ballot campaign has gone on. Drivers at Royal Mail’s national distribution centre in Northampton walked out on Tuesday of last week in a dispute over annual leave.

Regional bosses are constantly looking for ways to cut costs and increase workloads.

Unofficial

Paul said, “People are so fed up with the way they’ve been treated at work that there have been a lot of unofficial strikes. And they’ve been up and down the country, not just in isolated pockets, so you can see that’s a national trend. People have just had enough.”

The CWU’s campaign reflected and encouraged that anger, feeding it into the ballot campaign.

CWU activist Mark Dolan speaking to union members during the ballot

CWU activist Mark Dolan speaking to union members during the ballot (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Now the fight is on to win the dispute itself.

Paul added, “I think Royal Mail want to take us on. A shareholder was quoted in the Financial Times saying they didn’t believe there would be industrial action.

“That’s changed now. With the lack of movement from the directors, I think they want to test our mettle.”

And Mark said, “We’ll have to take action. We’ve built the aspirations of our members quite high now.

“They aren’t going to take it too kindly if they’ve delivered a vote and headquarters come back with a shit deal.”

The union should call a strike quickly—and it must be for more than one day. And it should keep on fighting until workers have won. “I think we’re going to go out and I think it’s going to be 48 hours,” said Mark.

Any deal must guarantee a pension scheme for all workers in the industry, not just those who’ve worked there the longest. It must give workers an above-inflation pay rise, not one linked to productivity deals.

It must guarantee that workers aren’t forced to change their hours to fit in with Royal Mail’s profit drive. And it must give workers a shorter working week—without loss of pay.

A serious fightback by Royal Mail workers can win all of these demands—and encourage action elsewhere too.

Activists in other trade unions have taken notice of the CWU’s campaign. The civil service workers’ PCS union has started building a similar campaign over pay—with lunchtime protests and members’ meetings in workplaces.

The postal workers have shown all the other unions the way to win a ballot and beat the thresholds—now they have to show how to win a strike.

Sending a message to the bosses - at Royal Mail HQ

Sending a message to the bosses - at Royal Mail HQ (Pic: The Communications Union/Facebook)


Bosses’ goal is a part-time, low paid zero hours workforce

Royal Mail workers face a huge attack on their pensions, pay and conditions. Bosses want to force through changes aimed at completely transforming what it’s like to work for Royal Mail—for the worse.

A planned new pension scheme could cost some workers thousands of pounds. Bosses want to scrap the various pension schemes workers are currently on and replace them with a “defined contribution” scheme.

This means less would be paid into the scheme throughout workers’ careers. And the amount paid out depends on how well bosses have invested the scheme in the stock market.

Royal Mail bosses also have ambitions to scrap various allowances workers are paid for taking on extra duties—meaning many face a pay cut.

Bosses haven’t offered a pay rise. Instead they have offered a £350 pound lump sum this year, followed by well below-inflation increases of 1.5 percent in the following years.

Adding insult to injury, that offer came with strings attached imposing “self-management” where “teams” of workers organise deliveries and sick leave themselves.

Restructure

It’s just part of bosses’ grand plan to entirely restructure the workforce in the wake of privatisation. One of the biggest attacks involves moving delivery times back, so that there’s only one delivery a day—in the afternoon.

This means that workers would have to reorganise their lives around new shift patterns—and it could mean tearing up hard-won protections for workers’ rights.

It’s a huge step towards bosses’ overall goal of slashing Royal Mail’s distribution network and introducing a new part-time, casual workforce. This includes closing big mail centres.

“This is the end game for us,” said Paul. “We’ll end up with a workforce like the other private delivery companies such as DHL. That’s hire and fire, come in when we need you, work as long as we need you then go home. And that’ll be on a minimum wage and reduced hours, part-time working.

“If we don’t take them on now it sends the wrong message to Royal Mail and the shareholders that a private company can do what it likes, and the union’s got no power.”


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