POSTAL workers across Britain have begun a strike ballot at long last. It has been called by the CWU union in opposition to management plans to launch a joint venture with one of Britain's nastiest multinationals. Bosses want to transfer CWU union members in the Romec cleaning and maintenance section to a new company 49 percent owned by construction group Balfour Beatty. After weeks of delay the ballot began last week.
It is a great opportunity to defend public services against the privatisers. But there is an air of unreality about the process because the union machine is awash with rumours of a deal that will stop a strike. In fact, despite intensive efforts by CWU deputy general secretary John Keggie, no deal had been agreed at the start of this week.
There is furious debate inside the union's postal executive over whether to accept any proposals that nod through the privatisation of Romec. One section of the executive argues that the privatisation should be allowed if there are sufficient concessions over workers' transfer rights. Another section on the executive does not want to accept privatisation at any cost.
One member of the executive told Socialist Worker, 'It's time to stand and fight on the whole issue of joint ventures, 'liberalisation' of the market and the government's policy of allowing private operators to take more Post Office work. 'It is no good looking just at the issue of what happens to workers transferred to Romec. There is a bigger agenda which needs to be confronted.' The postal executive was due to meet on Wednesday of this week to discuss developments in the dispute.
There is a great danger that while activists are watching the manoeuvres at union headquarters the ballot will get forgotten. If the strike ballot has a very low turnout or is even lost, the right in the union leadership will use this to force through a rotten deal.
The ballot covers everyone who works in the Post Office. It closes on Thursday of next week, 19 September. Every activist must campaign to get a big vote for strikes. They must also pressure the union executive to oppose any move towards a joint venture or privatisation.
THE TRIALS of the new delivery system have been extended because of the immense problems they have caused. The CWU union has agreed a seven day extension, and a further three weeks could be granted. The trials have exposed the reality that the new system is all about making delivery staff work harder in order to boost profits. Workers have become exhausted delivering all the day's mail in one trip rather than two.
Royal Mail introduced pilot schemes in 14 areas across Britain at the end of July, and they were due to end last weekend. Only those addresses which receive more than 20 items a day are guaranteed deliveries before 7am. All other deliveries are carried out between 9am and 1pm. Workers are now expected to do four hours non-stop rather than the two and a half they used to do.