A NATIONAL strike ballot involving all 180,000 postal staff in Britain begins next Tuesday. 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 4,000 CWU members in the Romec cleaning and maintenance section to a new company 49 percent owned by construction group Balfour Beatty.
Post Office executives have refused to give the CWU assurances that they will not sell their remaining stake to Balfour Beatty, which would affect CWU members' pension rights. 'Management have refused to give the basic guarantees that the union has requested,' says Ray Ellis, the union's assistant secretary.
'The union is balloting to ensure that the whole membership can unite to protect our Romec colleagues.' The strike vote covers Royal Mail, Parcelforce and high street Post Office staff.
Resistance against the Romec joint venture can be a big step towards throwing back the Post Office bosses' privatisation agenda. It could be a big setback for the new chairman, Allan Leighton, who New Labour ministers have put in charge to discipline the workforce.
For too long CWU leaders have hesitated to start real resistance to the bosses' and government's programme of 'opening the market' to private firms. Now is a chance to fight alongside others as a new mood of resistance gathers in the public sector.
POSTAL workers at the East London Mail Centre in Whitechapel are balloting on industrial action over London weighting allowance.
IN FEBRUARY 1999 Balfour Beatty was fined a record £1.2 million for breaches in health and safety during its construction of a new rail link to Heathrow airport. The judge called the incident 'one of the worst civil engineering disasters in the United Kingdom in the last quarter of a century. It is a matter of chance whether death or any serious injury resulted from these serious breaches.'
One of the tunnels Balfour Beatty was working on had collapsed in October 1994. The collapse left a crater which dragged down car parks and shook buildings, and crushed the Piccadilly Line of London's underground system. In 1993 the company was fined £17,500 by the Health and Safety Executive for breaching safety rules at its Derbyshire foundry, where a worker was crushed to death.
But by far the most serious incidents occurred during the construction of the Channel Tunnel. Balfour Beatty was one of five British companies contracted to build the tunnel. All five were found guilty of failing to ensure the safety of seven workers who were killed during the construction period.
Balfour Beatty was also associated with the Ilisu Dam project in Turkey, which threatened to cause social and environmental disaster for Kurdish people in the region. The company pulled out only after massive protests. Do postal workers really want people with this record as managers?
OVER 2,000 Glasgow postal workers walked out on unofficial strike last week in a dispute over jobs. Royal Mail plans to shift around 70 workers out of the main Springburn centre and put them in delivery offices. Many of those affected fear that the new jobs will only be temporary and will soon disappear. There is a national agreement designed to prevent such fake transfers.
The walkout began among 20 workers on a late shift and quickly spread to all the workers at Springburn. At least nine delivery offices also joined the action. The national union did not support the strike. John Keggie, the union's deputy general secretary, was flown to Glasgow for a mass meeting. It lasted several hours and saw many workers unwilling to return on the terms offered.
However, a majority agreed to go back on the basis that the transfers would be suspended for the moment and further negotiations would take place to make sure the national agreement was implemented.
AROUND 160 postal workers in Waterlooville, near Portsmouth, began the process of voting on strike action this week. Royal Mail managers have imposed job cuts and a reduction in hours at the delivery office. CWU negotiators suspended national negotiations on Tailored Delivery Services (the new delivery systems) until the threat of an imposed deal at Waterlooville was withdrawn.
Royal Mail managers at the Waterlooville delivery office notified CWU reps on Wednesday of last week that they intended to reduce overall staff hours from Monday. The cost of 1,000 hours a week was roughly equivalent to axing 40 jobs.