What happens if you are a postal worker who starts making notes in your diary about harassment by managers? In Belfast the manager seizes your diary and accuses you of harassment!
That’s the sort of treatment which sparked one of the longest and biggest unofficial strikes seen for many years. As Socialist Worker went to press around 800 workers were out and the strike had lasted for over a week.
Management have tried to muddy the waters by claiming that the dispute is really about the union trying to cover up for bullying and sectarian harassment within the workforce.
It is most certainly not about such issues – as was underlined at Tuesday’s magnificent mass meeting.
The strikers marched up the Protestant Shankill Road to the meeting, listened to two national union officials, socialist Eamonn McCann and local official Eoin Davey, before resolving to continue their battle.
They then marched down the Catholic Falls Road.
One of the strikers reports, “The most popular slogan on the march was ‘Postal workers have blown the whistle on Royal Mail’s bullying’, and it felt like people’s power against Royal Mail. Both communities are solidly behind us. We have united against management harassment.”
Shankill women marched to back the strikers right at the start of the dispute, and community support is big and growing.
This strike is a critical test of the CWU postal workers’ union’s ability to defend its members from a management which, across Britain and Northern Ireland, is hell-bent on breaking resistance in order to ram through cuts and job losses.
A vindictive management has also threatened to bankrupt individuals – who they dub “renegade CWU reps” – who are alleged to have incited the Belfast walkout.
During the evening of Thursday last week, managers delivered letters to the homes of four CWU representatives. The letters warned that the company could take legal action against them personally to recover financial losses caused by the strike.
If that happens they could lose their homes and be left with nothing.
This almost unprecedented attack on individuals shows how critical this battle has become. If Belfast workers lose they will be expected to crawl back with their union officials victimised, their conditions ripped up and their future lives made hell.
The strike began on Tuesday of last week at the BT13 Shankill office. Managers told a worker who had kept a diary of harassment by managers that he himself had been found guilty of harassment.
The office walked out. Other offices in Belfast soon joined them. Management then unveiled a package of oppressive demands as the price of a return to work.
The strike quickly spread to other areas such as the National Returns Centre and then, later in the week, to sections of the main sorting office at Mallusk.
When strikers offered to return to work to deliver school students’ exam results – without pay – this was arrogantly rejected by management.
Eoin Davey, one of the four union reps who was sent a threatening letter by management, told Socialist Worker, “Intimidation in the workplace is at the heart of the walkout. But management has also organised intimidation of reps in their homes and in their communities. It is not acceptable.
“We have repudiated the strike and asked the strikers to return to work. But we have also called for action to resolve the issues that led to the walkout in the first place.
“The way forward is to have an independent review of disciplinary procedures, employee relations and the other issues that our members have legitimately raised.
“I do not see why Royal Mail should be afraid of such a review if they believe they are acting properly.”
Trade union leaders must not abandon the Belfast strikers or treat the dispute as an embarrassment because workers took action without going through the endless hoops of the anti-union laws.
There are basic issues at stake here. Four union reps could end up sacked and homeless.
Is the union movement just going to tell them that it is the workers’ fault for not meekly accepting bullying?
The CWU has a good record of fighting back and of its members supporting one another. Those traditions have never been more important than now.
There must be no movement of Belfast mail and full solidarity with the strikers. Workers in Glasgow and Edinburgh refused to move Belfast’s mail on Monday. That’s an example for everyone to follow.
Send messages of support to the Belfast postal workers. Fax 02890 330379, phone 02890 330378 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org