Over 3,000 people took to the streets of Belfast on Tuesday of this week in support of an unofficial strike by 800 postal workers.
They have been out on strike for over two weeks against management harassment. The strike has united workers from the Catholic and Protestant communities.
The march was led off by black taxis from the Falls and Shankill roads. People lined the streets and cheered as a sea of orange jackets marched to the City Hall. There is a deep anger among post workers over the bullying.
Luke, a postal worker from Mallusk, said, “In one case, a worker was receiving chemotherapy, and was continuously harassed over his attendance. In another case a worker had a brain haemorrhage and on returning to work was given a written warning.”
Ann works in Tomb Street. She told Socialist Worker, “Management claim there are no outstanding bullying cases. But I put in a case in January over a manager abusing me over a long period of time. This has just been filed as a grievance.”
Postal workers came from across Northern Ireland, southern Ireland and Britain to join the protest. The southern Irish CWU postal workers’ union has donated £100,0000 to the workers’ hardship fund.
Kevin Duffy from Oxford said, “I am here to bring our support. We have been through our own disputes about bullying and harassment. This is a fight for all. It is important they achieve their very reasonable demands.”
Nipsa, the public sector workers’ union in Northern Ireland, donated £20,000 to the hardship fund. John Corey, general secretary of Nipsa, told the march, “You are sending a message to every manager that if they attack workers there will be consequences.”
The government bears direct responsibility for what is happening in Belfast. New Labour makes great play of “fairness” and its support for “family friendly polices”. But Royal Mail managers have bullied and harassed staff in Belfast, and New Labour ministers, who control Royal Mail, are entirely on the side of the bosses.
Talks to end the dispute were supposed to start on Sunday at Northern Ireland’s equivalent of the Acas arbitration service – but management torpedoed the negotiations.
As is perfectly normal, the plan was to have CWU national negotiators meeting Royal Mail managers face to face, with local Belfast CWU officials in another room for consultation.
But Royal Mail objected to the very presence of Belfast reps in the same building.
Post workers met on Tuesday afternoon to discuss management proposals. According to Brian, a post worker from Tomb Street, “There is nothing new on offer here. There is no mention of an independent review. There is no commitment to look at harassment cases that have already happened.
“I don’t trust Royal Mail. It had an internal review in Mallusk and Tomb Street last year. It was never published. Management said that all problems had been solved. We need a genuinely independent review before we go back.”
Socialist Eamonn McCann addressed the rally, saying, “It’s said the strike is illegal. That is an excuse used by people who want to hide behind the law. The right to walk off the job is the difference between a worker and a slave.”
Eoin Davey, a CWU spokesperson, told the rally, “You have united people in a fight for dignity and respect. Royal Mail has not conceded to our simple demand because it has something to hide. It is rotten to the core.”
It is vital that the Belfast strike ends in victory for the workers. That means nothing less than an agreement to an independent employee relations and industrial relations review before the strike ends. Only solidarity can guarantee such a victory.
Workers in other industries must get behind the postal workers by collecting money, attending demonstrations and sending messages of support. But the only way to guarantee success is if workers go one step further and take action themselves.
Every postal workers’ stoppage will increase the pressure on Royal Mail bosses and show the outrage workers feel over the way they are acting.
Postal workers in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Liverpool airport, Newcastle, Preston and Leeds have refused to handle Belfast’s mail. That needs to be copied – and built on.
Much of the official trade union movem ent has treated the dispute as an embarrassment. It’s unofficial and supporting it could lead to charges under the anti-union laws. Belfast workers were right to walk out. The laws must not stop workers delivering the solidarity needed to win, and union leaders should be encouraging that solidarity.
Solidarity can beat bosses
Victory other offices supporting one another on unofficial strike has happened before.
An unofficial strike by 3,000 postal workers in north west England forced management into defeat. The week-long action centred on Liverpool where 2,000 struck.
Solidarity strikes came at Crewe, Warrington, Congleton and elsewhere. In the same week unofficial stoppages won in Bristol, Ipswich and Stockport.
Postal workers struck unofficially at Greenford, Dartford, West London and Rathbone Place. Management responded with bullying, victimisations and further demands for worse conditions.
But rank and file organisation delivered a giant wave of solidarity.
The strikes first spread across London, then large parts of Essex and Kent.
Other offices showed they would not scab on their colleagues. Out came Slough, Oxford, Stansted and Milton Keynes.
Soon afterwards it was Portsmouth, Swindon, Cambridge, Warrington, Hatfield, Gravesend, Coventry and Stoke. There was a brief walkout at the Wishaw office near Glasgow.
Pickets planned to go out from London if necessary to campaign up and down the country and put their case.
The politicians panicked and Royal Mail bosses were told to accept a climbdown.
Oxford postal workers won a crucial battle over bullying after a 17-day unofficial stoppage.
One worker raised an important issue for the Belfast strikers – “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 walkouts and a wider strike. Instead they stockpile the mail.
“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.”
Send messages of support to the Belfast strikers. Fax 02890 330379, phone 02890 330378 or e-mail [email protected]
For full background to the Belfast strike turn go to Post workers strike unites the Falls and Shankill