Socialist Worker

Belfast post victory is a symbol of what unity achieves

An 18-day unofficial strike by Belfast postal workers ended in victory. Two Belfast CWU union members told Socialist Worker how the battle was won.

Issue No. 1989

Protestant and Catholic workers joined together in the Belfast post workers’ strike (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Protestant and Catholic workers joined together in the Belfast post workers’ strike (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Royal Mail totally capitulated to our central demands. We achieved a complete climbdown. We went out on strike against bullying and harassment and won our key objective of an independent review of employee relations and industrial relations in Belfast.

Royal Mail guaranteed that there would be no interference in the process or the outcome. We also won a pledge of no victimisations against the workers involved in the dispute.

Royal Mail insisted from the start that there would be no negotiation over an independent review until we went back to work. But they couldn’t break us, and they had to concede.

Our strike held up seven million items of mail. That showed our strength. But we couldn’t have won without the support of our colleagues, our communities and our families.

And we wouldn’t have won without forging an incredible unity between Catholic and Protestant. In 20 years time people might not remember the details of the dispute, but they will remember that unity.

There were three key moments in the strike. The first was when we walked out. The first office out was a mainly Protestant one, the second was a mainly Catholic one. That marked us as together from the beginning.

The second key moment was the march up the Protestant Shankill and down the Catholic Falls Road. There’s been nothing like that for over 70 years. The march came a week into the strike when some people were beginning to feel a bit low. It was electrifying, our spirits went through the roof.

We’ll never forget marching through areas where we had never set foot before. All the working people on the streets backed us. They wanted some of what we were doing, fighting for decency and justice for working people.

Suddenly it wasn’t just a battle for postal workers’ rights, it was a symbol of something more important as well. It is this that has sustained us in the most difficult moments.

It was why we felt untouchable when there were calls to give up and go back to work from the media and management and from some who should have known better in the union movement.

The third key moment was the demonstration in Belfast last week. It felt like the cavalry had arrived!

Slandered

There were postal workers from England, Scotland and Wales who came over and brought their support and money. There were men and women who had brought thousands of pounds from their workmates. We then knew we were not alone and would not starve.

The more managers slandered us and attacked us the more determined we felt. They said we were covering-up for sectarian thugs – a lie. They said it was based on sinister motives – a lie. They said it was all set up by a bunch of “renegade CWU reps”—a lie. They sent men in the night to harass reps and threaten them with personal damages for the dispute – a filthy piece of harassment.

We do not forget these assaults. Overcoming them makes our victory sweeter. It is union members who have fought bullying, not the managers who claim to be so “sensitive”.

Our strike was kept going by democracy and openness. Members always knew the truth about what was going on, and there were regular meetings where everyone could have their say.

The CWU repudiated the strike because of the anti-union laws. But rank and file members supported us from the start.

Our branch members were magnificent, and so were others much further away.

We remember one cold day that we got a call from a postal worker in Wales saying he backed us all the way. Suddenly the warmth of our CWU family was round us.

The leaflets from the rank and file paper Postworker that went round certainly had an effect in raising support, and so did the attendance of some of our members at the national CWU forum in Newcastle.

The 100-strong Postworker meeting and then the whole gathering heard our case the next day. We also thank certain people in the CWU leadership who played a very important role in getting justice for us.

Our 18 days that shook Royal Mail have set down a marker for the future. Touch one of us and this is what you can expect.


Stop press

As Socialist Worker went to press, news came through that Royal Mail management were attempting to renege on the deal agreed at the end of the strike.

Belfast will need the full support of every worker if the deal is not fully implemented.

Thank you

“Thanks very much to all Socialist Worker readers for your support during our dispute. It was much appreciated, especially Eamonn McCann whom we are going to name our games room after.”

Gabe McAuley, Belfast postal worker


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News
Sat 25 Feb 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1989
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