Some 30,000 Royal Mail workers across London will begin a consultative ballot on Tuesday which could lead to major strikes before Christmas.
The issue is London weighting, the payment for the extra cost of living and working in the capital. Bosses have offered just a £50 increase over the next two years. That’s a rise of less than 50p a week!
Mark Baulch, CWU union London divisional rep, told Socialist Worker, “Offering us 47p a week is an insult. There have been soaring increases in housing and travel costs. In addition there are new council tax rises coming because of the Olympics. Royal Mail says it is one of the top employers for London Weighting but it certainly doesn’t feel like that to our members, and their basic pay is inadequate as well.”
The ballot will have two questions: “Do you agree to reject Royal Mail’s offer?” and “Are you willing to take whatever steps are necessary, including an industrial action ballot to force a better offer?”
Ballot papers are being dispatched to the offices soon and must be returned in two weeks. The result will be announced in the middle of November and, if an official ballot was then called, strikes could take place by mid-December.
Clearly this would have a huge effect on the Christmas post. Some 40 percent of all British mail flows through the capital.
The campaigning and engagement with the members which will now take place during the balloting is as important, if not more important, than the vote itself.
The idea of a consultative ballot mirrors the method used in 2003. Then, in one of the most extraordinary trade union ballots in history, London postal workers voted in a consultative ballot by 19,803 to 91 votes for action over the same issue. The ballot was a 99.5 percent vote to take on Post Office bosses and forced previously unwilling national officials to call an official ballot over the issue.
In September 2003 workers voted by 11,417 to 4,306 for an official strike. This strike, which took place just after the union as a whole had rejected strikes over pay, was one of the critical elements in defending and reviving the union. Sanctions by management against the official London action sparked massive unofficial action which beat back bosses and underlined the continuing strength of rank and file organisation in the post.
Eventually London workers accepted a much-improved deal on weighting, but this has not been updated properly, leading to demands for more action.
Mark Baulch says, “We won the promise of regular reviews as a result of the 2003 strike, but at the first opportunity we have been offered peanuts. That doesn’t bode well for the future, so we have to go back to our members to get the ammunition to show we are serious.”
Every postal worker should support the London initiative, As 2003 showed, victory in London strengthens everyone, not, as some predicted, that London’s gain would be a loss for the rest of the country.
And with so many other issues facing postal workers - team working, attacks on seniority, new walk sequencing technology, a new attendance procedure, job cuts, attacks on full time jobs and more - it’s good that a big section of workers is readying for action.
London workers should build the campaign and the ballot, prepare for action, and make real efforts to explain their case to the rest of the workforce throughout Britain.