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Feeling over strike ballot is ‘electric’

This article is over 18 years, 4 months old
Around 160,000 postal workers across Britain are in the middle of a strike ballot over pay and job losses. Activists spoke to Charlie Kimber
Issue 1868

‘EVEN MANY people in my office who are usually anti-union are now arguing for a strike,’ says a delivery worker from Crowborough in East Sussex, near Tunbridge Wells.

‘When the manager spoke to us people were laughing and showing contempt. They were saying, ‘If there are no strings to the deal, why are there 30,000 jobs going then?’ Management are trying divide and rule tactics, saying that those of us in the rural areas have to vote no against the hotheads in the city. It’s a disgusting tactic. In some ways it’s even more important for us to get a wage rise here. It’s what people think of as a prosperous area but there are no jobs unless you’re prepared to commute up to London.’

Paul Garraway works at the Headington delivery office in Oxfordshire. He says, ‘In the main Oxford mail centre some people were wearing the strike ballot papers on their backs to remind people to vote yes-and also just to upset the management!’ A Cambridge postal worker says, ‘I’ve never known such a confrontational atmosphere at work.

‘In the team briefings people are growling, passing notes round with rather uncomplimentary messages about the management speaker. ‘We got the ‘Vote yes’ stickers from the union head office last week. People were wearing them across the mail centre but management didn’t dare to tell people to take them off. It feels like this is no longer a pay issue. It feels like management at the top are out to break the union, with the government behind them.’

Derek Durkin, the branch secretary of Scotland No 2 branch (Edinburgh, Fife and Borders), says, ‘We’ve had a superb start to our campaign with four or five leaflets going into most offices. At meetings called by the union there has been an electric feeling. The Borders, which has sometimes been seen as a weaker area, had an excellent meeting in Galashiels. Management has banned our CWU union from holding meetings in workplaces and tried to censor what goes on noticeboards. Predictably that has just got people’s backs up. At team briefings where bosses try to put over the case for the pathetic pay offer, there has been uproar.’

Mark Dolan, the CWU North London area delivery rep, says, ‘I’ve done 12 meetings in offices and you find very few people get taken in by the management propaganda. In the Whetstone office the manager called workers in and set up desks and chairs like a school classroom. He started lecturing people but ended with ‘That’s why it’s really important you vote yes in the ballot’! Of course he meant yes to the deal, but everyone was laughing at him. The rep went up to him and said, ‘Thanks for doing my job, governor.’ He suddenly realised with horror what he’d done and had to run round the office sticking up notices saying ‘Vote no’.’

Richard Isdell, the area processing rep for South Yorkshire and district amal branch, says, ‘Management hate our leaflets and posters which expose the truth about how much Royal Mail’s top people like Allan Leighton gets. Management tear down our material, we put it up again and so it goes on. There are now a string of highly paid managers who are permanent noticeboard monitors!’

Sorting out the facts

  • Postal workers earn a basic £261.93 a week. Some have to work six days a week trudging the streets in all weathers.
  • They all work hard in an atmosphere of heavy pressure from management.

  • They have been offered a 4.5 percent rise over 18 months. Extra money depends on 30,000 job losses and working harder and faster.

  • Two of the top bosses are on basic salaries of £500,000 a year.

  • The UK mail section of Royal Mail made £66 million profit last year.

    Win the ballot then keep on pushing for strike action

    ALL THE indications are that it is possible to win a big yes vote for strikes. Every activist has to hurl themselves into winning that vote. But there will be new challenges after the ballot closes on 17 September. One reliable source told Socialist Worker that deputy prime minister John Prescott has already begun pressuring CWU leader Billy Hayes that a strike could ‘bring down Labour and let in the Tories’.

    Such pressure will grow. Royal Mail may well run to the courts trying to contest the outcome of the ballot. Some of the union’s leaders will want to wait as long as possible before calling action or to restrict the strikes to token action.

    A big and effective postal workers’ strike could give hope to millions of workers and be a big step towards further weakening Blair. Every union should be backing the postal workers and so should every anti-war activist.

    That is why it is essential for postal workers to seize this opportunity and to build now the rank and file networks which can keep up the fight even if their leaders falter. The rank and file paper Post Worker is heading for its highest ever sale. One of the editorial board told Socialist Worker that it is on course for 9,000 sales of its latest issue. The series of meetings called by Post Worker are an important focus for all postal workers.

    Meetings are on Saturday 4 October at 2pm in the University of London Union, near Euston, and in Newcastle. For further details phone – 07904 157 779.

    Management’s tactics are fuelling anger

    CHARLIE BALCH, the branch secretary of South East Wales amal CWU branch (Cardiff area), says, ‘Management are trying really hard to influence people-two letters to their home addresses, meetings at work where it’s almost one to one with the local manager, and so on.

    ‘Most people think it’s a crock of shite. You get all this softly-softly partnership stuff but the rest of the time management treats you like rubbish. The only hard argument I’ve faced is a certain war-weariness because some people remember the previous pay campaign. Then we had a ballot and won it but the union leadership persuaded people to accept a rotten deal. At one of the meetings a rep said, ‘I don’t know Dave Ward, the union’s main negotiator, but I do know that we were shafted last time and I don’t want to be shafted again.’

    ‘So part of the way I argue is that it’s crucial to get the biggest possible yes vote, but then it has to be turned quickly into effective action.’ John Denton, the London regional secretary, says, ‘We’ve pushed out a lot of publicity arguing the case for two yes votes, one in the national ballot and one in the vote over London weighting. We have sent a postcard to every member’s home. Our poster, which contrasts how much the people at the top of the Royal Mail get compared to postal workers, has proved really popular. We’ve been publicising the issue of London weighting for a year, so our members are well versed in what the union thinks. Also we have already had our own unofficial ballot on weighting and won a 99 percent vote to take action.’

    Fran Choules from Exeter says, ‘There are 39 delivery offices in the Devon area and we have held meetings in 37 of them. These have been very important in explaining the issues to people. In almost every meeting there is someone who stands up and says that as it’s obvious that the government is behind the attacks on us, it’s crazy that we continue to give all our political fund to New Labour.’

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