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Post workers defiant strike that shocked the bosses

This article is over 14 years, 6 months old
The strike by postal workers on Friday of last week over pay and in defence of the postal service put Royal Mail management on the back foot and showed how to win, writes Charlie Kimber
Issue 2058
Postal worker pickets at Mandela Way in south London during the strike  (Pic:
Postal worker pickets at Mandela Way in south London during the strike (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

The post strike last week showed how Gordon Brown’s pay assault against millions of public sector workers can be stopped almost as it’s launched.

The strike won around 95 percent support from members of the CWU union.

Management’s laughable claims that up to 60 percent of people had worked was contradicted by the reality of locked office gates, silent mail centres, parked up trucks – and worried looking managers poring over maps as they desperately tried to work out how they could deliver a few special delivery items.

The media and politicians try to ignore who does the work in society.

But on Friday of last week, as over 130,0000 workers went on strike, it rammed home the message that, despite their million pound pay packets, it’s not bosses like Allan Leighton or Adam Crozier who make the service work.

It’s the people who get up at 4am to do a delivery in the pouring rain, or who suffer the night shift, or who are asked to endure the bullying by management – these are the people who make the post move. And for it they get £323 a week basic pay.

Counters staff in 465 Crown post offices also struck for half a day on Friday and Monday of this week.

Last week the fightback began against years of a declining service and attacks on pay and conditions.

Gary, a striking post worker in Coventry, was typical when he told Socialist Worker, “Morale’s really good – hardly anyone has crossed the picket line apart from gaffers.

“We have 20 or 30 on the picket line in Coventry. Things are solid elsewhere in the region too. This is a fight we can win and we’re all up for it.

“The response from the public has been brilliant – bus drivers, taxi drivers, people in cars all tooting and waving their fists. It’s a fantastic show of solidarity. We’ve people from courier firms coming up to us, taking one look at the picket line, then going away.”

There were 20 workers on the picket line at the Brandon office in Newcastle, from a workforce of 100. A local donkey sanctuary lent the strikers a donkey to represent how the workers are treated!

Across the public sector there is a growing mood to fight together against Brown’s pay cuts and his squeeze on the public sector. The delegations that visited the picket lines put flesh on the bones of that idea.

In Cambridge the delegation to the picket lines included a sixth form student union committee, six PCS members, and members of the county trades council, and the Unison, NUJ and Amicus unions. They were joined by Respect and the convenor of the local Stop the War group.

On the Blackburn picket line, CWU rep Martin Berry said, “We have had a lot of good support from the general public and also from the fire station, which is just down the road from us.

“In the firefighters’ dispute we gave them our solidarity – along with supplying them with plenty of potato pies on their picket line! But it is going to take more than potato pies to win this struggle.

“It is vital that we join in strike action with other public sector workers, who also face massive attacks on their jobs and working conditions, resulting in a poorer service to the public.”

One particular high point was in Leicester where delegations from the NUT, UCU and Amicus unions joined the pickets at Leicester North delivery office.

A Leicester striker reports, “We had been waiting for this day for weeks and this was our day to shove it right up Royal Mail and Gordon Brown.

“Only two people broke the strike and there was real solidarity from others. Refuse collection workers in the T&G union would not cross our picket line to empty the dumpsters.

“The British Gas workers based on site, who are in the GMB union, had voted the day before not to cross our picket line forcing Royal Mail managers to take their work to a local McDonald’s car park.

“Several truck drivers delivering supplies into our canteen and office refused to cross the picket line. One stated, ‘Your fight is ours, there is no way I’m coming across your picket’, then raised his fist in support.

“A delegation from the NUT union came to give us support, bringing their branch banner with them. A delegation from the UCU union came with an open letter addressed to us stating their full support for our strike.

“The message from both was that we all face the same cuts, the same attacks on our pay and conditions and that this could be the beginning of a public sector wide strike against Gordon Brown’s pay freeze.”

At the Rathbone Place delivery centre in central London, members of the PCS workers’ union in the Defra department joined the picket line to show their solidarity.

In Chesterfield strikers gave a warm reception to a visiting delegation from the UCU union.

Midlands UCU executive rep James Eaden delivered a message of solidarity from Chesterfield College branch of UCU. James said, “Our members voted unanimously to support the postal workers. We know that they, like us, are facing a pay freeze imposed by Gordon Brown.

“Our members also clearly remember the fact that CWU members always refuse to cross our picket lines when we take strike action.”

In Norwich, PCS members visited the picket line and discussed campaigning across the unions over pay and privatisation.

Seven members of the PCS civil service workers’ union showed their support for the strike by joining around 15 strikers on the picket line outside the Beeston office in Nottingham.

Lindsey German, Respect’s candidate for London mayor, offered solidarity to the pickets in north London and presented a donation collected by local Respect members.

Respect councillor Michael Lavalette visited the picket lines in Preston to express solidarity.

Local Respect MP George Galloway and Tower Hamlets Respect councillors visited CWU picket lines in east London.

Abjol Miah, the leader of the Respect group on Tower Hamlets council, said, “Postal workers are fighting for the public interest and Respect salutes them.”

The turnout for the strike shocked Royal Mail bosses. There had been expectations that management would tear up contracts and impose new conditions as soon as workers returned on Saturday.

But the power of the strike stayed their hand. As a Huddersfield postal worker reported, “No sign of any punitive management bullshit in our office. They are speechless at our 100 percent turnout on strike!”

And after every post strike in the last 18 months, bosses have removed facility time from reps as a punishment.

This has not happened yet – and it shows that for all their bluster the other side are worried, and our side can win.

Management may yet turn to desperate provocations, but building on last week’s magnificent strike can beat them.

A big thank you to the dozens of readers who sent in pictures and reports from the picket lines. They make our website coverage the most comprehensive, lively and colourful of any in Britain. Please continue to send in reports and views

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