By Nick Clark
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‘Gloves are off’ as Royal Mail and BT workers prepare for strikes

The majority of the CWU union’s membership could be heading for set piece battles over pay
Issue 2810
Two CWU union members on a picket line illustrating a story about the Royal Mail and BT strike ballots

Post Office workers have already struck (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Tens of thousands of workers—making up the vast bulk of the CWU union—have been set on course for national strikes over pay. Telecoms workers in BT group—made up of BT, Openreach and EE—began balloting on Wednesday for national strikes. 

They are furious after bosses imposed a pay increase of £1,500 without any agreement from the union. For every worker, that’s a real terms pay cut. And CWU union leaders said the “gloves are off” in a battle with Royal Mail too, after bosses pulled a similar move on the same day.

In a surprise move on Wednesday, Royal Mail bosses announced plans to impose a 2 percent “increase”—well below inflation—on all their workers. Royal Mail workers were already preparing to ballot after bosses originally tied a proposed increase of just 3.5 percent to a raft of attacks on working conditions. And CWU members working for the Post Office have already struck for three days this year in their own pay dispute.

The three disputes together mean the bulk of CWU members—a union of more than 171,300 people—could be headed for set piece battles over the defining issue of pay.

The CWU says the national ballot in BT is the first of its kind since 1987. It’s a battle that CWU rep Jonathan Young, who organises mainly among Openreach workers in south London, Surrey and North Hampshire, says has been “a long time coming.”

Moves by bosses to change workers’ grades—which sparked a strike by a section of highly skilled engineers last year—seem like the prelude to the attack on pay. “It’s been an unhappy camp for a long time in Openreach,” Jonathan said. “The one reason everyone comes to work is for pay and to feed our families, so this is a pretty big one.”

He added, “The company is making big profits and offering big bonuses to its chief executives and shareholders, and yet says it can’t afford to offer a pay rise. It would rather look after its shareholders than look after the staff that creates its profits.”

Jonathan said union activists have been holding regular meetings, aimed at being accessible to every member, to build for the strike vote.

He said there was “a little uncertainty with the members about what it means to go on strike.” But, he added, he was “confident” the union would deliver a strike vote. “Everyone is fully behind the CWU,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Royal Mail, workers have already been gearing up for a national pay ballot of their own, with reps organising gate and workplace meetings.

Union leaders were still in talks with Royal Mail bosses. But, on Wednesday morning, bosses told CWU deputy general secretary for postal Terry Pullinger about plans to impose a 2 percent increase. At the same time, they want to push ahead with long-planned attacks on pay rates and working conditions.

“This is P&O in sheep’s clothing,” Pullinger said in a video message posted to Facebook. “Imposing pay deals, next they’ll be trying to impose change. It’s an absolute disgrace. They said pay had to be inextricably linked to change and now they’re just imposing 2 percent on you. Gloves are off.”

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