Over 400 postal workers rallied in London on Wednesday against plans for privatisation and “liberalisation”.
Introducing the meeting, London divisional rep Norman Candy set out the threat from privatisation but also, equally importantly, the way the government was allowing private firms to seize more and more of the post, with their profits subsidised by cheap access to the Royal Mail infrastructure.
All this was the background to what CWU general secretary Billy Hayes called, “a seismic issue that confronts us, the biggest issue I can remember in 32 years as a CWU member”.
The strong feeling of the meeting was that it was time to start fighting on these issues, indeed it was overdue. And there was also support for speakers who questioned why the union continued to keep giving money to a Labour Party which, in government, was abusing postal workers.
Labour MP John Grogan said that the last Labour manifesto had promised to keep the post publicly owned and “a promise is a promise”.
RMT union leader Bob Crow was cheered for his speech which savaged the record of privatised firms. He said that on the railway “directors have collected pocketfuls of cash for cutting back on maintenance. Privatisation has meant a worse service and ripped off workers.”
He added that next week’s TUC is the time to start fighting for rights like the ability to take solidarity action. “If bosses can be shifted around to cover for a strike, and a firm can pull in agency workers to scab, then what’s wrong with unions being able to call workers out?”
Speakers from the floor left their union leaders in no doubt that they wanted action, and no concessions to any form of privatisation.
One of the most effective speeches came from Donovan Green, who works at Rathbone Place in central London. As a former bus worker he described how shares had been issued as a bribe to make workers accept wage cuts, redundancies and a general worsening of conditions. New entrants were hired on worse conditions than existing workers.
Summing-up the rally, CWU deputy general secretary postal Dave Ward said, “If your message is that you want union headquarters to get off their backsides then the message is well and truly delivered.” He added there was “no lack of willingness to take up these issues, and that we need to build up workplace organisation and the development of new reps.”
The rally, initiated by the London division, was backed by 71 branches form all over England and Wales. It is a model of what is needed, but it must also be a spur to action and organisation.
One of the initiatives coming out of the rally is a demonstration against the government-appointed regulator Postcomm.
Before the rally a group of postal workers delivered an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (Asbo) to 10 Downing Street. It charged Alan Johnson (the secretary for trade), Allan Leighton (chairman, Royal Mail) and Nigel Stapleton (chairman of the regulator Postcomm) with inferior postal services, loss of the second delivery, mass closures of post offices, fat cat bonuses for directors and other anti-social policies.
An accompanying letter to Tony Blair said, “We believe that polices being pursued by your government are seriously damaging the future of Royal mail, the universal postal service and the jobs of thousands of postal workers.”
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle