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Postal union leaders should not back down

This article is over 20 years, 10 months old
'We're fed up with rubbish money and getting driven like slaves. Let's take the smile off those bloody managers' faces,' says Mike, a Royal Mail delivery worker from Newcastle. The strike ballot among 160,000 postal workers has started, and there is a great determination to win the vote and hit Royal Mail hard.
Issue 1866

‘We’re fed up with rubbish money and getting driven like slaves. Let’s take the smile off those bloody managers’ faces,’ says Mike, a Royal Mail delivery worker from Newcastle. The strike ballot among 160,000 postal workers has started, and there is a great determination to win the vote and hit Royal Mail hard.

Across Britain workers are enthusiastic about campaigning for better pay. Henry from London says, ‘We’ve got two ballots, the national one and the London weighting one. I haven’t met anyone who thinks what we’ve been offered is enough.

‘I’ve had enough of getting out of bed at 4am, having my social life wrecked, and all for a pay packet that doesn’t go halfway to giving me enough to live on.’

The union at every level has made a good start in the campaign. But there are big tests to come. As the firefighters’ strike showed, the government will fight hard to stop public sector workers getting more than small pay rises. This is because ministers fear that others might follow.

The union should be preparing members now for the political flak that New Labour will fire at postal workers. At crucial moments Billy Hayes, Dave Ward and other CWU leaders will face huge efforts to persuade or intimidate them into accepting a compromise. This may fall far short of the settlement which is possible and which postal workers need.

Union leaders said last week that the claim was for a rise to £300 a week (a 14.5 percent rise). But they say only 8 percent needs to be paid this year.

They argue that there should be ‘a more realistic and achievable way of introducing major change-single deliveries, review of mail centres and transport operations-with no predetermined 30,000 job losses. Instead there should be jointly agreed local targets influenced by your local knowledge.’ That could mean at some point a proposal for 15,000 or 20,000 job losses as the price for better pay. That is unacceptable.

The rank and file must strengthen their own independent networks to push their union leaders forward and to oppose any retreat. The balloting weeks must also be used to link up activists for the fight.

Boss paid to ‘understand’

‘VERY small’. Unbelievably that’s how Royal Mail’s chief executive, Adam Crozier, described his £57,000 bonus.

Crozier was given the money on top of his £500,000 annual salary for his first two months working at Royal Mail. During this time he worked as a postman in Kingston, Surrey, to find out what life was like for the workers. So for those two months he received £140,333-not quite like the workers, then.

‘Yes vote will develop confidence and organisation’

POST OFFICE managers threaten that if there is a strike ‘the union will not emerge unscathed. If postmen and women walk out, customers will walk away and competitors walk in.’ But the Financial Times reported last week, ‘Private sector postal companies are lukewarm about providing cover if there is a national postal strike.’

Four companies -Hays, TPG of the Netherlands, UK Mail and Express Dairies-hold licences to operate in the British postal market, mostly handling business post. If a 24-hour postal strike hits a minimum of three Royal Mail post centres, the government has given them clearance to run a universal postal service. But Hays said it would not be able to change its operational structures to provide a wider postal service. Other companies are similarly limited.

Postal workers should not believe the blackmail. If they vote for a strike and win, this will develop the confidence and organisation to halt further privatisation.

Facts bosses want kept hidden in this dispute

  • Management claims the offer is worth 14.5 percent (£38 per week) over 18 months. But only 4.5 percent is guaranteed, and it is paid in two stages.

  • All extra cash is tied to the completion of both local and national major change programmes. There is no agreed timescale as to when payments will be made.

  • Basic pay for Royal Mail workers is just £261.93 a week.

  • Management wants the CWU to sign up to 30,000 job losses. This would mean much heavier workloads for the people who sort, deliver and drive mail plus a worse service.

  • The UK mail section of Royal Mail made a profit of £66 million in the last financial year. The group’s losses are due to ‘exceptional items’-such as the provision for £449 million redundancy payments in 2002-3. Redundancy costs are almost entirely taken account of in the first year of management’s renewal plan. This makes the financial crisis seem much worse and makes it easier for Leighton to claim ‘success’ in the future.

  • Management gave bonuses of £1,300 to 30,000 managers at a cost of over £30 million and increased directors’ pay by 320 percent in just two years.

  • Royal Mail chief executive Adam Crozier and his deputy Elmar Toime grab basic annual salaries of £500,000 or £9,582 a week. They are the highest-paid public sector bosses in Britain.

  • Allan Leighton has been dubbed a ‘serial director’ in City boardrooms. He has held directorships at a raft of companies and even managed to pocket £80 million in 1999 from selling Asda which he was chief executive of.

  • Royal Mail employees are eligible for a bonus of £800 IF the group makes £400 million profit in 2004-5. But that depends on going along with the jobs slaughter and working even harder.
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