By Nick Clark
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Solid picket lines as Royal Mail workers strike for third time

This article is over 1 years, 7 months old
Escalating and coordinating strikes with other groups of workers would be powerful
Issue 2822
On the Royal Mail picket line Vauxhall, south London, a group of around 20 people stand with two CWU union flags

On the Royal Mail picket line Vauxhall, south London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Royal Mail workers began the last two days of their opening salvo of strikes over pay on Thursday. 

The strikes by members of the CWU union came hours after union leaders called two more days in two weeks’ time, this time over conditions. Workers said they were still going strong—and are prepared to go out again.

One striker at the Bethnal Green delivery office in east London told Socialist Worker, “It’s never been so united. I’ve been here 17 years and I’ve never ever seen it more united. This strike has brought us closer together.”

He added, “I’m losing two days’ pay and for me there’s no regret—I’m still behind the union and I’m willing to carry on as long as they want to.”

Eddy, a CWU rep at Bethnal Green, added that the previous two days of strikes, on 26 and 31 August had already caused a lot of disruption. “It’s been absolute chaos in there,” he said.

“It’s funny how it all falls apart when we only work the way we’re supposed to. Royal Mail are saying they’re recovering but they’re not. I would say at least half to three quarters of the office are half a day behind work-wise in the unit.”

Royal Mail workers are set to strike again on Friday 30 September and Saturday 1 October. That two-day strike is officially over attacks on workers’ terms and conditions.

These include later start times, making Sunday a normal working day and introducing “seasonal hours”—longer days in winter and shorter in the summer. Bosses also want to introduce different terms and conditions for new starters, creating a two-tier workforce.

The CWU treats the issues of pay and conditions as two separate disputes in a bid to avoid a legal challenge to their strike ballots. But the two are linked—Royal Mail chief executive Simon Thompson wants to trade any pay increase above 2 percent for concessions over working conditions.

Strikers are angry at both. Eddy said, “I know loads of people who’ve said they’d resign over those changes. And I don’t think Royal Mail could recruit fast enough for the amount of people they would lose.

“In south London where I live it’s a nightmare at the moment. I spoke to the guys at my local office and they say it’s an absolute nightmare there at the moment. They can’t retain staff even with these current terms and conditions because the job has become so difficult.”

They feel insulted by chief executive Simon Thompson, who wrote to them this week to tell them Royal Mail had no money for a pay rise—despite gifting its own top bosses massive bonuses.

Trad, a striker in Stratford, east London, told Socialist Worker, “They say they made £750 million in profit. If you’re making that much money surely some of it should trickle down.

“Give us something to work for. They want to keep us down—this what we’ll give you and we’re going to take all that. But what exactly is it that they do? They don’t go delivering letters.”

In a video message on Tuesday evening, CWU deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger said he and union leader Dave Ward had met with Thompson and Royal Mail’s chief financial officer. He said they’d left two weeks until the next strikes. This is to allow time to reach “a joint statement so we could have a period of calm and so we could sort these issues out.”

Yet Thompson won’t back down. As Pullinger added, “They have not picked up that offer. The CEO has suggested that he’s not confident, that the gap is too big between us, but he may get his people to reach out.”

Thompson’s attacks on pay and conditions are part of a broader plan to break up Royal Mail and transform it into a parcels service similar to courier companies.

Royal Mail bosses have wanted this for years—and that’s why workers are unlikely to win without more—and longer—strikes.

“They say we’re all about packets and parcels now and that’s what’s going to make us money. How can Royal Mail not be the top company? It’s been around 500 years more or less and it’s got everything in place. But they’re following other companies, when other companies should be following us.”

But, Trad added, “Everyone’s pulling together. They know what it’s all about, they know what we’re fighting for, they know that we’re right. They know that the firm is taking liberties with them.

“They want to see how far we go. But we’ve had this before. There’s a new generation but I still believe we’ll go all the way.”

And Eddy said, “The last time we struck in 2009, London was out on strike for 19 days. If we have to stay out longer, then that’s what we’ll have to do.”

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