By Jane Loftus, CWU national executive (pc)
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Strike ballot at the Royal Mail as Leighton’s PR stunts fall flat

This article is over 15 years, 6 months old
Royal Mail workers across Britain are to vote on strikes to defend basic union rights and to stand up against dictatorship in the workplace.
Issue 2007

Royal Mail workers across Britain are to vote on strikes to defend basic union rights and to stand up against dictatorship in the workplace.

Our bosses have imposed a pay deal as the first sign that that they want to do away with any real union influence in the workplace. Documents they presented to the CWU union executive this week are shot through with demands for “flexibility” and “dealing with the competition”.

Management wants to do away with the necessity of negotiating national agreements with the union. Chairman Allan Leighton’s vision is to have a union which is consulted but then ignored as major changes are rammed through.

At present the CWU, which has a fighting tradition and considerable rank and file strength, is a powerful block to his ambitions to pour in more unorganised part time workers, attack pensions, hold down wages, force mass job cuts and usher in privatisation.

This week we saw Leighton’s combination of bullying and desperation over his attempt to call a meeting to put across his message. The first move saw the union rep in every workplace unit invited to attend a meeting with top management. Workers responded with a big no. So they were told it was mandatory.

Then, because people still weren’t going, Leighton widened the invite to anyone who wanted to go! The union is boycotting these meetings. We want progress on our demands, not empty publicity stunts.

Managers are threatening that if we strike then the government may withdraw its recent package of extra investment in the post. The only government intervention should be to sack Leighton and to completely rule out any privatisation moves.

Strike ballot papers will go out from Monday 10 July. The ballot closes three weeks later.The union has made a good start in the campaign for a yes vote. Around half of union members have already attended a meeting in the workplace or on the gate to explain the issues.

Now we need to step up the momentum everywhere. We need leaflets and stickers and e?mail messages and texts.

But the key method is the face to face meetings with members. I have been to offices where we were told there was “a problem” over getting a strike vote. The atmosphere was transformed when we met the reps, had a full discussion and then went on to the floor to meet members.

We need to explain to other workers that we’re standing up against bullying bosses and the neo-liberal assault that puts private profit before public services. It’s a struggle everyone should get behind.

The future of the union is at stake, and so is the future of a public service. We must not allow the loyalties that some of our union leaders have towards government ministers to get in the way of resistance. That’s why we need the biggest yes vote and the most powerful action to beat Leighton.

The issues which have sparked the Royal Mail national ballot (see page 16) are :

  • The imposition of a below inflation pay rise (2.4 percent cost to the business, against an inflation figure of 2.6 percent). Bosses now say an extra 1 percent is available, but this is a payment reflecting “efficiency savings” and job cuts earlier this year.
  • It is not just that the pay rise is low, but it has been arrogantly imposed by management without talks or the right of union members to vote on an agreement. This is a sidelining of the union which clears the way for many other attacks.

    The union is campaigning to raise postal workers’ pay to the British average. This would require another £75 a week on top of the money imposed recently.

    Nobody expects this to be achieved in one year, but workers want a clear timetable to achieve it.

  • The failure by management to agree terms of reference for the walk sequencing technology that is to be trialled and will have a massive impact on all members in Royal Mail (see below).
  • No movement towards a 35-hour week (with breaks as part of the 35 hours) in order to protect full time jobs and to increase the value of part-time work. A part-timer on 16 hours is a “40 percent worker” if the normal week is 40 hours. But if the week is 35 hours they are a “46 percent worker” and should be paid accordingly.
  • A business plan that shows Royal Mail want to get rid of 40,000 jobs from the industry.
  • The need for a national agreement that ensures Royal Mail will fully fund the pension scheme deficit and that the present rate of contributions, retirement age and benefits will be maintained.

    At the end of last week Royal Mail told the press that it had secured agreement with pension fund trustees to deal with the scheme deficit.

    However, management will not guarantee that present and future workers will be able to get their pensions at 60 (as at present). Nor will managers rule out big rises in contributions.

  • Constant threats of privatisation, share sales, etc from Royal Mail chairman Allan Leighton. The government is allowing him to get away with campaigning against a public service.

    Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, says, “Royal Mail should be under no illusion – the CWU is prepared to take decisive action to defend pay and future job security.”

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