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End to post strike brings little cheer to Labour

This article is over 14 years, 8 months old
The decision by CWU union leaders to sign an interim agreement and call off nationwide postal strikes was a serious mistake.
Issue 2177
Striking postal workers on the picket line in Glasgow last month
 (Pic: Duncan Brown)
Striking postal workers on the picket line in Glasgow last month
(Pic: Duncan Brown)

The decision by CWU union leaders to sign an interim agreement and call off nationwide postal strikes was a serious mistake.

But it does not mean that the bosses have got what they want. They were out to destroy a national union, the postal workers’ CWU, in order to demonstrate the futility of resistance to attacks on jobs, services and pay.

The strikes were growing stronger and support for them was mounting across Britain. But CWU union leaders grabbed a compromise when far more was possible.

They were urged on by the leadership of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) which, rather than build support for this crucial fight, spent all its energy on brokering the deal.

From start to finish the determination and fight of the CWU rank and file contrasted with the pleading of their leaders for negotiations and arbitration. They should have been using all the power of the strikes to win.

The media tried to claim that the Royal Mail was now some outdated service that had been virtually eclipsed by the internet.

Yet the Centre for Economics and Business Research has estimated that the post strikes cost the economy over £1 billion. This is a reminder of the power organised workers have.

The decision to suspend the strikes came when the workers were on course to beat a bullying management who had been cheered on by the right wing press and lionised by the business secretary, Lord Mandelson.

Such a victory would have given cheer to all those fighting to defend services, pensions, jobs and more.

Yet the fact the post strikes have, at least temporarily, ended in a negotiated settlement is a far cry from the rhetoric around the party conferences just a few weeks ago.

Then Labour and the Tories were in a bidding war as to who would be tougher in holding down public sector pay and cutting welfare spending to fund the bank bailouts.

These calls were backed all the way by the corporate boardrooms, the City of London and the IMF.


All these vultures wanted to roll back the years to when Margaret Thatcher took on and defeated a series of unions. This heralded a fundamental shift in the balance of forces in favour of management. We still pay the price for those unnecessary defeats.

But the post strike was not a repeat of those battles. More people blamed Royal Mail management for the strike than the union.

The media campaign against the strike fell flat. One simple reason is that the message of workers standing up to management bullies touched people in every workplace in Britain.

As the weeks went on, Mandelson disappeared from the media. The Labour government seems to have calculated that taking on a powerful group of workers would only damage its already depleted support among working people still further.

Tens of thousands of post workers are disgusted by the role that Labour leaders have played in the dispute, with the full-blown backing of Royal Mail management.

Staring an electoral rout in the face, Labour as decided to leave confrontations over privatisation to David Cameron if he wins next year’s election.

The fact that there will be a very weak government in office for the next six or seven months is bad news for those who run corporate Britain. They want a powerful government prepared to ram through brutal cuts.

The near-silence of David Cameron over the post strike will also worry them. Thatcher cast herself as the “Iron Lady”’ by denouncing trade unions during the 1978-9 Winter of Discontent. She was preparing for an all-out offensive when she was elected to Downing Street.

In 2009 there is only a whimper from Cameron. It’s true, however, that some Conservative leaders have made noises about making the anti-union laws even tighter.

There is a genuine sense of uncertainty in ruling circles. The macho stance of politicians and Royal Mail bosses has not translated into a decisive blow against our side.


Popular anger is targeted at the bankers who pocket public funds for their own profit, not with strikers. The growing unpopularity of the Afghan war adds to this sense of unease.

This year has seen growing working class resistance from the occupations at Visteon, Prisme and Vestas to the post strikes.

It has come up against the subservient, pro-Labour stance of the union leaders, but it has grown in strength.

In the post there it is likely that there will be further clashes as management renege on promised concessions. Key battles are also being fought in British Airways, Leeds and Brighton bins, and on the buses.

Thousands have rallied behind the post workers in solidarity. Those networks of resistance will be needed in the coming weeks and months.

We need to remain organised in order to build solidarity, prepare for future fights and to ensure that next time we get a victory, not a bad deal.

Fight for the Right to Work conference
Saturday 30 January, Central Hall, Oldham Street, Manchester
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