by Richie Venton
Royal Mail workers are currently balloting for a national strike, after several months of local and regional stoppages, both officially balloted-for actions and ‘unofficial’ walkouts.
Anger has been boiling at a range of attacks on jobs, terms and conditions, workloads, pension rights, and the services delivered to the public. Attacks conducted by overpaid, arrogant Royal Mail top brass, but egged on by the even more overpaid and arrogant Labour Minister Lord Mandelson.
An element of petty revenge peppers the bully-boy brutality of the cuts being pushed by these people; revenge being sought for the union campaign that defeated plans by Mandelson to privatise Royal Mail earlier this year.
The multiple forms of attack that has raised workers’ anger to boiling point are undoubtedly aimed at breaking the strength of the union, in order to drive down working conditions, to cut the price to future suitors for a later privatisation plan.
The ballot for a national strike ends early October. A resounding YES vote is critical to the future of the entire public service, as well as to the job prospects and conditions of a workforce that has already suffered 40,000 job losses, massively increased productivity, and boosted Royal Mail profits to an obscene £321m last year – £900,000 a day!
Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) members across Scotland are set to deliver a big YES vote, and many of them are at the same time taking local strike action against dictatorial bosses who are treating them like dirt.
Glasgow Mail Centre (in Springburn) has just had strikes (18-21st Sept) in response to attacks on drivers and the terms and conditions of the entire workforce.
A Glasgow Mail Centre Worker told me: “We came out at first because drivers wouldn’t cross picket lines in Ayrshire. We returned to work on the Saturday morning on the basis of a Return to Work Statement – not even an Agreement – but came out again that day because management launched attacks on us on our return to work. They took our breaks off us. They took lieu days off us. They just tried to bully and intimidate us.”
Tam Dewar is the Area Rep for the CWU in Dumfries, Galloway and Ayrshire.
Speaking in a personal capacity, he told me the background to the successive strikes, including in his own patch:
“CWU members work in all functions within Royal Mail Group. When members are balloted by function, for example Delivery workers, Mail Centre workers, Professional Driving Grades, it can result in one function taking legally restricted strike action at a time when other members are working normally.
The CWU has a proud tradition of respecting the picket lines of any and every trades dispute, operationally Royal Mail managers acknowledge the drivers’ conscience and no penalty for ‘failing’ the mail results.
When it comes to a dispute with our own employer Royal Mail managers adopt the very different approach of stopping the pay of workers who refuse to cross the CWU’s own picket lines. On the surface this explains the recent bout of unofficial industrial action in defense of picket lines being respected and in solidarity with victimised drivers
A Glasgow Mail Centre worker is clear why a huge YES vote will be delivered, and why it is critically important that the national union then uses that mandate for decisive national action.
“It’s one attack after another. It’s not even a dispute about our wages. They are cutting jobs. People in the job for 30 years in here have been told ‘as of next week you no longer have a duty – you are on reserve duties to cover for others’.
Months ago we lodged a failure to agree over the changes being imposed. We were told they would be imposed anyway on 21st September.
I was in a meeting with the Production Manager about this when the Mail Centre manager walked in and said ‘It doesn’t matter what you are talking about, the changes are going to be imposed’. That’s the attitude they have.
They want to break the union, so people have no voice when further cuts come in preparation for privatisation.”
A postie from Central Scotland told me some of the reasons that sector of workers are equally up in arms:
“The question is on whose terms are the changes going to be on? Are Royal Mail bosses just going to get their own way on everything? For example, they say there’ll be no compulsory redundancies, but there will be job losses through mechanisation. But will people be forced out of the industry by being offered jobs in different Mail Centres at ridiculous distances away? For instance in Oxford, Reading and Swindon they were told they would have to move 70 or 80 miles away!
“In the Delivery Offices the workload and work-rates are escalating – with increased delivery spans expected of us. Royal Mail claim there’s been a 10 per cent fall in the volume of mail in recent years. Even if that figure is accurate – which is debatable – Royal Mail’s own figures show there’s been a 40 per cent fall in the workforce. You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out that means massively increased workloads. On top of that, they take no account of the rise in the number of packages, with things like ebay, which adds weight and time taken for us to deliver.
“The union accepts that mechanisation will mean less need of indoor sorting, and more time will be spent on outdoor delivery. But it’s a question of the conditions attached to the increased delivery spans – workload, health and safety, being overworked.
“And if we are more productive through mechanisation, we want a reduced working week. The CWU is calling for a 35 hour week (we’re on 40 now). That would mean a rise in the hourly wage for part-timers as well as full-time posties. Royal Mail bosses are ruling by executive action, doing whatever they feel like, and workers are sick of it.”
Tam Dewar told me why he is campaigning hard for a national strike:
“Nationally the CWU has adopted a double strategy of endorsing local industrial action in areas of the UK that have requested such action. In addition a National Ballot is taking place to endorse a national strike failing resolution of the issues with Royal Mail and the Government.
“In those units where ballots have been held and strikes have taken place there has been 100% support. The CWU has actively fed information into workplaces through gate meetings, DVDs and leaflets. Support is strong and membership is growing in response. Each aggravating tactic of senior anti-union managers piles up the YES vote for national action
“The issues at stake are those facing workers the length and breadth of Scotland. We are being told to work harder for less money; that we cannot expect job security, full time work or decent pensions if it means falling profits and bonuses for the big bosses.
“The very ones who have decimated the postal service have reaped the bonuses.
“Talk of modernisation masks the real reason for this dispute.
“The Government needs to greatly reduce the bargaining power of the organised workforce in Royal Mail before they sell it off as promised to the City.
“The current management of Royal Mail needs to greatly reduce the bargaining power of the organised workforce to reduce terms and conditions, and therefore costs, before Lord Mandelson can sell.
“History shows that the top managers, almost exclusively, reap massive benefits from the privatisation of publicly owned assets.
“The CWU stands in the way of these plans.
“The CWU has repeatedly offered sensible solutions to new technology which protect the service to the public and the terms and conditions of postal workers. These have been rejected out of hand by Royal Mail.
“In a stand off between my employer and my Union I am always on the side of my Union, without question. Vote YES.”