By A CWU Postal Rep
ON 5 SEPTEMBER, the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) leadership announced a strike ballot, after months of talks with Royal Mail bosses that had gone nowhere. Negotiations were supposed to address an increasing number of attacks:
- The closing of the final salary pension scheme in favour of a scheme that would offer far lower payments
- No pay rises unless they are paid for by big givebacks in terms and conditions
- A new job structure that would raise workloads and shift to afternoon deliveries, hitting workers – especially women – who rely on the earlier hours for childcare
- Part-timers working full-time hours for years, but denied a full-time contract.
At the end of these cuts looms 2019: when the five-year legal protections agreed at privatisation, including the bar on zero-hours contracts or breaking up the company, expire.
This is what privatisation looks like.
Royal Mail’s new hedge fund owners have squeezed the company for every drop of profit since 2013. Many of them, remember, made a quick buck by selling shares within days of privatisation, taking advantage of Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable’s deliberately under-pricing of the company, which swindled the public out of billions in receipts. Those who stayed to gorge on the remains have now pocketed nearly half a billion pounds from selling off real estate alone.
At the shopfloor level, management has relentlessly hiked our workloads, aiming to make £600 million “efficiency savings” by the end of this year. Side-lining agreements with the union, they have provoked wildcat strikes, and then prolonged those strikes by victimising and bullying union reps and members afterwards. Now, the greedy millionaire owners have switched to outright assault.
Despite this, Royal Mail is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the workers and public with a cynical propaganda blitz, centred on the catchphrase: “Best jobs, best wages – no fight to pick”. But they’ve picked this fight with their string of attacks.
CEO Moya Greene has not even bothered to attend the talks, preferring to announce cuts (or token concessions) as if the talks and the union didn’t exist. Contrast Greene’s £50,000 pay increase over the last few years with our offer of a one-off £250 lump sum, paid for by cuts to our conditions. Compare her £200,000 a year pension contribution from Royal Mail with ours, which is judged “unaffordable”. Needless to say, she hasn’t won over hearts and minds.
As for their claim that we have the best jobs in the sector – that’s what their proposals are aiming to destroy. And their accusation that we are letting down “our community” is pretty rich, coming from a company that has closed hundreds of local post offices and delivery offices, raised stamp prices and sold off land to property developers against the protests of local councils.
Luckily few are taken in by this expensive, Orwellian PR campaign.
Jeremy Corbyn has already stated publicly that he supports postal workers and Labour’s manifesto promises renationalisation. But others in the party have been less forthright.
Shadow minister for postal affairs Gill Furniss has called for the company and the union to “carry on talking and reach some kind of negotiated agreement that everyone can live with so that things can return to normal… somehow they’ve got to come together to sort it out.”
We tried talking, now it’s time to strike. Gill should be standing against the private profiteers and their downsizing agenda, not sitting on the fence – or condemning strikes, as some on the Labour right probably will.
Furniss seems not to have seen the recent reports of profits rising by 25 per cent to over £700 million. The profits ripped out of the business since privatisation will total over £1bn by next year. That is money that could have been used to support the pension fund, lower the working week and create a modern delivery service.
Instead of investing for the future, Greene has raised shareholders’ dividends by 4 per cent. Now she says Royal Mail is past “peak” investment… so it should be clear sailing for higher profits in coming years!
When 2019 comes, it is a near certainty that the company will tear up the legal agreements, replacing current staff with new starters on zero-hours and bogus self-employed contracts, joining the other private delivery firms in a race to the bottom.
The corporate asset-strippers who now own Royal Mail have no loyalty to the company or the service it provides. If they can break it up and take the windfall sales revenue as profit, they will. And the Tory government will back this downsizing and union busting all the way.
Crossroads for the union
While Royal Mail workers do have relatively better terms and conditions than the rest of the private parcel companies, it is only because we have a strong union, with members willing to fight. Now, privatisation has brought us to a crossroads: we either stand up and defend our jobs or watch them be destroyed.
Royal Mail wants to push the union aside and ride roughshod over us. Rank and file workers need to vote yes and get organised to give the coming strike the grassroots strength and control it needs to win.