By a CWU rep
As postal workers start getting our ballots for strike action through the door, or line up outside our offices collectively mailing off our yes votes, Royal Mail has stepped up its propaganda. First there were the written notices pinned to the walls, then a minted CEO Rico Back on RMTV assuring us “nothing will change”.
Now the videos with the bright young spin doctors have started to appear on the Royal Mail website lecturing us about how disappointed they are – a sure sign of panic! They won’t fool many posties, but they aren’t meant to, they are meant to fool the public.
As the CWU’s General Secretary Postal Terry Pullinger says, this is “the fight of our lives”. This vote is about nothing less than the future of Royal Mail and all our jobs. Voting yes means defending them, Voting no or not voting means letting the new management under the anti-union Rico Back and the millionaire shareholders destroying them. We need the biggest possible turnout and yes vote, so we get the biggest rejection of Rico Back’s plans and the strongest basis for a strike.
“Dispel the myths”
Royal Mail says they want to dispel the myths and look at the facts. Let’s do that. Postal workers and the public need to hear the truth.
1. Royal Mail’s first claim: the union is the one breaking the Four Pillars agreement.
Supposedly the union is backtracking on making savings to fund another hour off the work week in October, which they claim is supposed to come out of productivity gains.
This isn’t true. The agreement does not say where the savings should come from. We could use the savings from mechanising flats or parcel sorting, or from rising profits from growing parcels traffic, instead of the shareholders pocketing it all as Rico Back would like.
But what Royal Mail has done is rip up the PDA agreement that says it is to be used jointly with the union to balance walks. How is that working to agreements? They tried to push unrealistic savings demands generated by abuse of the PDA data in order to bank them before October, and then demand another round of savings specifically for the SWW! In other words, they want two for one savings. That’s out of order.
That’s not the only area where Royal Mail is breaking the agreement.
2. Royal Mail says the CWU is not engaging with its future strategy.
But according to the Agreement this was supposed to be developed with the CWU – instead the company hired anti-union boss Rico Back from its European GLS operations, shut the union out, hired consultants, and announced its “five year plan” to convert Royal Mail into a parcels company. Now they are imposing it and ignoring the union.
The surest proof is their turning Parcelforce into a separate company without giving any real reasons, even triggering “TUPE” laws that temporarily protect workers’ terms and conditions, as if they were being privatised all over again. The CWU asked why the radical move, pointing out that they didn’t need it to achieve any of their vague claims about needing more flexibility. Postal bosses said they are doing it anyway, and set the date for 1 October.
Postal workers should vote yes not just in solidarity with Parcelforce but because these moves are part of a strategy that will affect everyone’s future.
3. Royal Mail says nothing will change
But Rico Back has applied to open up the legal protections that stop them breaking up the company, outsourcing or franchising parts, and block zero hours contracts. They wouldn’t do that if they didn’t want to get rid of them.
The fact that they have done it at the same time as hiving off Parcelforce clearly shows the direction they are travelling, towards breaking up the company into different units – deliveries, mail centres, etc – any of which can then be sold off or franchised, including individual delivery duties using fake self-employment, after the ban is lifted on zero hours contracts.
Part of this will be managers pushing unachievable targets backed by PDA data to monitor performance. Parcelforce again points to the future, with workers currently delivering on average 12 parcels an hour, while according to the union Royal Mail’s consultants have built in targets for 20 parcels an hour, a 40% hike! They don’t even pretend to explain how this is achievable, they just say it is “economic”!
They want to divide us into bite-sized pieces so it is even easier for them to drive through unagreed attacks on our conditions and hike our workload.
4. Royal Mail say that they are committed to the USO
… but they have refused point blank to give the CWU a commitment to keep six-day deliveries, another telling sign just as Tory-appointed regulator Ofcom launches a review into… the USO. Cutting this to five days of delivery would mean over 20,000 jobs going. You won’t get the weekend off, it will be Tuesdays.
Combined with Rico’s five-year plan to remove shoebox-size deliveries from most offices, the outdoor span for delivery staff will extend to crippling levels, while mail centres haemorrhage work.
Combine a shrinking USO with a shrinking letters market, and we are talking about a built-in decline in Royal Mail that means thousands more jobs going in the coming years, and Back’s new casualised parcels service rising from its ashes.
Against this, the 35 hour week was not only meant to eliminate the two-tier workforce, bringing the part-time staff up to the level of the full-time staff in pay and hours by 2023, but it would absorb indoor work losses from automation and block walking for six hours. Instead Royal Mail will want us to pay for the shorter working week and future pay with speedups that simply aren’t possible.
Connect the dots and you can see where it all ends up, a long dark slide down to conditions at Amazon or the “modern day slavery” that an undercover documentary branded Back’s GLS operations
“We don’t know what this dispute is about”
So says Royal Mail propaganda. Do you think that’s true?
They say they are “disappointed” that the union has triggered a dispute when we are talking – but we’ve been trying to talk for a year now, to no avail. And the arrogant Rico Back has snubbed mediation so far! Actions speak louder than words or spin.
The arguments will sound familiar to most postal workers because they are exactly the same arguments Royal Mail tried on in 2017, dusted off and used almost word for word.
Against the claims of Royal Mail investing for the company’s future, the big shareholders have taken £1 billion out of the company since privatisation! They’ve feathered their nests with funds that should have been used to improve the service and protect postal workers’ jobs, not cut both.
We will have the chance to elect a Labour government in the coming months, and demand it reverses the privatisation that has led to this dispute. They should seize Royal Mail without a penny in compensation to the millionaire financiers who have squeezed the company for profit, and who made a mint buying its stock cheap and selling dear.
United we stand
We need a massive yes vote, to pile the pressure on Rico & Co. so they know we are serious and united. It would put a huge dent in Royal Mail’s spin as their plans were exposed in the headlines. But if you look at the scale of what they are doing, the truth is we need to prepare to strike. If we withdraw our labour, we lose money, but we hit their profits harder.
Unfortunately, the Four Pillars Agreement blocks strike action until after weeks of mediation. So it will be November at the earliest before we are on strike. But that gives us plenty of time to build a massive solidarity movement from the other unions and Labour.
Royal Mail has tried to divide the workforce from the union using one-sided or even dishonest arguments, making out “it” is misleading “us”. The union is not a few officials on Facebook, it is 110,000 postal workers organised on the shopfloor and through elected reps. It’s strong because it is organised on the principle of solidarity and class unity.
And we need to be united because make no mistake, Royal Mail is at a crossroads. Voting no – or not voting and sticking our head in the sand – means we are at the start of a long dark road that ends in a broken-up company, and wages and conditions at the level of Amazon, Sports Direct, or even GLS.
Voting yes means standing together to protect our jobs and conditions, strengthening our union, and modernising Royal Mail with union agreement. Ultimately the privatisers will strike again, even if defeated, so a victory should be the first step in the fight for renationalisation.
There isn’t a third option, the choice is clear: vote yes to defend our jobs and industry!