Update: The CWU has announced a ballot for action between 3-17 March
ROYAL MAIL bosses promised that if workers in the CWU postal union “delivered Christmas” without the planned strike, they would engage with negotiations in the New Year. But it was a con. On the first day of negotiations on 16 January they turned round and informed CWU officials they would be pushing forward with their plans to restructure the business – rejected in a ballot by 97% of CWU members – and demanded the CWU agree to help!
CWU leader Terry Pullinger the next day informed members of this dirty trick and told us the union would now be reballoting. Royal Mail’s response was a video claiming that “the dispute resolution procedure had concluded” (after a couple of hours of talks!) and they would proceed with their plans. Since then they have announced imposed changes – “executive action” – in at least fifteen offices. Terry is absolutely right to say “they have declared industrial war on this union”.
According to the CWU and the CWU London Division, the imposed changes amount to effective derecognition of the CWU and involve:
- Scrapping some CSS letter sorting machines or even closing their mail processing units; for instance the Camden NW1 MPU is to shut and move the workload to Greenford Mail centr It’s not clear how many jobs this will cost.
- A trial where large parcels are separated out from duties for later deliveries, hiking walk length for most postal workers and again costing jobs.
- “Revisions” (office restructurings that usually end in cuts) overriding union objections in at least 600 offices where these are disagreed to.
- Forcing delivery staff onto later start times and the removal of the popular “creative” shift patterns (like the four day working).
- Most disturbingly, a trial will pave the way for electronic clocking in and out, which could also allow them to monitor employees’ every movement on the shop floor.
These are just the first steps on their larger package of attacks, the unagreed “Five Year Plan” that will mean at anywhere from 10-20,000 job losses or more.
Lies, damned lies, and Royal Mail spin
Management know all this won’t be popular, so they have tried to massage the truth to confuse people.
They have stated there will be no pay negotiations or rises this year or next for staff, citing the “tough financial position” of Royal Mail. But this “tough” position ignores the December general election, where it has been estimated Royal Mail could have made as much as £30 million in election material, and it disregards the big spike in Christmas profits. And Royal Mail always seems to find money for its own purposes, like the fat pay rise awarded to managers last Autumn, along with the costs of the five-year restructuring plan that postal bosses have embarked on without union agreement, which is at the heart of the dispute.
To try to fool some workers and the public, Royal Mail is upping its propaganda war to undermine the union’s message. Again, according to the London Division, they have hired Facebook to target videos directly at staff, making outrageous claims – if so, they’ve taken a page out of the Tory election playbook.
National Service Delivery Director Ricky McAuley in one such video had the cheek to claim that Royal Mail had “honoured all of our agreements with the CWU, all the appropriate dispute resolution procedures have been followed and completed”. This when they are ripping up the Four Pillars agreement and refusing to honour the agreed next hour off our working week, scheduled for last October.
Royal Mail has upped its PR just as the courts have tried to tie the union’s hands and prevent members from spreading photos of gate meetings and staff lining up to post ballots, important tactics to encourage the massive turnout and “Yes” vote last time.
Prepare for battle
This could be a hard fight and the union needs an active campaign to get a big “Yes” vote, with local meetings of members and reps. That is the best way to put forward members’ views on how to conduct the strike – for instance, why the delay in the ballot, with no action till nearly April? How many days out and should we go all-out? – and get organised for the fight. We urgently need to build a hardship fund and solidarity committees involving the rest of the labour movement – the party and sister unions – to organise support.
Rico & Co. may have started this fight but if we get organised at every level, we have power to shut down their profits and finish it – as well as win a landmark victory that could inspire the entire labour movement.
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