Despite a historic 97.1 per cent vote for strike action by Royal Mail workers in the CWU union, and 95 per cent in Parcelforce, postal bosses have locked the union leaders into weeks of mediation before we can strike. Royal Mail’s new five-year plan aims to carve up the company and restructure it into a parcels company, while cutting up to 40,000 jobs, busting the union and spelling the end of the postal service.
But while workers have been forced to put action on hold, management haven’t been idle. Pretending to talk (see box), they have been preparing to undermine the coming strike. Their coming counterattack makes building rank and file organisation even more urgently needed to ensure we can win.
Royal Mail dirty tricks
First in Bootle posties went back to work after a seven-day unofficial walkout against a racist comment by management. Royal Mail got a court injunction and management bussed in strike-breakers with police support – it is unclear whether these were agency staff or managers from other offices and areas (scabbing is part of their job description!).
Immediately after the ballot result was announced on 15 October, Royal Mail got busy. Thousands of adverts for 11am-7pm parcel drivers were advertised across the country, without informing the union, and distinct from ads clearly marked Christmas temporary work (Royal Mail takes on thousands of casuals on at Christmas every year). Clearly they are preparing a scab operation that could keep going as the new afternoon parcels delivery workforce it is pushing for, in order to gut letter deliveries – one of the key issues of the dispute.
Then on 30 October Parcelforce wrote to employees being forcibly TUPE’d over into a separate company from Royal Mail, again at the heart of the dispute. In the letter, they threaten workers with the sack if they don’t sign the new contracts.
Both cases show that the company intends to push ahead with its parcel plans, binning the Four Pillars agreement signed last year, regardless of CWU disagreement and Parcelforce workers voting 95 per cent for strike action.
Now that a general election has been called, new anti-union CEO Rico Back, who has not attended a single mediation session, penned a public letter to the union demanding we drop the strike for the duration because it would be undemocratic! The CWU’s response is that there is no law against striking during a general election and we will take the action to defend ourselves: quite right.
A postal strike will knock them for six anytime, but Christmas is very important for Royal Mail profits and we have massive power then. That is why at every turn they are seeking to delay the strike with empty talks and promises. The CWU has tried to tick all the boxes required legally, but everyone knows Royal Mail will go for an injunction, possibly linked to the general election, in order to block strikes hitting Christmas, when hundreds of thousands of extra parcels flood the system per week.
Postal workers must likewise prepare for action from below, while demanding no delay from our leaders.
Fake talks to delay
Terry Pullinger, CWU General Secretary Postal, explained in detail to workers on a live, Facebook Q&A session how the required mediation had been a sham. The CWU offered six weeks of serious negotiations (cutting into our pre-Christmas strike period, a real sacrifice) which Royal Mail ignored, instead arguing to have separate mediations on every issue to tie the union into talks forever.
When the mediator’s report came out supporting the union’s stance, the union contacted Royal Mail to see if they could meet to discuss it, only to be told nobody was available because it was schools’ half term! They pencilled in a measly four hours the following week. That’s how serious Royal Mail takes these negotiations.
Now in a cynical PR stunt to confuse the public and workers, Royal Mail published a proposal for “talks without preconditions” in the new year, if there were no strikes in the run up to Christmas!
In a blitz of manager “updates” to staff at work, letters home, and messages sent to scanners as we work, they are trying to spin this as the company taking “a significant step” to reach out! Few workers will be taken in by these hypocritical con artists. And in terms of preconditions, voiced as if it were a massive concession, Back is trying to avoid the one big “precondition”: return to the agreement you are currently trying to rip up.
We have wasted time with mediation. Besides Royal Mail is demanding no strikes during any future talks. Workers must insist that CWU leaders don’t concede this. We can “walk and talk” at the same time.