Leaders of the CWU postal workers' union have rejected Royal Mail's derisory 2.5 per cent pay offer and are now balloting for industrial action. The result will be announced at the union's conference on 7 June, with a strike possible soon after.
Royal Mail made the pay offer as complicated as possible in order to confuse people. There is a 2.5 per cent pay rise (worth £8.09 a week!) or £600 lump sum - but only if cuts of £350 million are made. Both of these "increases" are below the rate of inflation - in reality, they are pay cuts. And, as posties are painfully aware from a year of "efficiency savings", cuts mean job losses, turning full-time posts into part-time ones, and making everyone work harder.
Then there are one-off bonuses if your local office makes more cuts than planned (as if!), and a shares scheme that would offer an £800 "dividend payment" if staff meet their local budgets and Royal Mail hits its profit target. This is corporatism: trying to make workers think they have a common interest in the company's performance. It is a trick to bust the union's independence.
To top it all, Royal Mail also wants to make cuts of £350 million each year for the next five years!
Being a postie: a dog's life
Post workers start shifts at 5am and work most Saturdays. We work for 40 hours a week; and our £310 a week basic plus management intimidation makes overtime compulsory for most. Compared with Adam Crozier's £1 million a year office job, we lead a dog's life.
Yet Royal Mail wants:
• Phasing in 6am starts, thus ending our £10 a week early shift allowance
• Cutting night shifts (and allowances)
• Taking on the rounds of post workers on sick or on holiday during the summer - more work for the same pay.
This is a provocation. Royal Mail's demands will not stop until the CWU is busted - or we win. Royal Mail, the government and its pro-privatisation regulator PostComm have all made it clear what they think the future looks like:
• Sorting by machines
• Workforce shifted to a 60:40 full-time to part-time ratio
• Slashing of tens of thousands of jobs.
Every postal worker must respond with the fight of their lives: a high turn-out and a resounding "yes" vote, leading to an all-out indefinite strike.
How we can win
Millions of other public sector workers - NHS staff, teachers, civil servants, local authority workers - are also up against Gordon Brown's 2 per cent pay limit. By striking together we can defeat our individual employers and set back the government's free market agenda.
Millions are alarmed at the accelerating pace of privatisation and cuts in public services, especially the NHS. They can be rallied to our side by the unions initiating an anti-privatisation movement on the scale of the 2003 antiwar movement. An indefinite public sector-wide strike over pay, backed up by such a movement, would be an unstoppable force.
But the CWU leaders do not want to initiate such a movement. They don't want to rally the working class behind such a campaign because they are tied to the Labour Party. Billy Hayes and co. put the interests of Gordon Brown before ours. Their tactics are limited to those that solely go through the Labour Party structures - yet even these structures are abandoned when it comes to the crunch.
CWU postal leader Dave Ward recently resigned from Labour's leading committee, saying "I feel there is a growing conflict of interests between my role in representing and defending the views of the CWU and continuing to spend time on the Labour Party NEC."
Duh... isn't the whole point of sitting on the NEC in order to carry this fight into the Labour Party? If, as soon as a conflict emerges, Ward resigns and hands Gordon Brown and his would-be deputy, ex-CWU leader Alan Johnson, a clean run, then why is the union still paying for this party? Wouldn't it be better to end the farce of "influencing the government" and use our funds to found a new party?
All this underscores why we need a strategy that does not rely on lobbying Labour but rests on militant action controlled by the rank and file. We need strike committees to control negotiations and run the dispute. These committees should link up with other workers, such as PCS members, who are also fighting the government over jobs and pay.
Postal workers have built up an impressive network of grassroots activists, capable of launching wildcat strikes and defending militants from victimisation. We now need to transform this network into a national rank and file movement that can keep up the pressure on our leaders, step up the action if they attempt to limit the strikes to ineffective one-day protests, and replace them should they attempt to sell us short or call off the strikes.
If we can achieve this in the coming weeks, not only can we win, but we will strengthen the union for the looming battle against privatisation.
A socialist action programme for the CWU
• Vote yes in the ballot - no deals!
• £400 a week now! For a 35 hour week with no loss of pay!
• For an indefinite strike - stop all mail till we win!
• A moratorium on further efficiency cuts!
• Stop all Post Office closures and cuts - strike together!
• Defend the final salary pension scheme for all, including new starters - no changes to contributions or conditions!
• Link up with other public sector unions, for all out strike!
• Abolish Postcomm, close the postal market!
• Nationalise the privateers, like TNT, with no compensation! For a fully nationalised postal company under workers' control!
Post workers who want to get involved with Workers Power's CWU camapaigns should email us at: WP_postal@yahoo.co.uk.
To read more articles and download our bulletins click here