by Daphne Liddle
AROUND 120,000 postal workers are about to strike in a momentous dispute over the future of the Royal Mail to prevent it being reduced and restructured to become a privatised marginal wing of a European Union-wide postal service.
The Communication Workers’ Union has been fighting the privatisation plans for many years and the Government, which appointed the current Royal Mail management with remit to smash the union and bulldoze the changes through, has been doing its best to discourage and weaken the resolve of the strikers.
The workers are told that strike action will turn many customers to other methods of delivery — electronic and private sector.
But the management has pushed them into a situation where they have to strike now before the damage to the Royal Mail is too far gone — then refused to negotiate. It is the management, backed by the Government, which has deliberately orchestrated this confrontation, as the Thatcher government did to the miners.
It is important to the whole trade union movement that the CWU wins this battle and other unions must not stand by, they must support the post workers in everyway they can.
If the Thatcherite anti union laws were defied now — as they were earlier this year at the Lyndsey Oil refinery dispute — it is the ruling class that would be the loser in this crucial poker game and the working class that would make a significant advance.
Royal Mail management has set about recruiting 30,000 unskilled, unchecked scab workers, who will be paid at the minimum wage rate; many of them will be taken from dole queues and threatened with the loss of their benefits if they refuse to scab. Unemployed workers who refuse to scab deserve the full support of the trade union movement.
The Royal Mail usually recruits some extra staff — only a fraction of 30,000 now being taken on — for the Christmas period but they are normally checked and paid the same rate as regular staff.
The CWU said the plan to recruit 30,000 scabs could be unlawful and was considering taking legal action.
A union official said: “We’re disappointed that Royal Mail appears to be more interested in sidelining the views and concerns of its staff than reaching an agreement to bring this dispute to an end.
“Instead of spending vast sums of money on untrained temporary workers we urge the Royal Mail to engage with talks to reach an agreement to get the permanent staff back to work. “Royal Mail is planning for failure here instead of addressing the concerns of its staff. Postal workers deserve more than this dismissive attitude. “CWU remains available for talks to avoid a strike.”
Meanwhile support for the strikers is coming from some unusual places. The right-wing Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have carried messages from supportive columnists who are also opposed to the Royal Mail being integrated in the EU postal service.
And in the House of Commons backbenches 131 MPs from seven different political parties — including Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat — have signed Early Day Motion 2035 which calls on the Government to do all in its power to ensure that Royal Mail responds positively to the union’s proposal of third party mediation in the current postal dispute.
Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said: “We think it is absolutely right that politicians put pressure on the government and Royal Mail to find a quick and reasonable settlement to this dispute.
“Despite recent revelations which call into question Royal Mail’s intentions, the CWU remains available for talks.
“We would welcome a move to ACAS, but Royal Mail has so far not committed to this without pre-conditions. Any third party involvement needs to be on an entirely transparent basis with a joint intention of reaching an agreement.”
The EDM tabled by Geraldine Smith, Michael Connarty, Jim Dobbin, David Crausby, John McDonnell and Colin Burgon was put down on 13th October 2009.
The whole of the rest of the labour movement must now rally around the postal workers or we will all be worse off.