Pete Firmin, a London postal worker, spoke to Solidarity about the post and telecom union CWU's campaign against job cuts in Royal Mail
As far as I can tell, the strikes across the country in recent weeks have been pretty solid. In London, they are certainly having an effect on the mail. Understandably, many workers are now impatient for the national ballot.
The national ballot on action starts on 16 September. The union has put it back a week because, it says, some branch records were not sufficiently up to date to withstand legal challenge. That may be true, but surely the national union should have addressed that problem earlier.
Something like one third of the postal membership of the CWU has been involved in the action to date. I'd be reasonably confident of a big yes vote in the ballot.
The ballot will run for two weeks, from 16 to 30 September. I've heard no detailed discussion of what action will follow from a yes vote. It is not clear yet whether local action will be suspended during the balloting or not. London postal workers are out again on Wednesday 9 September, "network" drivers in many areas on 12-14 September, and a few delivery offices on 12 or 14 September. We can expect that the union leadership will initially use the national ballot result, assuming that it's a strong yes, to try to get concessions from Royal Mail, before calling any action.
It is not clearly exactly what the union's demands are for the strike action. The general line is that while the CWU accepts that job losses are necessary, they should be agreed rather than imposed, and workers should share in the savings made.
The London division leadership, which is generally more militant, has been pushing the national leadership to move to a national ballot, but doesn't have a different position from the national leadership on the strike's demands.
The demands I'd want to see would be more like: no job losses; a shorter working week; and reversal of the changes made by Royal Mail in the last few months to cut jobs and increase workload.
The Royal Mail bosses' view is that the only way to compete with private firms like DHL is to cut labour costs. I think they were hoping that Mandelson's plan to part-privatise Royal Mail would bring that with it, but they've had the objective in mind since before Mandelson proposed privatisation.
Their talk of new technology is mainly just back-up to the drive to cut labour costs. There are new mail-sorting machines, and they have been tested, but they don't seem to cut costs much. Royal Mail will bring in more mechanised sorting, to some extent, but not as much as they say.
Bringing in part-time delivery workers is certainly part of their plan. In many areas of the country they have already brought in a lot of part-timers.
The union leaders' strategy to deal with this? I wish they had one. They do not really have a strategy to deal with Royal Mail's assault on jobs and conditions.
At the end of last year the national union leadership asked branches not to agree to any job cuts without an overall national agreement being made first. Branches have done that. But it's taken until now to get a national ballot on what is really, now, a national issue.