Postal workers organised in the CWU union have voted overwhelmingly (76% on a turnout of nearly 70%) for national strike action against ongoing attacks by Royal Mail management against workers. The first days of strike action are scheduled for Thursday 22 and Friday 23 October.
The strike is in response to “modernisation” plans by Royal Mail, which essentially involve making postal workers work harder, longer and for less. There has been an increase in “cross functioning”, whereby managers make workers of one grade do the work of another grade with no increase in pay. Several local offices still face closure, resulting in potential further job losses. Workers’ routines are being disrupted, as postal workers are reallocated to new walks at no notice and the number of casual workers increases.
Students should support the postal dispute not only out of basic solidarity with people fighting for their livelihoods but also because it is, in essence, a dispute for the heart-and-soul of the notion of public services. The dispute poses the question of whether the postal service should be run democratically by workers and users, in the interests of public need, or by unaccountable managers in the interests of profit.
Precisely the same question, in fact, which is posed over and over again in the education sector by student struggles around issues like fees and course cuts. If the postal workers win, it will drive back the New Labour project (which is certain to be continued by a future Tory government) of swallowing up and privatising what remains of public services in Britain. The striking workers should not be held responsible for the inconvenience and disruption caused; withdrawing their labour is the only real weapon available to workers who want to assert their right to have a say in how their industry and workplace is run.
Constant media focus on the inconvenience caused by the strike — rather than the management attacks that motivated it — indicates nothing except the ruling-class bias of the mainstream press. Ultimately, blame for any disruption caused by the strike must lie with Royal Mail bosses.
There is also a significant likelihood that, as Royal Mail attempts to break the strike and ultimately smash the power of the union within the company, students may be used as scab labour. Reports indicate that Royal Mail are in the process of recruiting (mainly through agencies like Manpower) an army of up to 30,000 casual workers in order to act as scabs.
It is in fact illegal for managers to hire casual staff to do the work of striking workers, but Royal Mail intends to get around this fact by claiming that the 30,000 are just the normal casual workers they hire every year to cope with increased seasonal demand around Christmas, plus the existing backlog from the last round of regional strikes. Except this year, they’re hiring them in October. Suspicious...
Although the pressure to get part-time work of any kind to fund ourselves through our studies is increasing, students should not allow themselves to be used as pawns of Royal Mail management in their effort to break the strike and smash the union. Even if you earn some money by working for Royal Mail now, will that really outweigh the cuts in pay, conditions and quality of service that postal workers and service users will suffer if Royal Mail breaks the strike.
Do not take casual work for Royal Mail and, if you’re already working as a casual in the postal service, join the CWU and refuse to cross picket lines! Student Union-run job shops should not advertise casual vacancies for Royal Mail, or promote the agencies (such as Manpower) being used to recruit scabs
The postal strike is a battle between two different visions of society and whether the needs of people or profit should come first. Students have a very immediate interest in taking a side. We should side with the postal workers.
Daniel Randall, NUS Trustee Board
Tom Wills, President, University of Sussex Students’ Union
Chris Marks, Vice President Education, Hull University Union
Katherine McMahon, External Convener, Edinburgh University Students Association
Ben Sellers, Co-President, SOAS Students’ Union
The text of this statement can be on the Education Not for Sale website found at www.free-education.org.uk
To sign email firstname.lastname@example.org
How you can support the strikes:
• Visit your local picket line. Check the CWU website www.cwu.org for local details.
• Pass a motion supporting the postal workers at your SU. See the ENS website for a model motion.
• Get a CWU speaker for your SU or campaign group meeting.
• Do a street collection or organise a benefit gig at your university or college.