Picket out the scab centres
Large numbers of casuals are being employed in an attempt to break the strike. Under UK employment law, the use of agency staff as strikebreakers is illegal.
Royal Mail are using the excuse that these casuals are merely the normal Christmas staff, recruited early this year. Postal workers are under no illusions as to their function.
Generally casuals are employed on manual sorting in large scab mail centres. How successful this operation is in shifting mail is unclear, and reports on the size of the backlog are confused and contradictory. Smaller numbers of casuals are being employed in regular mail centres and delivery offices alongside CWU members.
Although the CWU is challenging the use of casuals in the courts, the union has yet to organise large-scale picketing of the scab centres, or a major drive to organise casuals into the union.
Casuals experience all the exploitation that Royal Mail bosses are attempting to heap onto regular postal workers — job insecurity, low wages, little training and a bullying management. The CWU should recruit them into the union and fight to improve their conditions, as well as preventing them from being used to break strikes.
The labour movement and the left should help in the picketing of scab mail centres. Casuals who are sent to work in regular workplaces should be encouraged to join picket lines.
Rank and file control
In the last week of October, as TUC-brokered talks between the CWU and Royal Mail began, many activists feared that CWU leaders Dave Ward and Billy Hayes were on the point of cutting a sell-out deal with management.
Ward and Hayes made loud noises about being determined to find a deal soon to end the strike. Remembering the poor deal concluded in 2007, and the fact that the content of that deal was not revealed to members until weeks after the union leaders had called off action, one London postie commented: “if management offered him a few crumbs, Dave Ward would bite their hand off”.
As we go to press in the first week of November, Billy Hayes has gone on TV to attack Royal Mail management, and announced a new round of all-out strike dates.
It seems that talks have stalled, and that for the time being the union leaders will continue action.
There is still an urgent need for national and regional reps’ meetings to take place regularly, and to make binding decisions, in the first place to set precise demands for the dispute, and in the second place to to control and monitor what the top officials say in negotiations.
Reps’ meetings are happening across the London region, but they are poorly publicised and not enough members are aware of them.
The need for a rank-and-file movement to keep an eye on the CWU leadership was thrown into sharp relief by Dave Ward’s comments as reported in the Guardian on Friday 30 October:
“Ward admitted to the Guardian earlier this month that he was under pressure from some members of the executive to announce immediate action without any further talks.
“He said the union was prepared to make changes over how it managed its side of industrial relations at Royal Mail.
“One example he cited was that, because officials [Executive members, not Ward himself] have to be elected every year, they are in ‘perpetual election mode’ and therefore constantly feel the need to talk tough to appeal to the CWU’s rank and file. He said the union was prepared to hold elections less frequently to improve relations with management.”
Reducing union democracy to suit the wishes of management — perhaps Dave Ward would prefer to just let Adam Crozier choose who sits on the Postal Executive! This gives a clear indication of the direction the union will take without a strong rank-and-file movement to control the leadership.
Escalating the action
Many postal workers are of the opinion that the only way to win before Christmas is to significantly escalate the action.
Several reps have told Solidarity that, having been out for so long already, many London posties would be happy to see an escalation of the action as they feel that they have nothing to lose. Certainly, no-one wants to see the strike end without a major concession to justify so much sacrifice.
Some postal workers are making the argument for more all-out strikes to replace or augment the rolling action deployed up to now. This is a debate to be had out at the rank-and-file level of the CWU, though properly-organised reps’ meetings.
Build solidarity committees!
Postal solidarity committees already exist in many towns in the UK. Where they do not, they should be set up, if possible through the local trades council.
They should meet regularly, and organise to raise money for the strike through collections in workplaces and on the streets; they should organise big meetings, leafleting and other demonstrations of political support for the postal workers, against management’s propaganda offensive, and they should send delegations to help out on picket lines.
Sack Mandelson and Crozier!
In this dispute the postal workers are pitched against two particularly aggressive and conscious fighters for the ruling class: Peter Mandelson and Adam Crozier.
Both have made it clear that it is their intention to break the strike. Mandelson has been manoeuvring behind the scenes to undermine the union, and has made public statements in support of Royal Mail bosses.
Even though Mandelson has toned down his act in recent weeks, the labour movement should recognised Mandelson for what he is. They should not tolerate a member of a Labour government openly organising to break the strength of the CWU.
There should be a labour movement campaign to force him out of office. Such a campaign would make the government less able to intervene on management’s side in the strike, and would re-assert the role of the labour movement in national politics. It would also draw a clear line between the right-wing New Labour leadership and those elements in the Labour Party still loyal to the working class.
It could put on the spot those union leaders who have supported the CWU and deplored Mandelson’s attitude without drawing active conclusions.