Last week, the CWU postal workers union announced a huge majority for strike action over attacks by Royal Mail on workers’ pensions and work conditions - a staggering 89.1% majority for action on a huge 73.7% turnout amongst the 110,000 postal group union members.
This will be the first national strike by postal workers since Royal Mail was privatised in 2013.
For months now the CWU has been building up support for its “Four Pillars” campaign over jobs, pay, hours and pensions and has been getting a good response to back this campaign up with strike action.
As one postal worker commented online:
“There’s a very big appetite for strike action. Pay cuts, increases in workload, changes in hours, and pensions stolen. All while the company made £712 million profit.”
Royal Mail, meanwhile, are threatening to take legal action against the CWU and get a high court injunction to prevent industrial action, claiming that any strike action taken before the dispute resolution procedures have been followed would be unlawful.
The issues at stake
Postal worker Lee Waker, who is a Political Officer for the CWU East London Branch, told us that:
“Workplace meetings have been held over the last few months. Concerns are about the doing away of allowances such as door-to-door leaflets, which is around £22 on current bonus agreements; later start times; clocking in and out not being paid; no guaranteed sick pay: the list goes on, in what seems to be a general race to the bottom. “
The union had previously noted that far from making progress in negotiations, management have consistently been trying to push the existing arrangement backwards.
For example, they want to reduce sick pay for workers, starting with a worse deal for new starters who have worked four years and an even worse one for those who have worked less. The CWU have correctly warned that such arrangements, if implemented, would just open the door for management to come back later and apply them to all staff across the board.
The union has also called for an end to management short-termism and a “spiral of managed decline” and to instead implement a return to a more dynamic delivery service and a movement towards a 35-hour working week. CWU members should demand that this be on the basis of no job losses or pay cuts.
Pensions are also a critical issue, with Royal Mail management determined to wind up the existing scheme, which already functions at two levels (defined benefit and defined contribution) depending on when you started work.
The union has warned that what the company want is to just pay a lump sum on retirement and that’s that. This is certainly not an income on retirement.
The union is proposing a compromise which would be at least a unified defined benefit pension, with an income for the whole of a worker's retirement. However, many CWU members will be wanting a deal that is better than this and that gives postal workers a pension they can comfortably live on into retirement.
Another CWU member told Socialist Appeal that “pensions are the big issue amongst postal worker”. “There is a mood for a fight on this.”
In all these issues, Royal Mail bosses say that they are struggling as a business and need to cut back. Yet they are struggling precisely because they are cutting back, charging more for a worse service. So much for the efficiencies of privatisation!
In fact, not only did Royal Mail made an operating profit last year of £712 million, but they also felt able to give shareholders a whopping £230 million in dividends.
Building for action
As the ballot got underway, gate meetings were held all around the country, with workers posting pictures of themselves online supporting the call to act. Some sites organised mass posting sessions where they all posed for the camera lining up to put their ballot papers in the nearest post box.
The union has confirmed that over one thousand local meetings had been organised to encourage voting and explain the issues in order to counteract management lies. Now we can see that the drive to get above the 50% trade union law threshold has been well and truly achieved.
CWU Deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger said after the ballot result announcement:
"This ballot result is hugely significant and demonstrates a strength of feeling that can only be translated as a massive vote of no confidence in the managerial leadership of the Royal Mail Group and the direction that they advocate.”
Lee Waker, meanwhile, also told Socialist Appeal that:
“In some areas postal workers are being worked like slaves. I know everybody where I work are up for a punch up, but I do believe many postal workers outside London have had all they can take.
“This will be a very serious strike unless management backs down and we will this time need every member involved in making sure it is successful.”
The union has stressed that this dispute has repercussions for workers generally, as other industries are watching to see if Royal Mail can get away with its attacks, not least on pensions, with a view to copying them.
The message to all trade unionists must be: solidarity now!
Post workers will be calling on the union to act swiftly with its mandate and show Royal Mail bosses that they mean business.
Strike action by postal workers could also act as a spark to ignite action by other workers, standing up against common enemy.
As CWU general secretary Dave Ward, speaking on the ITV programme Peston On Sunday, said: “I think that workers everywhere in the UK are under incredible pressure at the moment. There’s been an explosion of insecure employment, and terms and condition are not great for workers.” Ward also warned that the coming months will see “workers coming together to fight for a new deal.”
As the CWU puts it: the time has come to rise up!