Postal workers have rightly reacted with considerable anger over the use of the courts by Royal Mail bosses, who have taken out an injunction against the first mail strike, initially called by the CWU for 19th October. Steve Jones looks at how the class bias of the state and the law have been used to temporarily hold off the struggle to defend pensions, jobs, terms and conditions.
Postal workers have rightly reacted with considerable anger over the use of the courts by Royal Mail bosses, who have taken out an injunction against the first mail strike, initially called by the CWU for 19th October.
“Gutted” was the response from one CWU activist in London. Gate meetings have already started to take place to debate what has happened and what must be done next. “If they think we are just going to roll over and accept this then they have got another thing coming,” said one CWU member to our reporter.
Despite the union getting a massive 90% majority for strike action on a 74% turnout (totally bypassing the barriers raised by Tory anti-union laws), the bosses have used the rotten forces of the legal system to attack the union and waive two fingers at the ballot result.
The High Court ruling obliges the union to postpone any strike until they have gone through seven pointless weeks of external negotiations. This completely ignores not only the overwhelming decision made by postal workers (with a clear majority in favour of strike action), but also the fact that Royal Mail managers have had months and months to negotiate a settlement over the union’s demands but have instead done nothing.
There is no reason to expect anything to change - this injunction is just a cynical delaying tactic.
In defence of conditions
CWU Deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger correctly warned outside the High Court that “they haven’t cancelled this dispute, they’ve just postponed the dispute.”
General Secretary Dave Ward added:
“The company are deluded if they believe their courtroom politics will resolve this dispute. Instead the company’s actions will have the complete opposite effect. Postal Workers’ attitude towards the company will harden and it makes us more determined than ever to defend our members pensions, jobs, service and achieve our objectives.”
The dispute over what the union calls the “Four Pillars” of security - the reduction of working hours; defence of legally-binding agreements; opposition to reduction in service and jobs; and, most importantly of all, opposition to attacks on pension rights - has united all post workers against the ongoing attacks by management.
As one postal worker from Cardiff told Socialist Appeal:
"It's the same old privatisation story, cut costs and sell off as many assets as possible to make a quick buck, a simple transfer of wealth from the workers to the bosses."
This dispute has implications for other workers also, with bosses elsewhere looking at how Royal Mail resolves this dispute. Above all, they are watching with a view to copying Royal Mail management, not least over attacks on work pensions schemes. This fight therefore affects us all.
Class bias of the courts
This court ruling also openly exposes once again the anti-union, anti-working class bias inside the legal system, one which always works for the rich against the poor.
This decision is just the latest in a long disgraceful series of such actions by the law. We only have to think back to the treatment of the miners in 1984-85 and the print workers a few years later; the jailing of the Shrewsbury Pickets; and all the many other cases where the law has openly acted against workers.
The courts have been quick to act against the CWU, but took years to even do anything about the blacklisting scandal. Rich capitalists can openly avoid tax bills, yet the legitimate claims of hundreds of thousands of workers count for nothing. So much for democracy it seems.
One hundred years ago, in his classic book State and Revolution, Lenin remarked that the state - including the legal system and the police - always act in the interests of the ruling class, however impartial they might pretend to be. The ruling against the CWU just reminds us of that fact.
Workers in all sectors: unite and fight!
The message must be made clear: the 90% vote for action still stands. As Dave Ward put it, “We walked into the court today with a massive 90% yes vote for strike action – we walked out of the court today with a massive 90% vote for strike action.”
They can delay action, but come the busy Christmas period the strikes must and will be on. This court imposition must be protested against and the bosses made to understand that the organised working class will not be deflected in their struggle. Any walk-outs must be supported by the movement.
The TUC in particular must not sit on the fence over this, but turn the postal workers fight into a national fight of all unions and all workers against the bosses’ attacks; against the use of the legal system to hold back unions; and - most of all - against the whole capitalist system.
A one-day general strike against austerity could act as a focus for this, taking the fight into every workplace, city and college, uniting all workers and youth. The Royal Mail management may think they have won a battle, but the unions must now make it clear: you will lose this war!