Around 115,000 postal workers across Britain have come out on strike today, in the first of four days of action by members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU).
The strike – which continues on 31 August, and then on 8-9 September – is set to cause major disruption to postal services.
Postal workers have been forced to take action in response to a 2% pay deal imposed by Royal Mail bosses, without any opportunity for negotiations.
As such, thousands of Royal Mail staff – organised in the CWU – voted to strike, with a whopping 96.7% supporting industrial action on a massive turnout of 77%.
This action is also the largest (so far) in the strikewave that has rocked the country in recent months, in what has jokingly been referred to as a ‘hot strike summer’.
Royal Mail has defended their offer as a 5.5% pay rise – the 2% ‘rise’, plus a £500 lump sum that the bosses claim is worth a further 2%.
But as CWU general secretary Dave Ward rhetorically asked at a rally outside Royal Mail HQ in Clerkenwell, London, today: where’s the rest of the money?
In fact, it’s plain to see where the rest of the money is going. Royal Mail has announced profits of £758 million, with an estimated £568 million of this going to the company’s shareholders and bosses.
Ordinary postal workers, meanwhile, are being left out to dry. Not only is the baseline 2% offer far below inflation, which is running hot at over 10%, but the rest of the bosses’ offer is dependent on the CWU accepting all manner of retrograde changes to workers’ terms and conditions – disgraceful attacks hidden behind a farcical fig-leaf of so-called ‘modernisation’.
Whilst Royal Mail are making meagre pay offers with one hand, in other words, they are looking to undermine workers’ conditions with the other.
“Our members were told you’re worth an imposed, not negotiated, 2%,” Ward remarked at today’s rally.
“Now against soaring inflation, against horrendous energy bills, there is no way – no matter how long it takes – that we are ever going to accept our members being treated in such a bloody disgraceful way by the people up there!” Ward asserted, gesturing in the direction of Royal Mail’s head offices.
Socialist Appeal supporters have shown solidarity with posties on the picket lines, which stretched across the length and breadth of the country, forming outside postal depots in every city, town, and village.
Many comrades noted the incredible energy and enthusiasm of the postal workers, as well as how strong the strike has been. In Cambridge, for example, comrades reported that just seven employees – out of a workforce of almost 400 – had gone into work.
Elsewhere, including in Norwich, Ashington, and East London, comrades reported a friendly and positive atmosphere on the picket line, with CWU members and comrades engaging in lively discussions around broader topics, such as the question of a general strike, the need for public ownership, and the new ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign, spearheaded by Dave Ward.
Royal Mail workers – as with RMT members on Britain’s railways – have seen first hand what a disaster privatisation has been. Many CWU strikers today therefore spoke firmly about the need for postal services to be brought back under public ownership and control, noting the strong support for such policies amongst the general public.
As the working class stirs into life, the need for a political struggle is becoming increasingly clear. There is a thirst for ideas amongst striking workers, who are looking for a real, lasting solution to the mounting problems that they face, as capitalism descends ever-deeper into crisis.
In London, Socialist Appeal activists also attended the rally outside Royal Mail’s HQ.
This saw around 350 postal workers from across the city gather to hear from CWU representatives such as Dave Ward, alongside speeches from other trade union leaders, such as Mick Lynch of the RMT and Jo Grady of the UCU.
There were also many trade union banners present in solidarity – from Unite, UCU, Equity, RMT, the NEU, amongst others.
All of the speakers gave rousing speeches connecting the CWU’s struggle to those of their own union, and to the seemingly relentless assault on living standards facing all workers.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch was very well received, as he pointed to the fact this will be an ongoing battle in the months and year to come, as the class struggle intensifies.
“Enough is enough – we say no!” Lynch exclaimed. “What we do say Yes to is a summer of solidarity; a spring of solidarity if it needs to go through to next year, and right around the clock!”
“The CWU, Unite, GMB, RMT, UCU, and the others,” he continued; “we have to call on the entire movement, the whole movement, the rest of the trade unions to come into this action, to get your members motivated, to call them to the flag, and to vote Yes for a wave of industrial action across the UK and internationally, if that’s what it needs to take!”
Lynch also gave a warning to the Labour Party leader, ‘Mr’ Starmer (“no one gets called ‘Sir’ in the RMT,” he said to chuckles from the crowd), regarding his anti-union gestures.
“We’re saying to Mr Starmer: Wake up and smell the coffee; look out the window; the people are on the move!” Lynch roared, to huge cheers. “You’re either with us, or you're against us, you’ve got to choose!”
Importantly, next Wednesday – 31 August – will see almost all of the CWU out on strike, as telecoms workers at BT and Openreach join members at Royal Mail on strike.
Who is ready for 1,500 picket lines on Friday as Royal Mail Group and Post Office workers strike?— The CWU (@CWUnews) August 23, 2022
Yeah? What about almost 2,000 on Wednesday as Royal Mail Group, BT and Openreach workers strike?
170,000 CWU members.
Not a step backwards.
This kind of coordinated action by the CWU shows the way forward. Indeed, as Dave Ward correctly stated in an interview with Sky News today:
“I think we should be looking at coordinated action, and raise issues about the way UK companies are being run, the blatant profiteering that’s taking place across the UK.”
With inflation predicted to hit 18% next year, and the energy price cap set to go up by a further 80% from 1 October, the whole of society is increasingly resembling a ticking time bomb. Already, there has been a spate of wildcat strikes, as workers’ anger bubbles over.
Combined with further anti-union attacks promised by both Tory leadership candidates, Britain is heading for a stormy collision of the classes in the months and years ahead.
The Tories and the bosses have thrown down the gauntlet. It is up to the trade union leaders to step up to the challenge.
In such heated conditions, a mass campaign of coordinated action, demonstrations, and strikes could easily bring down this decrepit, crisis-ridden Tory government.
Indeed, the popular backing for such a campaign can already be seen in embryo by the response to the launch of ‘Enough Is Enough’, which has gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, partially filling the political vacuum left behind in the wake of the defeat of the Corbyn movement.
A mass movement such as this must not only oppose the austerity and attacks of the capitalists and their degenerate representatives, but must also have a clear vision of what kind of society we are fighting for.
The failure of the market – at Royal Mail, on the railways, and across the board – shows that this means committing to nationalisation without compensation, workers’ control, and a planned economy, run along socialist lines.
Only the socialist transformation of society can solve the ills facing our class. This is the bold programme that the labour movement must unite and fight for.