What next after this week's postal workers' strike?

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
8 October 2007

The two 48-hour strikes staged by postal workers last week and this week, were solid. By taking this extended action, over a hundred thousand workers were able to demonstrate their anger against the attacks of the bosses and their trustees in government.

This event should be welcomed by the whole working class - and it should be taken as a warning by the capitalist class. It shows that, contrary to the claims of politicians and the media, the class struggle is alive and kicking, even if these signs of life are beneath the surface most of the time!

What is at stake in these strikes is not just a pay deal. In return for a wage increase over 2 years, more or less equivalent to official inflation - which already means a cut in the posties' low real wages - drastic flexibility measures would be introduced.

Behind the pay deal

For instance, working hours (and pay?) could be increased or decreased by up to 2 hours for anyone and on any day, without advance warning, depending on "management needs". Never mind the resulting tiredness and safety risks, or the havoc caused for personal arrangements, in particular for children! For Royal Mail, the name of the game is to get more work done, more cheaply, by fewer people.

Other measures have the same objective. For instance, the introduction of a kind of "team working" in which everyone does every task, especially in delivery units. Of course, who would complain about having a less boring job, with more variety? But this is not what this is about. The aim is simply to get rid of any kind of breaks in between jobs - regardless of the fact that these jobs are physically very demanding and require periodic rests.

The list of flexibility measures that Royal Mail is trying to push down the postal workers' throats is too long to be printed here. But, even though there is not a word about it in Royal Mail's "offer", the real aim of these measures is another round of tens of thousands of job cuts, adding to the 40,000 already imposed over the past few years.

Ultimately the objective, of course, is to privatise the postal service, one way or another. It was not for nothing that Blair appointed the former head of ASDA, Alan Leighton, to run Royal Mail!

The main argument used by Leighton and his chief executive, Adam Crozier, to justify their attacks against postal workers is that they "cost" 25% more than those employed by Royal Mail's private competitors and therefore this affects profitability.

But so what? Who says that society should be organised to produce profits for shareholders (and even more so when the sole shareholder is, as with Royal Mail, the state) rather than to satisfy the needs of the population? Aren't we all sick and tired of hearing that sort of language and seeing the rich arrogantly displaying their wealth, while public services, affordable housing and other facilities needed for the welfare of the majority are less and less available?

Their struggle is our struggle

In fact, the privatisation of Royal Mail, which is the real stake in this strike, affects all of us, both as workers and as consumers. Because, just as with electricity and gas, privatisation will mean a more expensive and much cut-down service. Already we can see this with the reduction in the number of mail deliveries (and collections).

This is why the postal workers' struggle could the springboard for a much wider counter-offensive against the attacks on wages, jobs and conditions of the past years, in every industry.

As usual, union leaders are careful to keep the lid tight on the anger of the working class, for fear that it might express itself outside of their control. This time, the CWU has not even called street marches which would allow strikers to stand up to be counted in front of the entire working class. Now that the all-out national strikes are over, the CWU plans rolling sectional strikes - in which smaller numbers of workers will be unable to make their voices heard, let alone make their strikes effective.

Back in 2003, postal workers staged unofficial strikes across the country despite the reluctance of their leadership to fight. They could do the same once again. They could organise themselves through elected strike committees to ensure that, whether the CWU leadership is willing to fight or not, they could coordinate their strikes nationally as well as call marches and similar events in which other workers could express their support.

And yes, if the postal workers took such an initiative, even on the scale of a single office, it would be our interests to help them in whatever way we can with their efforts. Because it is only through such developments that the tide of setbacks of the past years will begin to be reversed.