Postal strikes - fighting back is the only way forward for all of us

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20 October 2009

The media and politicians went into overdrive in the run-up to the national postal strike due to take place on Thursday and Friday. Big business secretary, little "Lord" Mandelson, went ballistic, accusing postal workers of "opposing modernisation." How hypocritical can they get?

Postal workers are not opposing "modernisation", but the casualisation of their jobs, through massive job cuts, and the huge increase in the workload for the remaining workers.

And they are right - because in any decent society, "modernisation" should result in improvement, for both workers and users of the postal service. Instead, because of the profiteering craze of this government, this "modernisation" is turned into a vicious weapon against workers' jobs and conditions, as well as against services.

Another milch cow for big business

When this government brought in a former manager from the ASDA supermarket chain to run Royal Mail, the writing was on the wall. Labour was out to cut services and labour costs to the bare minimum in order to offer the postal service on a golden plate to the private sharks. So jobs disappeared and so did the 2nd daily delivery.

The 2007 strike and its wave of wildcats, had the potential to stop the government in its tracks. But instead of building on the workers' militancy, the postal union, the CWU, sold them out by agreeing to Royal Mail's "restructuring", provided CWU officials were consulted on its implementation. Predictably, as soon as the strikers were back to work, the job cuts resumed - and worse, even, the final salary pension scheme was closed to its members.

Then came the economic crisis. Mandelson had to shelve his plans to privatise Royal Mail - not because he had given up, but for lack of a buyer. Nevertheless, by that time, thousands of postal jobs had already been lost.

The job-cutting went on more ferociously than ever - to the point where, by now, 40% of postal jobs have been cut, with mail volume not even 5% down! Postmen's walks have doubled or trebled. Casuals are brought in to fill some of the gaps. Sorters can't cope, forcing Royal Mail to get some of the work done by low-paid temps in shoddy warehouses. Today's mail backlog is largely due to the government's own job slashing!

Public services cannot be run like a supermarket. If they are, the cost becomes unacceptable to both workers and the public which uses them. Postal workers are right to make a stand against this plundering of public resources. If only for that reason, they deserve the support of all of us.

Stopping the profit sharks

But there is another, even more important reason why we are all concerned by the postal dispute. At a time when the real jobless figure is said to be over 3m, we cannot allow tens of thousands of jobs to be cut anywhere in the economy.

Government ministers squandered over £200bn of public money to fill the pockets of the profit sharks who caused the crisis. But they refuse to spend a few dozen million to ensure that postal "modernisation" results in better services for the public and better jobs and working conditions for postal workers? No, this is not tolerable!

Worse, even, the government is upping the ante against the postal workers. Last weekend's papers headlined Royal Mail's plan to recruit 30,000 temps to "break the strike" - as if 30,000 temps who do not know the job could do the work of 120,000 experienced postal workers!

Whether or not the government wants a confrontation, one thing is certain. Postal workers are a large battalion of the working class, spread out across the country. They enjoy the sympathy of large sections of the population. Their fight back could be the start of a more general offensive.

Many hundreds of thousands of jobs have already been lost since the beginning of the crisis. Hundreds of companies, the latest being British Airways, Vauxhall Ellesmere Port, and Bosch in Wales, are imposing yet more job cuts and wage cuts.

Enough is surely enough! The bosses must pay for their crisis instead of being allowed to play bingo on the stock market with public funds! But they will only give ground if they fear a general fight back by the working class. The postal strike (whenever it takes place) could be just the opportunity for all workers to join ranks - to spread a wave of panic among the profit sharks and their cronies in government. Let's not miss it!