Hours before their national strike was due to start, postal workers heard from the media that the leaders of their CWU union had called it off.
Not that Royal Mail has withdrawn any of the ruthless job cuts and attacks on working conditions they have been forcing down workers' throats. No, the only "concession" won by the union is to be allowed to sit down with managers in order to discuss the implementation of these attacks! A big fat "gain" that is, for workers who, after months of ineffective rolling strikes, are now confronted with unachievable tasks imposed by arrogant managers!
CWU leaders always said that "some" job cuts would be needed to "modernise" postal services. This latest move amounts to endorsing Mandelson's savaging of postal jobs, in the hope of resuming their cosy partnership with Royal Mail managers.
A pattern we just cannot afford
The case of Royal Mail is no exception. It has become a consistent pattern for union leaders to sign up to job and wage cuts, under the spurious pretext of helping out "hard-pressed" companies. From Toyota to Honda, from Corus to Vauxhall, they made deals which could only result in lengthening the dole queues, while increasing the workload on remaining workers and, more often than not, reducing their standard of living.
It all started, months ago, with union leaders choosing to turn a blind eye on the sacking of tens of thousands of temps and other casual workers across the economy. Instead of upholding what should be a basic tenet for the working class movement - "one out, all out" - they acted as if letting the bosses get away with sacking casuals would "save" permanent jobs. This was a con, of course. Having successfully got rid of casuals, the bosses turned their axe on permanent jobs and permanent workers' conditions.
But, once again, instead of mounting the determined fight back that these attacks called for, union leaders started dithering and wavering, resorting to all sorts of legal gimmicks and half-hearted stoppages - anything but the kind of strike that was likely to stop the job slashers in their tracks. All this, in the hope of "bringing the bosses to negotiate", or so union leaders claimed.
But what was there to "negotiate" in the first place? "Good" job cuts rather than "bad" ones, as if this could have made any sense?
In fact, the only thing the bosses were prepared to "negotiate", in the absence of a direct threat to their profits, was just cuts and more cuts. And the union leaders proved willing to oblige, claiming, once again, that their capitulation was the only means of "saving" jobs.
The struggle ahead
The CWU leaders' undignified climb down has left postal workers to their own devices, facing the diktats of cocky managers who think they can now rule the roost - meaning that, instead of using their full strength to resist Royal Mail's attacks, postal workers have no option but to fight it out at local level, in isolation.
Such tactics are disastrous. They can only discredit the working class movement and its organisations, while spreading confusion in our ranks. Union leaders may not be bothered that they are sawing off the branch which supports them - that is their problem. But we, workers just cannot afford to allow our collective interests to go down the drain in order to pay for the capitalists' crisis.
There is no shortage of anger against the attacks of the bosses, in our ranks. This is shown by the unusually high level of support for strike action in the recent series of ballots - at the Fujitsu plants, East London buses, the London Underground, Superdrug, in local council refuse collection, etc.. Our problem, however, is to ensure that, instead of being used by union leaders to convince the bosses that they need the unions as "partners", these votes become the starting point for effective action.
And yes, despite the bosses' blackmail over jobs and despite the endorsement of this blackmail by the union leadership, the time is right for action.
After all, hundreds of billions were splashed out on the financial system - and by the same token, at the big companies' shareholders. This is now feeding back in the form of another growing speculative wave on the stock market! So, let no-one dare tell us that the capitalist class is so hard up that it cannot afford to pay for every single worker to remain in a job with a decent wage!
For this to happen will take some real struggle, bringing large sections of the working class together, with a leadership determined to fight. This is the leadership that we will have to find, from within our ranks, if we want to stop the bosses' offensive.