The news came today from the Communication Workers Union:
CWU has today (Tuesday) notified Royal Mail that industrial action planned to take place on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week has been suspended in light of the ongoing Postal Executive discussions.
Yes, it’s true that the CWU executive contiues to discuss the undisclosed agreement with Royal Mail. It is not true that “Post Workers Call Off Planned Strike Action” as Murdoch-vision reported it.
Bill J of Permanent Revolution covers the situation in Liverpool:
Liverpool CWU holds the line
For twelve glorious days the people of Liverpool have been free from unwanted offers of shiny new credit cards, Reader’s Digest scams and all the other junk that post workers are forced to lug around in their delivery sacks. Liverpool CWU has been on unofficial all out strike since the end of the official action last week.
The strike is rock solid. Regular mass meetings attended by over 800 of Liverpool’s postal workers, have repeatedly voted to stay out on strike. They have defied the bosses and the anti-union laws. They are now defying their union leadership which is trying to pressure them back to work so it can push through the sell-out deal (see letter from Dave Chapple and Pete Firmin).
The strike began on the morning the official action ended. Workers returned to clear the backlog of post that had built up during the four days of action. They were met at the gates of the Copperas Hill sorting office by managers who told them their shift patterns had been changed. As Tommy Cooper might have said, “Just like that”. No negotiation. No discussion. No consultation.
The workers were told to report back to work an hour later and, regardless of any arrangements they had made, for example to pick up kids from school, work an hour later than normal. This was a lock-out by the bosses and it was met with determined action by every CWU member in the area. They immediately declared an all out strike.
The provocation over shift changes is part of a new management style in Liverpool. In management jargon it’s called an efficiency agenda. In plain English it’s called bullying. Workers have to ask permission to go to the toilet. Workers are given impossible targets to meet and then disciplined for being unable to meet them.
All kinds of petty rules, dreamt up by low grade managers besotted by Alan Sugar in BBC’s “The Apprentice”, are invoked to show that they are putting the Male back into Royal. Except instead of telling some spotty Business School graduate that “you’re fired” they tried it on with one of the best organised CWU branches in the country. Liverpool postal workers would not be bullied.
Since the strike the union has, locally, offered talks and has even offered a series of sensible proposals to resolve the issue of the shift changes, including the negotiated introduction of flexible shift patterns. Four such offers have been turned down flat by the bosses.
The reason is clear. Just as Crozier was using the national strike as a trial of strength with the union as a whole in order to ram through his cuts and privatisation plans, the Liverpool management know that if they are to get anywhere with these plans locally they will have to take on and defeat one of the union’s strongest bastions.
And that makes scoring a victory against the bosses in Liverpool of vital importance.
At the moment the Liverpool branch faces many dangers. It cannot trust the national leadership. After all, the message from Billy Hayes to activists around the country after the official action ended was “hold the line against any attacks by management”. Liverpool did just that. But instead of having their action declared official and receiving the backing of the union with a call to resume the national strike, they have been left relatively isolated, with action taking place in East London and parts of Yorkshire, but with much of the union working normally.
As a consequence of being shunned by the leadership, the local union now also faces a legal threat. Its funds may well be seized because the action is in defiance of the law. Readers can rest assured that the entire Liverpool labour movement will ensure that the local CWU is not short of money to prosecute its action. Plans to guarantee this are in place. But legal action could lead to greater pressure from the national union on the branch to go back to work.
Last but not least, the issue at stake in Liverpool is a national issue. The union’s right to negotiate over changes to working practice is under threat. If Liverpool is left isolated over this then the union faces the grim prospect of watching agreements being shredded by the bosses in office and depot after office and depot. This is exactly what happened at the end of the firefighters’ dispute in 2002/03.
None of this must be allowed to happen. Solidarity action is needed now. Liverpool must be declared official. If Hayes and Ward refuse this then national unofficial action needs to be built up.
All depots and offices currently on strike must call a rank and file meeting of postal workers to co-ordinate such action now. With enough workers out the possibility of picketing out some of the weaker depots and offices will become a real possibility.
And a strike committee, based on such rank and file initiative can restart the national fightback, create the conditions for a rejection of the Hayes sell-out deal and deliver a new all out strike that can put an end to the bosses’ plans to savage the postal service.
Solidarity with the Liverpool CWU!