CWU East London Postal Branch with Jon Cruddas MP
CWU East London Postal Branch with Jon Cruddas MP

Voting continues for Royal Mail post workers in the industrial action ballot called by the Communication Workers Union (CWU). The result of this critical ballot, under which deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger has told members to “get ready for the fight of your lives”, will be announced on 15 October.

As reported previously, the union is mobilising against attempts by Royal Mail management to again undermine pay and conditions (including the workers’ pension scheme) as part of what the CWU feels is an attempt to turn the mail operation into a low-pay, zero-hours version of the various “white van” despatch set-ups that have popped up in recent years – very cheap but for the workers not very cheerful.

The mood has been militant from the shop floor up to the top of the union itself, as witnessed by CWU general secretary Dave Ward’s fighting speech at the Labour4Clause4 meeting at Labour Party conference. Hundreds of site meetings have taken place across the country in support of a vote for strike.

The growing mood for action has been seen in a number of other disputes that have taken place in Royal Mail over the last few days. As East London CWU Postal Branch Political Officer Lee Waker told us:

“We have had a preview of our ballot for industrial action. During the last few months a new manager was placed into the London E1 hub. This is a separate unit from the normal E1 delivery setup, but is in the same building that deals with a variety of work including collections.”

“Problems soon showed themselves. Things finally came to a head on Monday 23 September following incidents of intimidation and bullying letters being given to some drivers accusing them of not wearing seatbelts, all without evidence.”

“It should be noted that seat belt wearing has already been agreed by both management and union at senior level.”

“On the Tuesday, it was discussed informally on the floor by members, but it was clear that if no acceptable deal was agreed deliveries would be out on strike the next day.”

“By Wednesday, as management had not backed down, deliveries in London E1, E14, E10 and E15 were out solid. By 9am that morning it seemed a deal had been reached but would ultimately need to be screened by the E1 hub itself.”

“All charges were dropped and an investigation and interviews with union members about bullying was promised, as many members wanted the manager removed along with the harassment and charges being dropped.”

“It was also reported, in what would be a first in cases of unofficial industrial action in the CWU, that our general secretary refused to repudiate the action. This is to be commended as it does bring the union up against possible legal attacks by management.”

In assessing the mood, Lee added that, “one thing is clear, our members are united and will not be pushed around. We will not stand by and watch our terms and conditions being attacked – we all are up for our forthcoming industrial ballot.”

The union has focussed on the role of Royal Mail’s CEO Rico Back. The CWU is concerned that he wants to transform Parcelforce into a separate company, similar to that which he ran in Germany, with all negotiated rights and conditions being soon lost after the staff are Tupe-ed over. “He wants anything bigger than shoebox size to be handled by this separate parcels company, meaning a massive cut in jobs in Royal Mail as well as the introduction of payment by delivery piecework, where you only get paid if the delivery is accepted – a race to the bottom,” warns Lee. “The German example, GLS, is telling. Delivery drivers often work 13-hour days for very little money. Conditions are unbearable and a recent TV documentary showed staff so tired that they were falling asleep at the wheel.”

The stand by post workers in East London is being echoed around the country. For example, CWU members in Nottingham are being balloted for action over the victimisation of a postie who was sacked after complaining about working conditions. Again, we see workers standing up against the culture of bullying which the union has identified as being a key element of the main ballot.

Lee explained to us that the national ballot flows directly from the Four Pillars campaign of 2017 with agreements over the working week and pay rises not being honoured. “The bosses basically want to use our PDA device (currently used for tracked and signed for deliveries) to measure how many steps you take on your route, meaning they drive you into the ground before your official finishing time. The nature of the job means the workload varies from day to day, so they want a flexible workforce they can kick around from duty to duty. The work is much more strenuous than it sometimes looks, so they want to see if you have stopped when you are outside for some reason.”

The result of the national ballot is expected on 15 October. We call on all Royal Mail workers to vote – and vote yes for action. When the strike starts – possibly as early as mid-November – the labour and trade union movement must be ready to show full solidarity in this major industrial struggle. The mood as Lee explains is there: “This fight will be the fight of our lives, that’s why we need to aim for a highest percentage yes vote. We will need to be strong and well organised, but we are confident we can win if we stick together. This is a fight not to lose the rights and conditions won over many years.”

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