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Indymedia UK is a network of individuals, independent and alternative media activists and organisations, offering grassroots, non-corporate, non-commercial coverage of important social and political issues

Postal workers walk out over planned pay and job cuts

IMC Birmingham | 30.06.2007 22:41 | Workers' Movements | Birmingham

Up to 130,000 postal workers took part in a 24-hour strike on Friday -the first in 11 years- to stop the Royal Mail's cost-cutting plans, which the Communication Workers Union (CWU) says would only mean cuts in members' pay and pensions, job cuts and more post office closures. Picket lines were mounted outside sorting offices and mail centres across the country from early morning, disrupting mail deliveries for the day.

In Birmingham, two picket lines at the front and back gates of the main mail centre in Newtown saw, on and off, tens of postal workers and their supporters, while 'Royal Mail police' were trying to break up the picket lines, intimidating and threatening picketers. There was also another picket line in the city centre. [report and pics]

Last week, a well-attended march took place in Gloucester, followed by a rally in the docks, as part of a campaign against the planned closure of the Gloucester Mail Centre. A similar march and rally were held in Coventry city centre last March to protest against the planned closure of Coventry's sorting office.

Links: CWU's Save Postal Services campaign

CWU picket at Birmingham's main mail centre
CWU picket at Birmingham's main mail centre

The fight will go on

Having tried "every measure possible" to seek a fair resolution to the long dispute with the Royal Mail management, 77% of CWU members had voted for industrial action to "force the Royal Mail to think again." The management has repeatedly refused the CWU offers of meaningful talks.

Back in 2006, Royal Mail and the CWU had agreed that they would work together to tackle the impact of competition in the mail market, use government investment to introduce automation, improve efficiency, introduce innovation products and raise the value and status of postal workers' jobs. Royal Mail, however, ditched the agreement, refused to negotiate a pay resettlement and insisted on unilateral imposition of its cost-cutting business plan with mass job losses and cuts to workers' pay and pensions. Furthermore, the Royal Mail management has been deliberately misleading the public by claiming that the CWU want a 27% pay rise. The CWU said they had never demanded a 27% pay rise.

The CWU has warned of a fresh round of industrial action unless the deadlocked row is resolved. However, the union said it was holding back from naming fresh strike dates for a week, in the hope of restarting meaningful talks with Royal Mail.

It ain't so easy

Starved of investment for decades, Royal Mail now faces unfair competition from private operators who, for a discounted price, collect and sort profitable bulk business mail before passing it on to Royal Mail to deliver over the "final mile". The result is that Royal Mail has lost millions of pounds in revenues while the profits of private competitors have soared.

Since the Postal Services Act 2000 was introduced, over 1,000 post offices around the country have been closed down, paving the way for private companies to take over. There are further plans to close some 70 post offices in the near future and relocate the services into WH Smith stores. Yet, operators such as TNT or DHL only handle the bulk transit between major customers and the main sorting offices, which is the easy bit, while Royal Mail is still expected to make the individual deliveries, but without the full amount of the postage.

On the picket lines in Birmingham, postal workers spoke of low salaries and hardships, insecurities and increasingly precarious working conditions. Many workers are being hired or contracted on a short-term or temporary basis, mostly part-time, sometimes for days or even hours. This is why, one picketer explained, a lot of them are afraid of joining the picket lines. "They simply want to improve their work conditions and that requires the blessing of their bosses," she added.

Official lies

Two Indymedia 'reporters' with a video camera went in to see the Mail Centre's management to get the other side of the story, so to speak, but "no one was available for interviews," they were told after some waiting. They were, however, given the official statement of Royal Mail, which stated that the company is "extremely disappointed that the Union has failed to grasp the need for the business to modernise and embarked on strike action that is damaging for our customers, our people and the company." The statement also claimed, among other things, that there have been 25% pay increase since 2002 and bonus payments totalling £1,500. "Nonetheless," it added, "we do want to further increase pay and rewards for our people. The offer on the table is a fair and realistic one – a 2.5% increase in basic pensionable pay, a £800 dividend if performance targets are hit and 50-50 share of any savings above budget at local office level." However, "against the backdrop of an increasing tough and shrinking market," it concluded, "we can't afford to pay more."

It is well known that the top bosses of Royal Mail are paid some of the highest salaries in the country. Earlier this month, Royal Mail 'awarded' its chief executive, Adam Crozier, a bonus of up to £370,000 as well as further benefits, taking his total package to more than £1 million and making him the highest-paid civil servant. Allan Leighton, the company’s chairman, is also said to have received a bonus of more than £100,000.

As to the "post chaos", as the infamous Birmingham Mail called it, Royal Mail said "we have developed contingency plans in order to reduce the effect of the strike but disruption is inevitable." Indeed, some Royal Mail managers were seen delivering Special Deliveries in town. "For once," as one of the picketers put it, "let them do some real work."

Friday’s postal strike saw overwhelming support. Over 95% of postal workers across the country were said to have taken part in the action. Royal Mail, however, claimed that support for the strike was "patchy". Responding to this claim, which was quickly picked up by many mainstream media [1 | 2], CWU's General Secretary Billy Hayes said "the company has been in denial about their workforce rejecting their plans and are now in denial about the overwhelming support of postal workers taking strike action. It is time for them to stop dismissing the views of their employees, return to the table and start negotiating."

IMC Birmingham