Postal workers at Britain's Royal Mail Group (RMG) will today likely deliver a large majority for strike action in defence of jobs and working conditions.
The national ballot, held over the last three weeks, has been accompanied by unofficial walkouts, including in Merseyside, Cheshire and Norfolk, against management harassment, bullying and health and safety issues.
The 110,000 members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) balloted are determined to fight the relentless assault that has followed the 2013 privatisation of Britain's postal service. Moreover, the ballot takes place amid an international revival of the class struggle in which workers in country after country, in one globally integrated industry after another, are defending themselves against the insatiable demands of the financial markets and hedge funds.
In the US, 48,000 autoworkers are in dispute with GM, one of the world's largest car producers, which is seeking to extend "gig" economy conditions in the car industry.
Like GM, RMG is now largely owned by financial institutions whose sole purpose is to maximise shareholder value. This can only come at the expense of postal workers and RMG customers. RMG shareholders include Lansdowne Partners, Blackrock, JP Morgan, Standard Life, Soros Fund Management, and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. Lansdowne Partners alone controls assets of £20 billion. RMG is listed in the FTSE250 index of leading companies.
RMG has assembled what amounts to a war-cabinet, with a new management team under CEO Rico Back. They are preparing to impose a new regime of part-time, short-term and zero hours contracts that increasingly dominate the worldwide logistics industry. Back was formerly CEO of GLS, RMG's highly profitable international arm, where 13 and 14-hour shifts for €1,000 a month are the norm.
Back and RMG want to ram through a five-year restructuring to split Parcelforce delivery from the rest of the postal service as part of moves to break up and outsource more areas of RMG's operations. Up to 20,000 job losses are threatened through a review of the Universal Service Obligation, calling six-day-week postal deliveries into question.
A serious warning must be issued: while postal workers are in dispute with the basic operations of 21st century capitalism, the sole intention of the CWU is to restore its relations with RMG management.
The phony #WeRiseAgain campaign launched by the CWU in August has nothing to do with a genuine fight against the plans of Royal Mail. In a letter to members on August 28, the CWU executive led by General Secretary Dave Ward spelled this out, declaring in capital letters that the strike’s purpose is “DEFENDING THE FOUR PILLARS AGREEMENT.”
That agreement—which ushered in major attacks on postal workers—is described by the CWU as “an Agreement of hope, aspiration and security for both our members and the great British postal service” [!]
The Four Pillars Agreement (4PA) was imposed by Royal Mail and the CWU in 2017. It included an inferior pension scheme, decreases in working hours in return for productivity boosts through alterations to delivery routes, new duty patterns, new working practices and greater use of new technology to monitor performance.
In the words of the CWU, 4PA, “recognised the need to jointly confront the challenges of change.” The union’s only opposition to Rico Back and the new management team is that they “no longer meet with the union at national level and have consistently ignored the joint approach to developing mutual interest solutions to future problems.”
While RMG is preparing an all-out assault on postal workers, the CWU has called a national strike ballot for the sole purpose of pressuring management to resume negotiations. The CWU is open about this, stating, “Let’s be clear, we want a negotiated settlement.”
The CWU speaks for a privileged layer of officials and administrators whose aim is to convince RMG management they are indispensable in suppressing postal workers' struggles. They are a de facto labour management organisation on behalf of the employers. They boast that 4PA "was delivered without a single day of Industrial Action being taken.”
The CWU has repeatedly betrayed postal workers. In 2013, Royal Mail workers overwhelmingly opposed privatisation with a 95 percent consultative ballot vote, but the CWU declared they could not legally mobilise against it.
The opposition of postal workers was diverted into a pay ballot that nevertheless won 80 percent backing for a strike—but the strike was called off by the CWU. In the 2017 strike ballot, 90 percent of CWU members voted to strike against RMG’s assault on the pension scheme. That strike was also called off, with a substandard pension scheme rammed through.
The CWU has other reasons for avoiding industrial action.
Figures released by the CWU show that workers' dues contributed £28.7 million in 2018 to the CWU's coffers. Of this, an extraordinary £8.4 million was paid in remuneration and expenses to CWU staff, of which £7.3 million was salaries and wages. Dave Ward pocketed £139,151, more than 10 times the average starting wage of a postal delivery worker.
Over the same year, just four strike ballots were called. Of these, only one, in the Isle of Man, resulted in 4.5 days strike action. It is the CWU’s record of collaboration with management that is behind the recent outbreak of unofficial strikes and walkouts by a workforce facing daily management bullying and ever-increasing workloads.
Last year £555,185 of CWU members’ money was handed over to the Labour Party. According to the CWU on Twitter, "Labour supports postal workers and will renationalise Royal Mail when in government."
Really? Does anyone believe that the Labour Party—whose Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell in his interview with GQ just declared that Tony Blair is not a war criminal and invited Blair’s hatchet man Alastair Campbell back into the party--will come into conflict with Blackrock, JP Morgan and Standard Life?
All over the world, labour and social-democratic parties and trade unions rooted historically in the defence of the capitalist nation-state have been fundamentally transformed. They have responded to vast changes in the world economy over the last four decades associated with globalisation by abandoning any striving for reforms in their members interests and imposing whatever the companies deem necessary to remain “globally competitive.”
Global production and distribution is now integrated to a degree never seen before in human history, rendering any strategies based on nationalism and an acceptance of capitalism impotent.
This points to the real nature of the dispute being fought out. Postal workers are in conflict with RMG, the CWU apparatus, the financial system and the state. Their challenge is to mobilise a more powerful social force than those ranged against them.
To do this, the dispute must immediately be taken out of the hands of the CWU officials by new rank and file organisations of postal workers, their allies and supporters. The broadest layers of the working class in Britain and internationally—at Hermes, DHL, Amazon, FedEx and across mass transport and logistics--all of whom face a similar assault on jobs, living standards, social provisions and democratic rights, must be mobilised.
his demands a political break with the trade unions and Labour and a turn towards socialist policies. Postal services internationally must be placed under workers' control. The struggle for new organisations must be taken up in every delivery and sorting office.
We urge postal workers to contact the Socialist Equality Party and discuss this further.
Royal Mail workers:
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