Royal Mail deal: a post mortem

After 18 days’ strike action in London in 2009 the Communication Workers’ Union leadership voted for a return to work. As one reader of The Commune explains, the subsequent outcome has demoralised many:

Submitted by davidbroder on April 16, 2010

by ‘Postman Pat’

I work at the West End Delivery Office in west London. After all the voluntary early retirements there’s along the lines of 300 workers on the floor, of those just 40-50 on nights.

The nightshift is sorting-only but because of the cuts in recent years they hardly ever manage to finish the sorting of letters so that’s usually left for the dayshift: so day staff do sorting and delivery. Some days my district doesn’t manage to finish delivery on time because of a cut from 5 to 2 men on sorting, so we don’t leave the office til 1pm.

Rumour has it that the head manager Dom wants to only have staff with driving licenses in the future. There are no clues what is going to happen to the rest of us. Moreover when machinery for sorting comes in the majority of night staff will be pushed onto dayshift and a large surplus of staff will develop. Both the union and management say there will be no compulsory redundancies: but… cynic as I am, I reckon that will just mean take part time work or else piss off.

Obviously we are affected by the new “deal” between CWU HQ and Royal Mail. The deal means that the whole of RM will have unlimited door-to-door junkmail for a fixed sum (maybe around £20 weekly). There is also talk of turning Saturday into a normal workday instead of short as at present.

People were well up for the strike in winter. We were pissed off with working conditions in general and there was lots of anger towards management since we had a cut of a third of the staff in the last five years and none of our useless managers had any: apart from surfing eBay they don’t seem to be doing much themselves.

When the strikes came to a halt lots of people were very angry at the union and couldn’t understand it. We had struck for 18 days in total in London (most of the country had two days) and lots of people said that we could have won more. A postman of 31 years service told me that his experience was that we might as well take the money because Royal Mail always implement things anyway. People are miserable about the insecurity of the job nowadays and the union HQ’s soft approach has meant lots of people have lost faith in the top.

There’s even been those who said that if they want us out again in the future they are openly going to scab because they feel that the union had their chance and blew it. That was just after we came back though so it’s hard to say whether that was said in the heat of the moment or not. In general most people go out when asked to, except our 3-4 acting managers who are half postmen, half managers.

For better or for worse most people tend to blindly follow the union on our floor so if the union recommends a ‘yes’ vote the bulk usually follows.

But the deal will mean more work and more junkmail. Since I’m in an area with more businesses the amount of junkmail isn’t such a problem but the vast majority of workers in other more residential areas will lose out money-wise since at the moment we get paid per item and not a fixed sum. Also having a total of £1200 pay-out waved in front of people will be tempting for a ‘yes’ vote and the CWU and RM are well aware of that and have always used such ‘carrots’ in order to implement things.

I don’t think there’s going to be any major change in union HQ so we face an uphill battle. Among the union leaders even Jane Loftus (a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, until the end of the strike) sold us out: so it seems that power corrupts. We need some form of grassroots network outside of the official union structure in RM.

I myself am already in touch with a couple of guys about a syndicalist-type organisation for propaganda within the business. We need an independent industrial network of postal workers themselves, rather than fronts for Trotskyist groups. We should also be encouraging unofficial strikes and mutual aid with other groups of workers. But this initiative is still at a very early stage yet.