Tea break bulletin

Short-lived series of irregular bulletins, formerly called Dispatch, produced by admins and users of libcom.org during some major workers' disputes 2007-2009.

Dispatch 1 - Royal Mail strikes, August 2007

First issue of a bulletin about the public sector pay struggles of summer 2007 by a group of workers around libcom.org. This issue focusses on postal workers.

Available here in TIF and here in PDF format. The text follows:


Public sector pay dispute — information for action

Issue 1 - August 2007

Royal Mail workers: Fighting to win

Doing the job as it’s meant to be done

Several offices now, and many individual postmen and women across the country have been turning up on time, weighing their bags, not using their cars, taking the vans out and cutting off at their finish time. In other words, "doing the job as it should be done".

At Southend, Royal Mail have had to bring up to 70 managers a day from all over the South East to try to deal with the resulting backlog.

It costs you nothing to do this, and is essential if the strikes are going to be effective so backlogs don't get cleared. Why not join in now?

Wildcats back on the prowl

Oxford and Abingdon, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Liverpool and Chester are just some of the offices that have been out on wildcat strike during this dispute, from a few hours up to a week.

It's essential that we support each other if people are suspended or mail diverted, and that unofficial action is spread as far as possible once it has started to maximise its impact.

For more views on the wildcats see the back page of this issue, check out libcom.org/pay-2007 for the lastest news and log on to royalmailchat.co.uk for minute-by-minute updates and discussion.

Work the 318

• Don't use your personal car for deliveries
• Weigh your bags - follow the legal maximum of 13kg
• Take your meal break
• Cut off at your finish time

New postal strike dates

Week 3

• Mail Centres and Airports - 7pm Thu 09/08 - 7pm Fri 10/08
• MDECs - 12 noon Fri 10/08- 12 noon Sat 11/08
• Deliveries and Separate Collection Hubs - 7pm Fri 10/08 - 7pm Sat 11/08

Week 4

• Network and International/HWDC - 7pm Mon 13/08 - 7pm Tue 14/08
• Airports - 12 noon Tues 14/08 - 12 noon Wed 15/08
• Mail Centres - 7pm Wed 15/08 - 7pm Thu 16/08
• MDECs - 12 noon Thu 16/08 - 12 noon Fri 17/08
• Deliveries and Separate Collection Hubs - 7pm Thu 16/08 - 7pm Fri 17/08

Pay 2007 disputes roundup

Civil service: 280,000 PCS members are being consulted on further strike action, following previous strikes and action short of strike over a 2% pay offer.

Local government: Unison is consulting its one million members in local councils over pay. Areas counted so far have overwhelmingly rejected the offer and voted to ballot on industrial action. 600 social care workers are on indefinite strike over other pay cuts. Parking attendants in Manchester went on wildcat strike over pay and management treatment. In Norfolk bin men worked to rule over job cuts, and bus drivers struck over pay

Health: The Royal College of Nursing is consulting its members in England and Wales on a ballot for strike action. Midwives are undertaking their first ever ballot over a 1.9% pay offer. Unison health workers have also rejected the pay offer as “insulting.”

Education: Teachers are building a campaign for their pay to be reviewed after the government reneged on its promise to do so.

Postal service: Workers at Crown Post Offices have been striking over the transfer of services to WH Smith which will cost jobs and conditions.

Elsewhere: Thousands of workers at Heinz, Coca-Cola, Scottish airports have all been on strike against sub-inflation pay offers, some launching on the job action as well. More strikes at Grampian foods, Manchester NHS and information about possible strikes by PCS, Unison and Unite members all online at libcom.org/pay-2007

It is essential that we coordinate strike action across the public sector for us all to win. Some of the unions are talking the talk about fighting together, but in practice are keeping all of us separate when we’re fighting for the same thing. Visit picket lines of other workers, leaflet, invite them to meetings, discuss online. Direct communication between workers in different sectors is the only way this will happen.

Discuss the strike

Postal workers from around the country are discussing this strike and the best ways to take it forward at royalmailchat.co.uk

Mass meetings have controlled and won strikes at Royal Mail and in workplaces all over the world for decades. Don't just take your meal break, take it with everyone else and use it!

Posties, public sector and other workers are exchanging information and discussing the wider public and private sector disputes at libcom.org/pay-2007

"This will be bloody. We have had the miners, we have had Longbridge and now we have this." - Royal Mail Director, Sunday Telegraph, 3 June 2007

A striking London postal worker’s analysis of the dispute and where to go from here…

Royal Mail with the support of the government have provoked this strike. Its not just about a 2.5% pay offer when inflation is more like 5%, it’s the business plan what they call ‘modernisation’. Royal Mail bosses know that to get their business plan through – 40, 000 job losses, closure of post offices, slashed pensions, reduced pay, increased workload, a flexible and largely part-time workforce – they have to break postal workers’ tradition of sticking together and of standing up for themselves. That tradition has meant that management in the past have had to do deals through the union about how the job is organized. Postal workers and the union were not going make the kind of agreement that Royal mail wanted on the business plan, so Royal Mail decided to have a showdown and break this tradition of deals once and for all.

Royal Mail’s strategy has been to play hardball: they've talked about being ready for months of strike action; they've refused to negotiate with the union but simply reiterated their position; the plan seemed to be to give a constant message to the workforce – “We will not back down, there is no ‘give and take’ any more, you just have to accept our plan”. With the first two one day strikes they managed to filter the work through the following days so it seemed our action was having no impact except on our pay-packets. They have also said they will proceed unilaterally with plans to impose new start times and reduced overtime rates as if to say: “We are going to push through our changes whatever you do”. The feeling was we had to escalate the action. The next obvious move was to strike for two consecutive days. However, while this would surely have more effect, RM expected this move and had contingency plans. The union came up with a new idea - staggered strikes with different workers in the different parts (functions) of the postal system striking one day after the next. The hope was that for no extra cost to posties the impact on RM would be increased. This does seem to be working. Mail is backing up and managers are at a loss on how to deal with it. Though we are only at the stage of ‘talks about talks’, Royal Mail refusal to negotiate seems to be cracking.

But there is a problem with this tactic. With some postal workers striking while others work it creates the possibility of one postie being told to cross another’s picket line. This means we go against the very traditions of solidarity that Royal Mail wants to modernize away. The union has tried to avoid this kind of clash - where posties from different functions are in the same building they strike together - other times picket lines have been stood down to allow a shift from another function to go to work. But inevitably some posties have come up against a picket-line and refused to cross and then been disciplined by management. In the great postal tradition their colleagues have come out in support and we have then had unofficial strikes. The union response to unofficial strikes during the national dispute is to do everything possible to get those posties back to work, even if the issue bringing them out has not been satisfactorily resolved. The argument the union is making and whach seems to be winning out at the moment is that, the staggered action is working, we should keep disciplined, and - at least for now - stay within the protection of the official strike. There is also the point that August is the lightest month for mail so it may be best to just keep the strike going at a pace that we can manage for a month and then escalate. Also by that time other groups of workers will possibly be in a better position to join us.

What is the alternative? Should an area provoked by management into going on unofficial action try to bring out everyone else? Even if they don’t, management attempts to divert work from a striking area could provoke other areas out anyway. But going for an all out unofficial strike is a high stakes gamble for either side. At some point we may have to go this direction. It may not be our choice. Royal mail was hoping the action would start to falter after the first few strike days. Instead the strike, if anything, is more solid. If the staggered action really starts to hurt them, they may decide to up the stakes by provoking us into an all out unofficial action. They did this in response to the 2003 London weighting strike, and we took the challenge and beat them. Royal Mail have said they will unilaterally impose new times and work arrangements on the 13th. They may well back down from this but if they don’t it will be the spark for more unofficial action. While Crozier and Leighton have talked the tough talk they have underestimated our determination. We have shown them and their masters in the government that we are up for the fight.
We can win this one.


Public sector pay dispute — information for action

We're a group of workers who are interested in discussing and co-ordinating a response to the ongoing public sector pay disputes. We believe the key to winning is to unite the disputes, fight together and for workers ourselves to control the struggle.

We work in several different sectors, including the postal service, NHS, education and local government and all use the website libcom.org

To contact us with feedback or comments for the next issue e-mail dispatch (at) libcom.org

We are not related to royalmailchat.co.uk in any way, although we support their work.

c/o libcom.org
Freedom Press
84b Whitechapel High St
London E1 7QX

dispatch (at) libcom.org


Please give comments on the bulletin here. If you can help distribute it please comment here.

Readers should note that this bulletin was renamed and continues as Tea Break

dispatch-issue-1.pdf142.33 KB
dispatch-issue-1.1.TIF128.34 KB

Tea Break 2 - local government strike, July 2008

New issue of the irregular workers' bulletin put together by users of the website, libcom.org focusing on the 2008 pay dispute over sub-inflation pay offers.

tea break july 2008 final.pdf266.87 KB

Inflation: rising prices and the 2% pay ceiling

An analysis of the use of inflation to attack workers' conditions.

If the government were to announce that it was cutting the wages of all workers - public and private sector - there would presumably be uproar. And yet this is exactly what they have done by calling for ‘pay restraint’ and insisting all wage rises are capped at 2%. Make no mistake, a sub-inflation pay ‘rise’ is a pay cut. No amount of statistical trickery changes this simple fact.

The government’s own favoured measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is currently running around 3.3%. However, this measure excludes mortgage repayments. Does that mean we don’t have to pay them back out of our falling wages? No such luck. The inflation measure that does include these payments is called the Retail Price Index (RPI). It is currently running at around 4.3%. So by the government’s own figures they are imposing a pay cut of over 2%.

However, the official figures don’t tell the whole story. Inflation is calculated by taking the average prices of a ‘typical basket of goods,’ including items from literally bread and butter through to digital radios and flat screen TVs. However, if prices of essentials are rising while prices of gadgets are falling – which they are at the moment, we simply spend more on essentials and less on luxuries, and our standard of living falls even though overall prices may appear quite stable. An attempt by The Telegraph to calculate a ‘Real Cost of Living Index’ (RCLI) taking into account rocketing food and energy costs puts cost of living inflation at 9.5%.

Of course, inflation is already being blamed on ‘greedy’ workers demanding they maintain – or heaven forbid improve! – their standards of living. This is despite the government and unions succeeding in holding down public sector pay claims last year (see Tea Break), and wages in the economy as a whole frequently failing to keep up with inflation over the past decade.

There is an irony here. Gordon Brown built his ‘prudent’ reputation by keeping wages down – and therefore profits up – while the economy grew. But a growing economy requires growing consumption. How are we to consume more if our wages aren’t keeping up? The ‘answer’ was cheap credit for all to plug the gap; essentially a pyramid scheme reliant on rising house prices. The government and employers were having their cake and eating it, while we got geared up to our eyeballs in credit card debt.

But now that the housing market has begun to fall and credit is beginning to dry up, their attempt to cheat at their own game has faltered and they’ve gone on the attack. But not daring to do this openly, they try to hide behind statistics and let inflation do their dirty work. Ultimately however, behind all the talk of the ‘credit crunch’ and rising oil prices, inflation is just the latest means being used to pursue a familiar end – employers always want us to do as much work as possible for as little pay as they can get away with (just consider unpaid overtime, understaffing, increasing workloads...).Therefore the only way to fight the current pay cuts is to fight for our own interests against theirs; regardless of the state of the economy our standard of living is only ever as low as we let them push it or as high as we can win through collective action.

Written for the Tea Break bulletin in July 2008.

Pay: what went wrong in 2007?

Libcom's analysis of what went wrong with the industrial disputes over the rising cost of living in 2007, and how to do things better in 2008.

A 'Summer of Discontent', Gordon Brown preaching pay restraint, union leaders talking about 'co-ordinated strike action', sound familiar? It should, because exactly the same things were being said last year. Despite some brave attempts in 2007, the working class suffered yet another profound defeat, unable to assert its own interests against both the bosses and their own trade unions - who did deals behind closed doors, ignored strike votes and dragged on consultations and negotiations for months.

Just like this year, 2007 started with a 2% cap on public sector pay rises This led to a wave of strikes, which while some were impressive, many were stopped before they even got started and most failed to make any gains on either pay or other issues. To reverse this trend, we need to understand previous failures and learn from them in order not to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

In Royal Mail, strikes got off to a good start in July, rolling strikes and a work to rule caused a massive backlog, then later sparking wildcat strikes across Scotland and the North of England. As the second wave of official strikes was due to start, they were called off by the CWU leadership, entering 'meaningful negotiations' with Royal Mail management. These 'meaningful negotiations' lasted for weeks, came to no firm conclusion (except that measures would be forced through at a local level where it's easier to divide the workforce), and prepared the stage for a fresh assault on pensions this year. Strikers in Liverpool who had continued with unofficial action were left out on a limb - spending many days without pay as the CWU refused to release details of deals done for fear of a massive negative reaction from elsewhere - with the workforce in most places demobilised by a slow and agonising wait.

There were also strikes by 200,000 civil servants, significant local strikes by health and local government workers in Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham, and in the public sector, official and unofficial strikes by thousands of workers at Grampian foods, Coca Cola, Heinz and smaller workplaces.

So with hundreds of thousands out on strike, and workers taking their own initiative in some sectors - how come this didn't lead to the 'pay inflation' we were warned about and so desperately need? Let's face it, pay inflation's about the only kind of inflation we don't have at the moment.

First we need to look at what was promised - coordinated strike action between public sector unions, 'prolonged and sustained strike action' on ballot literature. And what we got - strikes cancelled at the slightest hint of a deal, strike votes of 51% being rejected as not enough of a mandate (while this year 54% is a resounding mandate, maybe 3% really does make a big difference!), pay deals of 2.5% over one year being magicked into 5% over two years (or even less) - oh great! Despite all of us facing the same attacks on our wages, on our working conditions, on our weekly shopping bills - we're sliced up into a million separate issues, ballots and campaigns.

So how do we respond to this? Certainly not by appealing to the union leadership or the government! While the right wing press (pretty much all of the press), complains about Labour's close ties to the unions, they fail to mention the unions' close ties to labour - it's a short jump from trade union leader to cushy ministerial position or a fat pay check sitting on a QUANGO, and that's where their interests lie (since their wages go up regardless of whether ours do). Trying to replace leaders or 'democratise' the unions is another old game that was bankrupt even when union membership was a lot higher and a lot more militant - it either burns people out or catapults them into the same positions and compromises they attacked moments before.

What's needed is independent activity outside these structures - co-operation of workers across the boundaries of union, sector and the public/private divide. The bosses are simply continuing a coordinated attack that's been going on for decades - they're quite able to put on a united front when it comes to keeping wages down, hours long and prices high. But they're met with piecemeal resistance by workers divided by artificial boundaries and operating within a framework set entirely by the opposing side. Even a small number of workers can have a big effect if they're able to break out of these restrictions - taking their breaks, leaving on time, organising go-slows, producing leaflets, walking out in defence of colleagues who are being victimised - without waiting for people who've got no interest in our situation except its continuation to give them permission.

Tea Break 3 - oil refinery strikes, February 2009

A PDF of the February 2009 issue of the irregular workers' bulletin Tea Break, written and designed by users of libcom.org, for general distribution. The freesheet focuses on wildcat strikes at refineries across the country, addressing issues raised by the conflict.

Tea Break - On Oil.pdf1.91 MB