Postal strike: picket line interview

The first national postal strike in 11 years happened on Friday 29 June (2007) with a 24-hour stoppage. caught up with some pickets on the line in Brighton.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 29, 2007

What are the issues behind this strike?
Royal Mail want to implement a cost-cutting business plan that will cut 40,000 jobs, cut our pay and pensions, as well as see hikes in stamp prices, fewer collections, later deliveries, reductions in weekend service and more post office closures. They’re doing this because the profitable bits of the business – like business bulk mail - have been opened up to competition, but the private companies pass the mail over to us for the less profitable ‘final mile’ delivery and the Royal Mail is trying make up the profits by cutting service levels and our terms and conditions. Of course [Royal Mail boss Alan] Leighton tells us he didn’t get a pay rise this year, but his bonus was so big they had to pay it in two instalments! [He earns £800k a year and got a 20% bonus – £165k – libcom] And Leighton’s deputy [Adam] Crozier was previously in charge of the new Wembley farce that was late and over-budget – what a great CV to take over the Royal Mail!

Are there any other issues alongside the main reasons for the strike?
There’s all sorts. Like health and safety – we have weight limits for how much mail we can carry at a time, but if we actually stuck to them we’d never get through it all. In the run up to this strike the company told us we’d be disciplined if we worked to rule! They must be taking the piss, how could they discipline us for following their own rules? There’s also been a gradual increase in the intensity of work, it used to be you could have a brief chat with people at the door when doing your round, now it’s all speed, speed, speed. They also want to change the way we get paid to deliver leaflets. At the moment Royal Mail get paid per leaflet, and we get a bonus per leaflet. They want to change it so they all go in one brown envelope and we only get the bonus as if it was one leaflet, but they still charge the same as before and pocket the difference as profit. They also want to introduce split shifts, so you come in early and do 4 hours, then go home for 4 hours, then come in and do 4 more hours, which is obviously shit! We don’t mind being flexible, but not their kind of flexible.

Have there been any attempts to undermine the strike, scabbing etc?
We’re not allowed to say that word! There’s all sorts of stupid rules, like no more than 6 pickets at a time. All thanks to that bastard Thatcher innit. Mind you there were 40+ down here at 4am when the vans were due to come in. A few are working, a couple of full-timers and a couple of new lads who are on a temporary/probationary contract; we don’t blame them for coming in. And the management are trying to cover the strike, they’re only collecting from the biggest customers though, which is only a few out of 400 or so. Management are fools, like Leighton’s axe isn’t going to fall on them when he’s done with us.

Have you had much support (or hostility!) from the public?
Most people don’t seem to know what’s going on – some think we’re turning down a massive pay rise when we’re fighting cuts! [The pay offer is 2.5%, i.e. a 2% pay cut with inflation running at 4.5% – libcom] Royal Mail have been putting it around that we’re asking for a 27% rise, which is total bollocks. Saying that a lot of people have taken leaflets and seem generally supportive, although one old fella came up and quoted something biblical like “let those who do not work, do not eat.” We just laughed at him. Nutter! We used to get the Socialist Worker down here selling papers, but it’s obviously uni holidays at the moment because there’s no sign of them.

What next?
If the Royal Mail don’t budge, word is the union will announce some more strikes. We’ve got to draw a line somewhere, they’ve been chipping away at our terms and conditions for years, and the new guys coming in don’t have the pay, security or pensions that we have. They want a ‘hire and fire’ workforce with more temporary, part-time and agency workers they can just lay off when it’s quiet, which means no guarantee what your pay’s going to be one week to the next. And we’re not going to stand for it!