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Mail strike's roots in unfinished business

Workers at Royal Mail have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action over management plans for job cuts. 76% of workers who responded to the ballot voted in favour of industrial action. The roots of the dispute go back to the settlement that ended the 2007 national postal strike.

At the time it was announced as a victory, but in fact the CWU union agreed to management plans to cut jobs. The ‘victory’ was that the CWU and Royal Mail management would negotiate the details of the cuts at a local level. Now postal workers are unhappy with the results of those negotiations. One trigger is the Royal Mail’s refusal to “Pay for Change.” In unilaterally imposing such changes by so-called ‘executive action’, Royal Mail have reopened the dispute.

Other issues behind the strike include ‘absorption’, where workers are expected to take on the workload of those that lose their jobs for no extra pay, and the increased levels of bullying and harassment that have accompanied such attacks. A further issue is pensions. First the final salary scheme was closed on the grounds of expense, now the replacement scheme is due to suffer the same fate. Royal Mail are demanding year-on-year 10% cuts to expenses.

The pretext for this is to enable Royal Mail to compete with rival private firms. However, this is a cleverly devised scam. The government has opened all of the profitable areas of the business up to private competition, whilst retaining control of the costly ‘final mile’ delivery which delivers 99% of small letters. Then the government says this ‘proves’ the inefficiency of the public sector, justifying further moves towards privatisation, attacks on workers conditions and service levels.

Government privatisation plans were only shelved in July after they were unable to find a buyer in the current economic climate. In 2007, as soon  as the strikes began to exert serious pressure on Royal Mail management, the CWU called them off for “meaningful negotiations”, the outcome of which was the ‘victory’ at the root of today’s dispute. Postal workers have already shown a willingness to fight this summer with a series of local official and unofficial actions. There is also a widespread realisation that far more than their immediate terms and conditions is at stake.

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