On 23 May the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) announced that 79% of voting postal workers in London had backed strike action against the closure of three London mail centres.
The turnout was around 54%, and over 3,000 London postal workers could now strike in June as they attempt to save Nine Elms, Rathbone Place and the Twelvetrees Crescent centre in Bow. Other major London mail centres not threatened with closure, such as the giant Mount Pleasant site in Islington, also face significant cuts. Mount Pleasant could potentially be reduced to 57% of its current size. Royal Mail bosses estimate that the cutbacks will involve nearly 600 job losses.
Last week’s CWU conference voted unanimously to mobilise national support for the London dispute, including by refusing to handle any London mail diverted to centres outside the capital.
The CWU’s London divisional rep Martin Walsh said: “London postal workers have sent a clear message to Royal Mail in this ballot that they will not be bullied or intimidated by the company. Royal Mail’s closure plans are a clear threat of compulsory redundancy and this is completely unacceptable. In their race to push services to the bottom, Royal Mail will eventually provoke a reaction wider than London.”
This will be the third piece of major industrial action by postal workers in the last four years. Previous disputes, both London-wide and national, have been undermined by a failure on the part of the union leadership to focus action around winning specific, targeted demands, preferring catch-all but undefined opposition to management’s general intentions and concretely only demanding further negotiations. Some rank-and-file networking was done in the 2007 and 2009 disputes, particularly around the mobilisations to oppose the shoddy deals the CWU leadership eventually sold to its members. Those networks must be reactivated and rebuilt to make sure that rank-and-file postal workers, in London and beyond, have their hands on the steering wheel of this dispute.
Like the battles in 2007 and 2009, this fight is one to save the post as a public service. Savage cuts at three of the capital’s most important mail centres are part of a wider project to financially streamline and, ultimately, to privatise the post service.
By linking up with other workers fighting to stop privatisation and job losses, London postal workers can turn their jobs dispute into a class battle for public ownership.