The postal workers’ four day walk-out on 5-9 October was, once again, approaching 95% solid. More strikes are planned from 15 October, and there can be no doubt that they will be solid too. But will they be enough to win?
The Royal Mail bosses have shown daring and determination — cynically using talks to demobilise the union without any intention of making concessions, then launching a series of attacks. They have unilaterally imposed changed working hours, shut Royal Mail’s final-salary pension scheme, and announced closure of militant Mail Centres such as Oxford and Reading. It is clear that they want to break the union. That is why trade union and left activists must consider this dispute the “miners’ strike” of our time. A lot is at stake.
Unfortunately the CWU leadership has dithered and compromised.
First they suspended action for talks; then, when these talks predictably yielded little, the union took nearly a month to put the action back on. (The word was that the CWU Postal Exec was working on “counter-proposals” to Royal Mail’s plans, but it has published nothing about those “counter-proposals”). Even after the strike had restarted, the CWU leaders were hinting it might be called off before the end of the four days.
This sort of on-off, maybe-we-will-maybe-we-won’t, we-don’t-really-want-to-cause-trouble, give-us-some-crumbs-and-we’ll-think-again approach is not the best way to fight bosses who are on a determined offensive. But from the same bureaucrats who bent their knee to Brown at Labour Party conference it’s hardly a surprise.
Postal workers need to fight for control of the dispute, so that Hayes and Ward do not have it all their own way. A new strategy is clearly needed: one that campaigns a determined national drive to beat Royal Mail with creative local tactics such as mass pickets, meetings, demonstrations and other activity to mobilise the members. Anything else will mean a gradual ebbing away of strikers’ energy and determination.
At the same time, all this is much more likely to happen if the CWU receives strong support from across the labour movement. As Solidarity has already reported, local support committees exist in Bristol, Luton, Leeds and SW London; a rally to launch a public sector unity committee will take place in Hackney on 31 October.
The key, of course, is united industrial action by different unions. Even the TUC Congress voted unanimously for such action, but the reality is predictably that the union leaders are dithering. Even in unions already balloting, such as Unison Local Government and PCS, it will take the maximum possible pressure to win the coordinated action which can guarantee the postal workers victory.