Postal workers show the way

Royal Mail workers forced management to reinstate a sacked colleague earlier this month

FOR THE second time this month Royal Mail workers in London have given a lead in holding off the bosses’ attacks on their working conditions. In the face of management threats, the anti-union laws, a court injunction and disowning by the Union of Communication Workers, postal workers stood firm in a magnificent display of illegal, unofficial solidarity action.

The dispute started when management in Camden tried to implement new computer-based duty patterns which substantially increased the workload on postal delivery workers. The use of Computer-Assisted Delivery Revision had been accepted by the UCW national conference, but was supposed to be subject to local consultation. However in Camden management fed in their own job measurement times in an attempt to speed up every worker’s collection, sorting and delivery of mail, so cutting down on numbers employed.

After an official ballot, Camden workers held a one-hour protest stoppage last week, which was immediately met by the suspension of 150 workers who refused to sign undertakings to work as instructed. The whole Camden workforce then came out on unofficial strike and by the following morning two thirds of London had walked off the job, despite a court injunction to prevent sympathy action.

Within two days management had withdrawn all suspensions and threat of disciplinary action, along with the attempt to force workers to sign their agreement to the new guidelines.

A Camden union rep told me that he was surprised but very pleased with the support his members had received. When I asked a leading militant from another unit how he explained such impressive solidarity at a time when the working class as a whole is so much on the defensive, he simply replied, “I can’t imagine.”

Militants in London did a tremendous job in leading out 13,000 workers. A spokesperson at Mount Pleasant sorting office said, “We don’t accept any suspensions by management. It could be us next.”

However the action did not result in complete victory. The new duty patterns in Camden have not been withdrawn, but are subject to consultation and review with local union negotiators. In the meantime, according to the Camden rep, workers are being allocated ten-hour jobs to be completed in a seven-hour shift. “The members are returning to the office with a very high percentage of undelivered mail,” he told me.

Peter Manson