Close the scab hubs

Steve Sweeney reports on a regional initiative in support of postal workers

The Eastern Region Shop Stewards Network and Cambridge Post Workers Support Group jointly hosted a meeting on Tuesday November 3 addressed by Jane Loftus, Communication Workers Union president and member of the Socialist Workers Party.

The meeting was well attended, with activists and trade unionists from across the region present, although most were from the Cambridge area. PCS, Unite, Unison, NUT and NUS were represented, along with a local Labour councillor, in an event called to show solidarity with striking CWU members and plan local action to raise money, solidarity and public support. Local left activists from the SWP, Socialist Party, Socialist Appeal and the Labour Representation Committee were present offering support.

Comrade Loftus opened the meeting by giving an outline of the current situation. She highlighted the strength of the CWU in delivering a 76% ‘yes’ vote in the ballot for strike action. Most large workplaces have reps and Royal Mail should be negotiating with them, rather than trying to force through change without consultation. She stressed the importance of solidarity from other unions, as Royal Mail colludes with the government to try and smash the CWU and use this as a platform to go on an offensive against other public sector unions. If the CWU is defeated, it will lay the groundwork for this government and the next to carry out its goal of privatising schools, hospitals and other public services and attacking members’ terms and conditions, cutting jobs and slashing pensions. She pointed to action taken by workers at Vestas and Visteon, showing that the attacks are not just happening in the public sector and there is a general willingness to fight.

Practical steps were necessary to ensure that the strike is not defeated because workers are suffering poverty. The CWU does not give strike pay. Cambridge TUC sponsored the Cambridge v Kidderminster football match to raise money for the strike fund and leaflet supporters to raise awareness of the reason for CWU members taking action. She said other simple actions such as opening the door to your post deliverer and offering support are helpful in raising confidence. Comrade Loftus said that what happens in the strike will have a knock-on effect for other workers and unions. While billions have been used to bail out the bankers, both Labour and the Tories are hell-bent on cutting public services. Victory in this strike would mean, said comrade Loftus, that strikers could return to work proud, with an agreement in place that rewards them, and that the union will still be there.

Paul Moffat of Eastern Region CWU spoke about the politics of the dispute. He squarely laid the blame for the dispute on Royal Mail and the government, with Mandelson pulling the strings after his humiliation over privatisation. Now, along with plans to smash the union, management and the government are planning to run the ‘business’ down to make it more attractive to the private sector. He attacked Gordon Brown for saying that he did not want to interfere in the dispute, saying that, as the government is the major shareholder, that is a disgrace. This is a fight for the life of the postal service.

Comrade Moffat spoke about the support from other unions locally, including the NUT and FBU. He said that the current dispute does not be compared to the miners’ strike, although in a way it is similar, as the government and Royal Mail have prepared in advance and are set to try and smash a militant union. Other unions have been quick to respond and ordinary union members have been able to recognise what the strike is about. It is essential that the rank and file put pressure on the leadership who often lack the courage to take action in solidarity with other workers against a Labour government.

One of the main issues highlighted by both speakers has been the establishment of ‘scab hub’ warehouses. These are being used to sort and prepare mail in order to try and beat the strike and avoid picket lines. One of these ‘scab hubs’ is based in the region and is being staffed by agency workers. One of the first and most vital activities being carried out by the group and supporters is a mass leaflet of the warehouse to inform workers that they are being used to break a strike and that the fight against Royal Mail will benefit them if victory is achieved.

Other plans include city centre leaflet and collection stalls, a bonfire night collection, writing to local student unions and PCS branches regarding students and unemployed workers taking jobs when the strike is on and another ‘party on the picket’ planned for this Friday and Monday’s all-out strike days.

The Cambridge Post Workers Support Group will be meeting every week while the dispute continues.