PO workers fight closures

AN OFFICIAL strike, called by the Communication Workers Union, led to crown post offices in 18 towns and cities across Britain being closed down for one day earlier this week.

The strike was in protest against the threatened closure of many post offices, including ‘backdoor privatisation’ through relocating them under franchise in high street supermarkets. Half of all crown post offices have disappeared since 1989 and Counters Ltd plans to slash the remaining 750 to just 397 over the next five years.

With opinion polls showing 79% opposition to the policy, the CWU believes it is on to a good thing in attempting to build up ‘public support’ for the defence of its members’ jobs - particularly in view of the government’s recent withdrawal of full-blown privatisation plans.

This may be correct in some towns. Several Tory MPs who rebelled against the privatisation proposals are supporting the present campaign, including Batley’s Elizabeth Peacock, who does not want the town’s main office moved into Tescos.

However, there is no threat to the government’s majority on the issue, as it is Counters Ltd itself which is operating the rolling programme. Post office workers must rely on their own strength and solidarity to save their jobs.

This week’s strike was useful in building up morale. For example on Merseyside, the union won overwhelming support from its members. “Twelve offices were completely shut down,” Bill Butterworth, the Merseyside branch secretary, told me. “At the remaining six where action was called management themselves ran a skeleton service with the help of a handful of ‘disaffected members’.”

Unfortunately, as in all areas of the post office and BT where members are under attack, the CWU - its hands tied by anti-union laws - cannot be relied upon to build the necessary solidarity action. January’s magnificent action by 13,000 London delivery workers led to a fine being imposed on the union.

“Funds must be protected,” joint general secretary Alan Johnson warns in the March edition of CWU Voice. “We must ensure union branches always act constitutionally on industrial relations issues.” And that means walking away from victimised members.

But the same attitude is not displayed by local militants: “If you’ve got to do something, you’ve got to do it,” commented one member in London’s Mount Pleasant sorting office.

Delivery workers themselves may soon be forced to repeat the January action. The dispute over computer-assisted delivery duties still rumbles on, and there are rumours of impending redundancies over Royal Mail’s attempts to abolish second deliveries.

Peter Manson