SCOTTISH postal workers forced a further retreat on the Post Office’s attacks on their working conditions last week.
The dispute began when all sections of the Post Office decreed that the May Day bank holiday (still taken in Scotland) should be replaced for this year only by the VE Day holiday the following week. The Com-munications Workers Union claimed that both should be holidays and, following a nine-to-one vote in favour, workers took official strike action on May 1.
On their return they found that the Post Office was attempting to impose worse working conditions, using the backlog as an excuse. In what was clearly a pre-planned, coordinated management action, earlier starts and heavier loads were demanded, as well as no second delivery. Several workers were suspended and thousands walked out again (this time unofficially).
Despite CWU repudiation of this action, workers stood firm and after two days had forced a complete management climbdown. The suspensions and threatened disciplinary actions were withdrawn and normal work patterns were resumed.
Alec Brownridge, CWU assistant branch secretary in Edinburgh, told me: “The members are delighted with the outcome. The Post Office dug a ditch for themselves and had to back down.”
But the Post Office is aiming to break union resistance by consistently taking legal steps against the CWU whenever workers react against these provocations. The union bureaucracy is bending over backwards to remain within the law, but this is still not preventing court action and the imposition of large fines.
Last month an attempt to impose similar work changes to those in Scotland was attempted in Newcastle. This too was thwarted after a successful two-week strike. Billy Hayes, national assistant secretary for delivery staff, commented: “Despite this severe - and illegal - provocation, our members waited the legally required seven days before embarking on last resort strike action. We abide by industrial relations rules, but Royal Mail ignore them.”
Although the Scottish May Day action has been portrayed by much of the left as in defence of the workers’ holiday, the action failed to reach across nationalist lines. Norrie Watson, Glasgow branch secretary, told me, “I cannot speak for England. Our action was to defend the traditional Scottish Spring bank holiday.”
The Post Office, however, is making the same attacks both north and south of the border. Postal workers should resist both official union and nationalistic attempts to prevent an effective counter-offensive.