This week towns and cities across the country have seen postal workers standing on picket lines with their supporters in the wider community. For three months now, 115,000 members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) – the union I am proud to lead – have been on strike, having voted by nearly 100 per cent in two separate ballots this summer to take action.
Thurday was the ninth day of 2022 where these workers have lost a day’s pay for striking. But spirits are far from dampened. Thursday saw some of the biggest turnouts of the dispute, with what thousands of workers see as the dictatorial, bullying style of Royal Mail’s leadership only hardening their resolve to win.
The reason for the strike is simple: it’s about stopping the Uberisation of Royal Mail. The management agenda is about Royal Mail being transformed into a gig economy-style parcel courier, with a business model reliant on bogus self-employment and casual labour.
For employers, the decent conditions and job protections our members enjoy seem to be a downside to running the company, which turned a £758m profit last year. The other obstacle is the CWU, who they rightly see as a serious obstacle to this levelling-down agenda.
None of this is a secret. In proposals offered by management to us this week, the company spelled out that their “best and final offer” to workers would include thousands of inevitable compulsory redundancies, a serious real-terms pay cut, the removal of Sunday premium payment and the abandonment of the AM delivery period.
They also want the CWU to transform itself into a company union – a bunch of yes men who help management push through whatever plans they want onto our people, rather than to object or propose alternatives that work better.
In short, it is the biggest direct attack on a group of workers that this country has seen in a generation – and something we could never accept.
Our demands are reasonable. We want an improved pay deal – more than the 3.5 per cent non-backdated pay increase, which the company is shamefully spinning as a 9 per cent increase when inflation is at 11.1 per cent. We want a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, the restoration of previous agreements for voluntary redundancies, and the right of local union reps to help negotiate and work out local revisions to strategy.
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We’re also demanding an alternative business strategy. What is deeply frustrating to the workers who keep Royal Mail going, is that the management do not appreciate the company’s potential. Our members deliver to 32 million addresses a day; they have a respect in the community and the country unrivalled by any other delivery company. Instead of seeing this as an advantage, they prefer to indulge in a race to the bottom instead.
But we will not surrender. Postal workers will not meekly accept having their livelihoods ruined for the benefit of a few at the top. They deserve dignified work which offers respect for them and their families, where “flexibility” is a two-way street between worker and employer, where wages are enough so that nobody has to worry about heating their homes or feeding their kids.
Royal Mail workers care about this company and the communities they serve. They aren’t cowed easily by people trying to wreck their livelihoods by imposing a business model that the country is growing increasingly sick of.
This is a fight for the very future of every worker in the company, and also for every worker in Britain – if a national institution can be wrecked like this, no job is safe. I urge you to stand with your postie in their fight ahead.
Dave Ward is the general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU)