Royal Mail Strike Six – bigger pickets, angrier members, company plan rejectedPostal October 14 2022
As the UK’s largest industrial dispute rumbles on, strikers’ determination hardens and pressure grows on discredited bosses…
Some 110,000 postal workers walked out on strike for the sixth time yesterday from units all over the country, in a massive rejection of the latest attacks on terms and conditions by senior Royal Mail leaders – attacks which appear to be rebounding spectacularly on those company chiefs. Every one of the union’s 10 divisions reported bigger pickets, stronger support for the action and a renewed determination to prevail over the destructive agenda being pursued by CEO Simon Thompson and his regime.
After a massively successful day for the CWU, a dispute which had been finely poised is now showing signs of starting to swing firmly in favour of the workforce. And as the 2022 calendar moves on towards the crucial pressure period of the year, during which the union’s strategy will step up from ‘all-out’ to ‘rolling’ action, confidence and belief that this attack can be overcome are gradually increasing. The emerging mood of optimism, however, is tempered by awareness of the critical need to maintain the admirable picket-line discipline that has been a key feature of the action so far – and to continue mobilising the core strength of our magnificent membership right across the UK.
From our national leadership all the way through our divisional, branch, area and local structures, the key messages coming loud and clear are of a unity and a fighting spirit stronger than ever before – facing up to, challenging, and seeking to overcome an attack on this union and our members the like of which, and the scale of which is equally unprecedented.
Our leader, leading from the front, winning the argument and inspiring members
General secretary Dave Ward demanded a Government inquiry into the “gross mismanagement” of Royal Mail by its current leaders, as he dismantled their flimsy propaganda and exposed their “asset-stripping agenda” on nationwide TV and radio yesterday morning.
Speaking to Sky News presenter Kay Burley from a lively south London picket line, Dave said that it was “very difficult to negotiate any settlement to this dispute” because the agenda being pursued by the people at the top of the company would “destroy this business and destroy the jobs of our members.” There was “no prospect” of the CWU agreeing to proposals to employ new starters on 20 per cent lower pay rates with a three-hour longer working week, while “managing out” long-serving employees on existing terms and conditions, he explained.
“For businesses and for the public, what they want to do is end daily deliveries. And in relation to parcels, while the CWU wants to capture parcel growth, they want to hive that off into a separate business with self-employed owner-drivers. This is not modernisation. This is asset-stripping and levelling down of the worst sort.”
Our general secretary was, once again, scathing in his response to CEO Simon Thompson’s repeated statement that he is losing a million pounds every day and said: “Let’s have a Government inquiry” into what is being claimed. “Because what we know as a fact is that they made £758m last year, when we had an agreement on change. And that agreement was instrumental in bringing the company through the pandemic. Postal workers did a fantastic job and we changed at the same time and they made money.
“But, in a matter of three or four months, they’re now saying that they’re losing a million pounds a day. Well, if that’s true, the people who are running this business should be sacked for gross mismanagement.”
Speaking with LBC’s Lisa Aziz later, Dave went through these key points in greater detail, repeating his call for a Government probe into the conduct of the company leadership and then publicly challenging Mr Thompson to defend his behaviour in front of the nation, saying: “Let’s have that out in the open. Let’s debate this live on your programme with the CEO of the company. I’m up for that at any point.”
With regard to the strike, Dave vowed: “We’re not going to give in on this. There’s too much at stake.” He reminded LBC listeners that CWU members had voted by 98 per cent on a 77 per cent turnout for strike action, adding: “More people voted for this strike than voted for Liz Truss to be Prime Minister.
“This is a serious dispute and I think the public will continue to support us.”
London & Anglia – ‘solid, angry and not fooled by company spin’
CWU divisional rep for London, Mark Palfrey, was with Dave at the Pensbury Place site this morning and he told CWU News that “there was a great attendance and we also had five MPs along supporting us as well. I went over to Mount Pleasant after that and members are totally behind their union, with bigger pickets all over.
“From conversations I had with members today and feedback from other London reps, these terms and conditions changes have really got people angry – angrier than they were before over pay,” he continued.
Mark recalls how, back in 2009, London members took 20 days of sustained industrial action in the prelude to the nationwide strikes of that year and he makes the point that the agenda of the company today is more significant than was the case then, describing “the sheer scale of this attack and its potential impact on our members” as a key reason for the strong support that is being witnessed in this dispute.
“Our member know that the company at this moment is being run by people who are not in it for the long haul – but our members are in it for the long haul. Ourmembers are not fooled by management spin. London is solid.”
Barry Jennings, Anglia divisional rep, visited lines at Bury St Edmonds, Thetford and Hatfield, including the Northern Home Counties site and parcels hub and reported: “I’ve been to those places today and there’s nothing moving. I’ve never seen such strong support for the union – stronger than 2009 and 2007.” Members form all circumstances and age groups were worried and concerned at what Mr Thompson and his regime want to do to them, Barry continued, citing: “Young parents who won’t be able to pick up their children from school any more under the new duty patterns hour and older, longer-serving workers who’ve been with the company for decades asking about these new performance targets.
“They’re worried, angry and all saying they’ll support the union and how important all this is to them. If I had to sum up the feeling from members today it’d be ‘We’re in it until we win it’.”
North East, North West/North Wales – ‘digging in for whatever it takes’
Day Number Six has been a good day, according to North Wales/North West divisional rep Ian Taylor, who reported that “we’ve even got non-CWU members joining the strike up here.” So strong is the feeling against Royal Mail senior management’s current agenda, he explained, that there are instances of workers who had refused for several years to join the CWU had also refused to cross picket lines and had respected the strike. “This is within the context of the dialing-down of their terms and conditions,” Ian pointed out, adding “everyone is recognising the impact this would have on them.
“We’re digging in and sticking together and from what I’m seeing and hearing – and I’ve been in Ashton, Oldham and Manchester today and had reports in from all around the division – members are supporting the strike and doing whatever it takes,” he added, saying: “I’m convinced it’s a dispute that will see results and that the union will deliver the agreement we need to see.”
From the North East, Bob Maguire told us: “I’ve never ever witnessed the solidarity and support on these picket line in all my years in the business – going back to the 1980s. The strength of feeling from young members with families saying they can’t survive, that they need this pay rise and they can’t accept these changes.” Today I’ve been to Houghton-le-Spring, Darlington and Richmond and there were very well-attended picket lines at all three.
I told them it was their strength that got our leadership back into the negotiations. And they said they want a good deal, absolutely adamant with us that the business has got to back off from its current plan. People get that the business changed its name to rip up agreements, sell off and asset-strip the company and move towards an Amazon-style model.
Scotland & Northern Ireland – ‘camaraderie and unity like never before’
From north of the border, Tam Dewar says that “units where there wasn’t a picket line when the strikes started have had them on this time – I’m talking about smaller, more rural communities like Annan in Dumfries and Galloway or island communities. Support is getting stronger. The smaller places have had pickets on, flying their flags.
“And there’s been tremendous backing from the public bringing coffees, pies and chips out to our pickets – I’ve been around Ayrshire, to Largs, Saltcoats and Irvine, my hometown and it’s been great today.”
“I have to give credit to our area reps doing regular gate meetings all around Scotland – it’s been this that has kept the support going and that’s what’s making our picket lines stronger,” adds the divisional rep.
Tam says that his “personal hunch” is that there will be a deal based on a return to the principles of the Pathway to Change agreement but that, in order to get the right resolution, “we’ve got to keep the pressure on.”
Over the Irish Sea, Fra Martin had a busy day as well, telling us: “We went to units in Belfast, Ballymena and Derry. We hit the lines from 6.30am and only got home this evening. It was well worth the trip because it gave us a real snapshot of our three branches over here.
“Our people are angry and 100 per cent with the union,” he continued, adding that there has been “a real pendulum swing” in terms of what members are angry about. “There still is feeling as strong as ever over the derisory 2 per cent pay, but today we got more references to the terms and conditions issues, and the annualized hours is a real bugbear.
“Members are saying how they’d lose out financially with the erosion of overtime and their work-life balance would be impacted too – particularly on their family and domestic circumstances and picking up their children from school for example.”
“I’ve been 37 years as a rep and I’ve never seen resolve like this – you see the same face son the lines as before, but it’s also empowering the younger members too and the camaraderie is great to see.”
South Central & Midlands – ‘stakes have never been as high’
Divisional reps Dermot Fuller and Paul Garraway reported a successful day across the South Central area, with Dermot saying that the important Swindon site was “tight” and that “the whole post code area is tight actually. There are units, even those that have not previously been so strong, but which are 100 per cent now.” Paul spent the day at Greenford, where his impression was: “It’s staying strong – people are up for it and asking when the next strike’s happening.” He also considers this to be the most strongly supported action he has seen but adds: “The stakes have never been as high as they are now.”
Looking ahead to the run-up to the festive period, he predicts that Mr Thompson’s attack on the workforce will fail, saying: “My personal view is we’re going to sink his Christmas.”
Up in the Midlands, Simon Edmunds tells CWU News that “I was at Nottingham, Sleaford and Derby and there are real worries among members about the company’s agenda, particularly in delivery.” These concerns reflect feelings expressed elsewhere by workers fearing that their childcare arrangements could be thrown into turmoil by the changes to duty times envisaged in the company’s current plans.
“Midlands members are solid – there’s a real feeling that people are fully justified in the action they’re taking, members understand fully the reasons for the dispute and how important it is that we get a fair resolution.”
South West & South East – ‘cool heads and keep our discipline to win’
Duty times are “the biggest issue” for many members in the South East, according to divisional rep Steve Wisley, who adds that, from feedback he has received, “members now believe the change agenda is more serious than the pay agenda. I was talking to one lad on the line at Dartford and he said even a 30-minute change would mean he’d have to put his child into after-care,” Steve continued, adding that management have said they want to move everyone by minimum of 30 minutes.
“I’ve never seen members more resolute. We’ve got to win this one.”
Over in the South West, regional secretary Kevin Beazer agrees that members seem more resolute as the dispute develops. “The picket lines I;ve been at have been well-attended, upbeat and buoyant and from what I’ve heard from area reps elsewhere in the region, it’s a similar picture all over.
“We’re going to see this through until the end. We need to keep our discipline and we need cool heads – this is a long fight and we’ll make sure we win it.”