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Alex Miller

130,000 Post Office workers in the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have brought mail deliveries in Britain to a standstill by holding two 48-hour strikes over pay and working conditions. The strikes, which began on October 5 and October 8 respectively, are over management plans to axe 40,000 Post Office jobs, to close the Post Office’s final salary pension scheme, to offer a below inflation pay rise, and to tear up all existing national and local agreements on working hours.

The pay offer of 6.7% over 2 years looks good on paper, but a CWU member explained to the October 5 Scottish Socialist Voice: “For this we are expected to sell our souls. They want total flexibility. Under their proposals a manager can just give you one week’s notice of starting times that can be two hours earlier or two hours later than normal. So you could be expected to start at 5am or 9am instead of 7am. Nobody can plan their lives that way. Alongside that they want Annualised Hours - working longer in the winter, shorter hours in the summer. We would lose overtime payments in the process - and face extremely long hours in the winter weather, which is horrendous.”

Another postie told the Voice that management plans to change the rules about payment for delivery of special items like election material would hit pay-packets hard: “Combined with the loss of overtime through their plans for total flexibility, this would mean most posties losing £40 or £50 a week. Last week I earned about £25 for door to doors and £15 in pressure overtime. If Royal Mail has their way this £40 will disappear, and there is no way the 6.7 per cent over two years would compensate for it.”

Roger Charles, CWU branch secretary at the Mount Pleasant sorting office in London told the October 5 Guardian that the management proposals on flexible working would turn postal workers into “Dickensian style wage slaves”. He continued: ”Management wants us to give up the stability of knowing when, where or how we will be working. They are determined to make decisions arbitrarily and unilaterally. We've been pressing them from the beginning to make agreements with us but it's something that they have shied away from."

The October 9 Morning Star reported that veteran left-winger Tony Benn had addressed a rally of hundreds of angry postal workers at Westminster Central Hall on October 8. Benn told the rally: “What we are witnessing is the deliberate destruction of the Post Office”. An official from the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) told the rally that British PM Gordon Brown is now the enemy of people such as rail and postal workers, and CWU deputy general secretary Dave Ward spoke of the consequences of management attempts to undermine previous agreements on working hours: “It’s now commonplace for people to come to work by 6am, do a full day’s work and, at the end, a manager can arbitrarily say whether they have worked hard enough. I call that slavery”.

As workers went back to work after the 2nd 48-hour strike ended on October 10, a wave of unofficial strikes broke out as managers attempted to impose on-the-spot changes to working hours and conditions. The October 11 Morning Star reported: “Workers in more than 20 sorting offices, including Glasgow, Merseyside, Lancashire and parts of London, took action in protest at management’s imposition of last-minute changes to their flexible working hours. Members of the CWU involved in the unofficial walkout protested that they had arrived for a shift starting at 5am but were told that they could not start until 6am”.

The CWU has announced a further series of 24-hour strikes that are due to begin on October 15 if further talks with management fail to result in an acceptable agreement.

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