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Vol. 73/No. 43      November 9, 2009

UK postal workers strike
against layoffs, speedup
EDINBURGH, Scotland—Some 120,000 postal workers, members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) took strike action across the United Kingdom October 22-23. The two-day work stoppage was in response to Royal Mail’s “modernization” plans that include layoffs and speedup.

“This is not about pay but about the way we’re treated in there,” said workers on the picket line at the Edinburgh Sighthill sorting office. Support for the strike is solid here. Only one worker out of about 900 crossed the line over the three shifts, David Anderson, CWU representative on the late shift, told the Militant.

Graham Steedman explained how Royal Mail has imposed walking speeds of four miles per hour for deliveries. Routes will now count one tenement (apartment building) as one delivery regardless of how many apartments are in the building. (In the United Kingdom most postal deliveries are made to the door not to post boxes in a common hallway.) These timings are “nonnegotiable” and Royal Mail has refused any independent review, workers said. “A basic worker’s wage is £343 [$560] for 40 hours before tax,” said Anderson.

On the picket line at Nine Elms depot in London, Patrick Paryag told the Militant that several weeks ago management changed the working pattern from four days per week to five without agreement from the union. “In the delivery we are now expected to complete the same 10-hour ‘walks’ in eight hours,” he said.

At Royal Mail’s main distribution center in Peterborough, CWU branch chairman Andy Beeby told the Telegraph, “Recently we had three staff suspended for refusing to sign a document relating to work standards. The document didn’t say what the standards were but they were then suspended for not working to them. That’s the way we are treated.”

Despite Royal Mail using local managers and temporary workers, estimates are that between 30 million and 45 million postal items are backlogged as a result of the 48-hour strike.

At the Leeds mail center, Pauline Bell, a packet sorter who has worked at Royal Mail for 15 years, told the London Times, “We’re not standing here over pay but because … week after week they’re cutting the staff, cutting the hours, and expecting the same work to be done.” Sixty thousand jobs have been eliminated over the last five years, Steedman at Sighthill told the Militant.

Citing a projected decline in mail volume by up to 40 percent over the next three to four years, Royal Mail chief executive Adam Crozier in an October 26 BBC interview said there would be further cuts but declined to put a figure on it.

For more than a decade, workers at government-owned Royal Mail have acted to defend their jobs and working conditions in the face of repeated assaults in the name of “modernization.” The national strike follows numerous local walkouts that have taken place since June.

According to a December 2008 Hooper report, a government-commissioned review of postal services, strike actions by postal workers “represented 60% of days lost to strikes across the whole of the UK economy in 2007.”

Earlier this year CWU general secretary Billy Hayes told the Telegraph, “The CWU will work with the Government, the management and the public to ensure that Royal Mail is modernized as a public organization to serve the nation’s interest.” At the same time, top union officials have had to support the actions taken by workers to defend themselves.

Caroline Bellamy, John Fegan, and ólöf Andra Proppé contributed to this article.
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