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Post Office staff vote overwhelmingly to strike

Post Office workers have voted a thumping 93% in favour of striking over the lack of a pay rise. The high vote and good turnout (66%) by the 4,000 Communication Workers Union (CWU) members in Crown Post Offices shows the widespread anger with two years of a pay freeze. With growing inflation this is in reality a pay cut.

Now the next step is to strike.

Pay cuts for workers, increases for the bosses

The bulk of Crown staff have received only one pensionable pay rise in four years and the Post Office bosses have refused to negotiate over 2010 pay round, even with the April 2011 pay round approaches. Managing Director Paula Vennells has thanked staff for their "team effort" but insists there is no money for a pay rise.

She is asking workers to sacrifice pay, while managers received a 2.25 percent pay rise and directors' remuneration rose by a whopping 21 percent in the same year (£3.9 million in 2009-10 according to the CWU).

Mail bosses claim that the crown network is losing £55 million a year, but Post Office Limited's (POL) profits shot up 76 percent in the last year alone to £72 million.

A big, 84 percent strike vote by 250 Isle of Man Post Office workers, also organised by the CWU, came in on 16 March and is over the same pay issues, money for managers but none for workers.

Another worry is that the guarantee protecting the 373 Crown Offices expires on 31 March, and POL is so far refusing to extend it another twelve months as requested by the union, a clear sign that the closure of crown offices, in favour of post office counters in WH Smiths and other private businesses, is on the cards. Staff get reduced pay and pensions from such transfers, which sparked the last post office strike in 2007. Like the the NHS, the ConDem promises of funding and better services are a cover for privatisation.

Unite the fights into one CWU strike

CWU top negotiator Andy Furey has gone through rounds of negotiations in the name of "leadership". In a published letter, Furey said in a letter to Vennell how much "leadership" he has shown, in that "the current impasse could have been escalated into a dispute at a much earlier stage. This demonstrates the discipline shown by the CWU and our members in the avoidance of industrial action." Now after months of negotiations that went nowhere, he has offered more negotiations!

What's more, Furey is seeking to resolve the pay dispute first before opening negotiations on "crown transformation", pushed by POL bosses backed by ConDem politicians. There is the danger of a salami tactic, where each issue is taken separately and a "compromise" negotiated, weakening the union's position on the big issue of privatisation coming up.

Post Office counters workers have every right to strike against pay freezes and management delaying tactics. Workers should hold workplace and local meetings to elect strike committees to start organising for action, build local solidarity and coordinate with other strikers like the UCU university and college lecturers.

This would also allow a debate on the aims of the strike, how to link it to crown transformation issues and link up with Royal Mail workers facing privatisation and cuts. It would allow workers to bring direct pressure to bear on the CWU tops to stop dithering, to bring the strike forward and for a speedy escalation of the strike, up to all-out if necessary to break the deadlock with Vennell & the Post Office bosses.

Post Office privatisation

The ConDem government has made much of its commitment to the Post Office network, separating it from its Royal Mail privatisation plans, earmarking £1.3 billion in subsidies and promising there will be no closure programme after the Labour government closed thousands of local post offices.

But the defence of post offices and subsidies are about preparing the Post Office network for privatization either selling parts off, or bit by bit or allowing more services or the network to be used by private firms.

The government is to downsize and privatise the 373 POL-owned Crown Post Offices, the big town centre offices that form the core of the network – handing them over to WH Smiths or other firms.

On 3 March, the government announced it was taking the £15 million contract for benefit payments away from the Post Office and giving it to private company PayPoint.

The ConDem government says it wants to make the network profitable, claiming it is losing £55 million a year. It is backing the Post Office bosses by attacking workers' wages and ultimately jobs, pushing privatisation and in the process dealing a blow to the CWU's strength in the workplace.

All these measures will privatise Post Office Ltd through the back door, worsening services and closing post offices, whatever the government says, and undermines the position of the Communication Workers Union (see http://www.workerspower.com/index.php?id=241,2759,0,0,1,0).

CWU members fight back now

Royal Mail staff in the post office and other sectors have faced a decade of relentless cuts and closures. These have speeded up with the 2008 recession and now we face end-game, as the ConDems want to bring this downsizing to a conclusion with privatization and deal the CWU a harsh blow. CWU tops have capitulated to this agenda, while the workers have paid with our jobs, conditions and long term pay.

All postal CWU members – counters, delivery, network – and indeed BT and telecoms staff in the private sector need a rank and file movement to develop an alternative strategy to deal with the looming privatisation threat, and a new leadership to fight for it that is worthy of the name.

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