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Postal workers plan boycott of privatised mail

2013 may not be the year the world ends but it certainly could prove a bad one for anyone who relies on Royal Mail, once again threatened with privatisation. Now plans by the postal Communication Workers Union (CWU) to boycott privatised mail in the coming months could kickstart the struggle against a sell-off. It will take an all-out national strike against privatisation, demanding solidarity from the TUC unions and wider public, to defeat this historic attack.

The rigged ‘free market’

Since 2006 Royal Mail has been thrown into a profits crisis by government-rigged competition, where private operators like TNT and UK Mail cherry pick the profitable bulk mail accounts, collecting and processing mail from banks and big business, but then using Royal Mail to deliver the mail at below cost prices dictated by the regulator, a system known as ÒDownstream AccessÓ (DSA). Royal Mail must still shoulder the heavy costs of fulfilling the Universal Service Obligation (USO), delivering to every address, every day across Britain.

Over half of mail is now collected and sorted by private companies under the DSA. Now TNT has gone one step further and set up a delivery operation in West London, with its workers on low-wage, zero hour contracts – the casualised face of the future if postal workers don’t fight back. They intend to expand to all major city centres.

The regulator Ofcom has rejected the CWU’s demands that TNT be obliged to deliver to the same standards as Royal Mail and for a living wage minimum for the sector. The aim is to let privatisation rip.

Add in the rumours of future cuts to USO requirements (for instance, less than the current six day delivery) and the new TNT operation represents the biggest material threat so far to the USO.

The government’s plans to start the sell-off of Royal Mail this autumn will accelerate attacks on postal workers’ jobs and wages, and mean higher prices and worse service for customers.

Boycott the privatisers

In response the CWU has launched a campaign against privatisation, and in relation to the TNT delivery threat, is pushing the idea of a boycott of rival companies’ mail in defence of the USO and the union. A national meeting of local officials and area reps in March voted unanimously for the proposal, and the union’s annual conference in late April unanimously endorsed the plan too.

The call to boycott could get a good response. While workers outside of London don’t yet realise the scale of the danger with TNT delivery, everyone’s sick and tired of delivering competitors’ mail. But many will be confused since the CWU Postal Executive Committee (PEC) hasn’t explained that it means an illegal strike.

Some activists are confident a boycott will succeed, pointing to the fact that if Royal Mail suspended individuals for refusing to handle competitors’ mail, it would see a wave of wildcats like in 2003 and 2007. Others argue that defeats in 2007 and 2010 especially, where mass wildcats against victimisation were not enough to win, and the unopposed closures of the most militant mail centres since, mean we should not be complacent.

To ensure success we need to build up an active campaign to prepare members for the struggle ahead – just what the PEC isn’t doing.

The CWU postal leadership around Dave Ward and Billy Hayes won’t call a national strike against privatisation – also illegal under the anti-union laws. Instead they are throwing the initiative on the members to break the law, trying to spark a guerrilla war against the changes to the USO. And a militant union with an illegal strike victory under its belt would make Royal Mail privatisation a dead duck – who would buy it?

Then, if Labour is elected in 2015 it will all be ok – such is the thinking of Ward, Hayes and co. The danger is they are playing with a risky tactic without being serious about it, and willing to settle for concessions on the USO from the Tories – which would be temporary, aimed at getting the strike called off – but stop short of defeating privatisation completely. Ultimately with the USO in place, the CWU leaders can live with privatisation.

If the leadership don’t mobilise the membership, touring the branches with mass meetings to explain the issues and discuss how to make a boycott work, then it has little chance of success. Activists and reps against privatisation should network directly to make it work and turn it into an open all-out strike against privatisation, coordinating with other workers such as Post Office strikers. Let’s demand the TUC calls a general strike, as the quickest way to completely repel these Tory attacks or in defence of our union if the government tries to repress us.

That the current CWU leadership won’t do what it takes to defeat privatisation is a fact we must face. If activists can get together to form a rank and file movement to hold the leaders to account and take control of the action when they shrink back, like Ward and Hayes did in 2007 and 2010, then it could see a strike against privatisation through to the end.

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2 Responses to Postal workers plan boycott of privatised mail

  1. steve

    October 15, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    i hope we win as well thank you for your support

  2. charlene

    June 26, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    I rely very much on Royal Mail postal service & deliveries. There won’t be any posties left to deliver mail if this downward spiral trend continues. I wish all the UK posties a victory.

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