Summer of Strikes should get us out of the middle of the road

Getting the message across: postal workers and supporters at Royal Mail’s depot on Holmesdale Road, South Norwood, one of the many pickets around Croydon today

Around the country today, 115,000 Royal Mail workers joined 40,000 BT staff taking industrial action, as the Summer of Strikes continued.
KEN TOWL visited the posties’ picket line outside the sorting office on Factory Lane

“We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road,” said Nye Bevan, the great Labour politician and architect of the NHS. “They get run down.”

I think of these words as I stand in the middle of Factory Lane struggling with my camera phone. “Don’t get run over!” someone shouts and I look to my right and see the van hurtling towards me. It slows down and I get out of the way.

Other cars pass and hoot, presumably in support of the Royal Mail workers who have just had their photograph taken.

They are an amiable bunch, but they are not happy. When I ask if I can take a photograph they direct me to their union rep and he gets them to hold up their banners, which reflects their demands for an “adequate” pay rise.

In the money: Simon Thompson, Royal Mail’s CEO gets a £500,000 salary, plus £71,400 pension a year and last year a £140,000 bonus, as the company made £702m profit

Without bothering to consult, Royal Mail’s management announced earlier this year that it would raise posties’ pay by 2per cent. Given inflation is in double digits and rising, this would, of course, represent a substantial drop in real terms pay over the coming year.

Royal Mail now claims to be offering staff 5.5per cent, but in exchange for a change to terms and conditions.

When I mention this to the shop steward, he is dismissive of the offer, listing a string of benefits that the employees would have to give up in return for an offer that does not even go halfway to covering inflation.

Royal Mail is claiming that times are tough for business and they are offering what they can. Meanwhile, the price of postage stamps have gone up by 11per cent this year, to 95p. 

According to Companies House, the once state-owned Royal Mail ended up with a £702million profit in the year 2020-2021, more than double that of the previous year. Royal Mail is pleading poverty while the strikers are trying to avoid it.

Today’s strikes are just the latest of a series of separate industrial disputes throughout this summer, involving people working on the bin lorries, driving trains and buses, as well as tram drivers and other railway workers. Journalists on what’s left of the country’s local papers are coming out on strike, and even barristers at Croydon Crown Court are taking action, too.

What occurs to me is the modesty of union demands these days. No one could call the CWU a militant union. No one, that is, except for a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

Non-militant tendency: barristers are among the many who have been forced to resort to strike action this summer

The Communications Workers Union, whose members were on the picket line at Factory Lane today, have not resorted to industrial action for 15 years. If its members do so now, it is surely because they feel they have no choice. It is clear that CWU members support the action: they voted 97.8per cent in favour of striking on a 77per cent turnout.

These are ordinary working people asking to be treated fairly.

The people who deliver our parcels and letters – and who proved their value as key workers throughout the covid lockdowns – deserve our support. They will be on strike again on Thursday and Friday September 8 and 9.

I would encourage anyone who is able to go down and support them, especially any MPs or councillors who find themselves at a loose end. Postmen are constituents, too.

And you know what they say about standing in the middle of the road…

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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3 Responses to Summer of Strikes should get us out of the middle of the road

  1. Peter Underwood says:

    Privatisation has failed.

    We have been left with businesses that are ripping off customers and employees while paying senior managers and shareholders a fortune. We need to bring public services back into public hands, so they start working for us, not just to make a profit. This is true for the postal service, energy companies, public transport, and water.

    I fully support the strikers in asking for a fair share of what the company earns so that they can at least keep up with inflation.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    97.8per cent in favour of striking on a 77per cent.
    Governments claim a mandate on a lot less than that. In Employee relations terms that is a difficult number to face at a negotiating table and very difficult to argue with. Add in a £702m profit and the state of the nation address by the employer sounds more like air from the rear of a cow with the equivalent smell.

    What is striking (pardon the pun) is the lack of any understanding or direction from the Government. And at every utterance all that comes to mind is Mr Lynch mouthing (quietly) Liar to Mr Philp with his strident jingoism on the BBC.

    But lets be real here as usual despite the good that many Conservatives bring to the country they have indulged in internecine self interest and imploded once again to the detriment of all the nuetral voters in the UK. It begs the question have they gone on strike too? Do they believe that they can just give vague utterances – collect their pay and rations and bugger off on holiday with England grows cold and that will suffice?

    Mr Underwood of the Green Party makes some valid points. But …..
    There are good private, and good publicly run companies and organisations. When Private ones are run badly the controlling minds are dismissed by the board and/or the shareholders/stakeholders. The difficulty with State run entities is that ministers have selfish and political interests and so many Agendas that implementing any kind of Business plan is impossible. We can sack them at the Elections but often we are left with the same culture as an alternative.

    if the Mail decides to do a P+O on the workforce Then the setting up of an Independent self sustainable international Royal Mail to give them competition should be this Countries answer to that behavior.

    Thankfully I have never had to go on strike and it is not something I am in favor of in general but I recognise injustice and unreasonable behavior.. So I wish our Posties well and a reasoned success, despite the missing post and other peoples mail we receive regularly.

  3. It is not solely about pay.

    The main agenda of the Royal Mail is to shrink the non-profitable side of the business (letters) by postage stamp price hikes / email competition and eventually, when they have a resulting smaller work force, sell off the parcels side to the highest bidder, so the shareholders and company directors will be happy.

    It will be a public service dismantlement achieved by neglect.

    Refusing reasonable pay increases is, I believe, ‘a sprat to catch a mackerel’ but unfortunately they are miscalculating as public opinion seems to be on the side of the staff.

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