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.
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.
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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