Sunday, 20 January 2008

Burslem 12 March for Justice

The iron skies over Stoke were nice and kind for yesterday's solidarity march with the 12 suspended Burslem postal workers. We were among the first to arrive at the picket line but very soon numbers swelled dramatically with trade unionists and posties, their families, and other local people keen to give their support. At about 2pm we formed up and walked out into the road. It was only at the top of the hill did we get a proper appreciation of the size of the march. There were 4-500 in our column, and 15-20 banners, including Stoke Socialist Party's, Manchester Unison (borne aloft by Karen Reissman), and the National Shop Stewards' Network, and we forced a fair tail of traffic to build up behind us.

SP comrades battled with Socialist Worker sellers (parachuted in for the occasion) for paper sales among passers by, leaflets were doled out to cars slowly passing on the other side of the road, and the odd numpty who shouted abuse received collective cheers and rounds of applause. The march was extremely good natured and is certainly the best one I've been on since the 2,500-strong NHS-SOS demo back in 2006.

It wasn't long before we took our seats in a packed Forum Theatre in Hanley Museum. Jane Loftus, CWU president, kicked off proceedings with solidarity greetings to the Burslem 12 from all constituencies of the union, the MKP of the Philippines (telecoms union), South East TUC, ASLEF, Unite, Keele UCU, South Yorks NUJ, and many others I didn't get the chance to write down.

Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary spoke first. He began by noting how mainstream politicians and commentators claim people aren't interested in politics or solidarity any more. Referring to the squeeze in the hall, "I haven't been at a meeting before where people have to queue up to show their solidarity!" The march is what the CWU is about, he said: standing shoulder to shoulder, giving solid backing, and working toward victory. Joan Whalley, the local Labour MP, said she will never sit by if there is no fairness at work in her constituency, and in the case of Burslem depot the 12 are standing up for what is right. Having spoken to senior Royal Mail management, the objective of the strike - an independent review of the suspensions - is opposed by them on the grounds it "undermines" local management and could "set a precedent". In other words, they want to be able to carry on bullying and intimidating staff with impunity.

Dave Ward, deputy general secretary for postal outlined how 2007 was the most difficult year for the CWU since the six week strike of 1971, but things must be so much worse for the 12. Management are trying to drag their character through the gutter with allegations of bullying, and yet time and again they've been invited to present evidence during talks, but they do not because they cannot. Of course, the suspensions aren't really about bullying: it is an attempt to break what probably is the strongest postal branch in the country. And they know if they get away with it here, Burslem will be mirrored elsewhere, in the industry and outside it. In terms of practical action, the Midlands region of the CWU is balloting all of North Staffs for strike action, Midlands region has suspended agreements over start time and work times, and will do so nationally if Royal Mail do not move. But even if the 12 are victorious, the campaign continues: bullies and macho management have no place in any workplace. Malcolm Brundrett, area delivery rep said management are scratching in the dirt to try and justify the dismissals. Also, Royal Mail have had the cheek to offer an "independent" panel of managers from anywhere in the company to review the suspensions. If such an offer was taken up and they found in favour of the 12, I suspect their careers in the company afterwards would meet an untimely end.

Dave Condliffe Jr, the "13th member" of the suspended workers said this was a straight fight between right and wrong. Management are engaged in union busting and they must be stopped. They thought the branch was broken after the national strike and arrogantly challenged the union branch to ballot the depot over the suspensions. They underestimated the depth of feeling, and the strike vote must have come as a surprise slap in the face to them. Dave gave thanks to the 12 for inspiring and lifting the branch, and setting an example to workers everywhere who suffer macho management. P of the 12 thanked everyone for the "unbelievable turn out", to local activists and officials, and especially all the families of Burslem office. This dispute didn't begin with the suspensions though, it goes back 13 months to an area dispute over work time. They then victimised Big Dave Condliffe with the same bullying smears, and stepped up petty office attacks an intimidation. For example, stripping the fittings of all personal tokens and leaving them in a nearby bin; ringing up people off on the sick and threatening disciplinaries; the list goes on. Typical of management's arrogance, one of the more obnoxious of their number even informed P that if they could take out the "vocal faces" in the depot, resistance would collapse. But they were wrong: the backbone of Burslem union organisation are the members themselves. Since December 18th, when the office went on strike, there have been upto 70 on the picket line at any one time and new workers with a year or less service have been as solid as the rest: they have stood up and been counted.

The final platform speaker was Lee Barron, an area official who has been extremely closely involved in the dispute. In an angry speech, he said the union has a moral obligation to stand up against the kinds of practices we see Burslem management resort to. He thanked everyone for coming along and repeated that the union will not walk away from the 12 - it and the trade union movement owe them a debt of gratitude. And finally a warning to the managers: "we'll see you in court for defamation of character!" Lastly, from the floor, M for the 12 thanked the union for their support and everyone for turning out, and also singled out Stoke SP for the solidarity work it has done these last 13 months.

After thundering applause, the hall dispersed to the benefit social, to the local pubs, and to home. The march and rally did the job to show how this dispute is of national significance. Wherever you work, dictatorial management is trampling all over its own procedural rules, attacking unions, intimidating workers, and making work a living hell. If the 12 win in Burslem, it's a victory for us all.


adam said...

congrats to the sp in stoke who i know have done some very good and tiresome work in solidarity with the 12. i was on the picket line on christmas eve and the mood seemed firm. hope this shows the management at burslem firstly that burslem posties wont give in and secondly that they have the support of a huge layer of workers in stoke, despite the negative media coverage. also glad to hear that south east tuc pulled their finger out. good luck to all involved

ian said...

Congrats and solidarity.


Anonymous said...

sounds good comrades

although i must say i've never heard of the swp parachuting in before, very much unlike them ;-)

paul hunt

Phil BC said...

For comrades wanting the spotting low down, it was pretty thin pickings (being Stoke) but some was to be had:

Socialist Party: Around 20
SWP: 6 or 7
Socialist Appeal: 1
Campaign Against Euro-Federalism: 1
Labour Party: Dozens (all under cover)

Anonymous said...

Once again I marvelled at the hipocrasy of Labour to turn up to this rally and profess solidarity with the Burslem 12, after sitting in parliment de-regulating and opening up the Post Office to competition, the route cause of the problems as toss pots like Crozier and Leyton see how much money they and their big business friends can extract from privatising the Royal Mail.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

Is it me or has there been a spate of victimisation of workers from unions that have almost threatened to ruin the governments plans over pay, conditions and privatisation recently. There seems to have been a lot of victimisation of in particular CWU and UNISON members recently.

adam said...

i agree lwcrim. surely a sign that managers are finding it more and more difficult to keep public sector workers in check. the bullying and victimisation of unison health and local government workers started at a time when huge cuts and pension 'reform' was going through. now cwu members are victimised as the government attacks their pay, pensions and working conditions. i think they may just be getting a little desparate.

politiques USA said...

@ Phil BC: I'm looking forward your next subject on psychology. Today I was reading an essay on "Schartze Padagogik". It's a work that gathers texts of the XVIIIth and XIXth century on the education, in which are described all the traditional techniques of conditioning of the subject, but I'm still not convinced with Rawls work on more rational questions such as the meaning of justice or violence. That said, give me a few days and if you'd like, I'll give you the link of my blog that deals exclusively with this issue; I have to translate everything from french and german into english. I think I might be obsessed with my search on the "truth" but in a world that preaches values, we have to deconstruct them first to find out what lies down beneath, otherwise a whole civilization can collapse.

On a labour issue, I used to read an english review (it was nore like internet leaflets in PDF format) on a socialist party in the UK, it was never published on the http net, but lots of people started to read it through P2P with the word of mouth. Unfortunately they took down the P2P and it is now out of reach on the global network. It's too bad because it was enjoyable, a little bit too far left for me though, but it made lots of sense about what was going on in the UK. Sometimes I'm under the impression that we lost lots of interesting words in our society such as "solidarity". Who the heck knows what's going to happen to our societies and how they are going to evolve 300 years from now. As long as we are not regressing, then it's fine, but everything will be different from now.


Keep up the good work.

Phil BC said...

You'll be waiting a while, Politiques, before I dabble in psychology again. To show myself up for the pseud I am, my "expert" knowledge is limited to an essay I wrote on Freud 11 years ago! Think I'll stick to politics and sociology from now on ...