Thursday, 24 January 2008

Burslem Posties Back at Work

In the early hours of this morning and behind the colours of the branch banner, the Burslem postal workers ended their six week strike and returned to work. At Saturday's rally, CWU deputy general secretary for postal, Dave Ward, mentioned there was a deal on the table worth serious consideration. At the weekly meeting of striking workers on Monday the local union leadership recommended this deal. Those of the Burslem 12 who were present thanked the rest of the members for their unflinching solidarity, and backed their return to work. On the basis of a secret ballot, the branch voted 63 to 23 for acceptance.

So, what does the deal consist of? First things first, it's necessary to clear up the one glaring inaccuracy carried by The Sentinel's report of the deal. It states nine of the 12 have been given their jobs back, and three await the outcome of an independent tribunal. Unfortunately, only three have been allowed back to work outright. The three trade union reps will face an independent panel, and the remaining six will have their cases reviewed by a panel with "an independent element". Despite the face-saving language for Royal Mail, it is likely these workers will also get their jobs back.

The deal has also secured an independent review into workplace relations within Burslem depot. Whether any recommendations it makes will be binding on Royal Mail is unclear. Also, management have been forced to retreat on their attempt to reduce strikers' holiday entitlement.

In addition to the formal deal, there have been two further advances. One of the bullying managers has been removed from the depot and transferred elsewhere. When news reached the depot he was due to start at, the workers threatened to walk out if he set one foot inside. They tried the same at another Rotherham depot and were met with the same response. So for now, he's being forced to work from home. Second, the objective of management - to break the union in Burslem through "strategic" suspensions - has comprehensively failed. If anything, the branch comes out of the dispute strengthened. The bonds of solidarity and comradeship forged during six weeks of picketing will not be easily eroded, and management will be aware that in future their attacks will face determined opposition. In addition, the union is continuing to pursue civil actions against several managers through the courts.

In sum, can the dispute be regarded as a victory? In the context of unremitting attacks across all industries on workplace conditions and low levels of resistance, yes. It is not a rout of management but they have been forced to retreat in the face of solid opposition. But as Dave Condliffe jr of the local CWU noted in his press interview, "this is only half-time in this dispute". And so it is. Early in the strike, news filtered out to the pickets that management are planning to discipline a further eight posties, so another dispute could flare up at any time. Nationally, Royal Mail continues to bully and intimidate staff while closing down hundreds of local Post Offices to make the firm look like an attractive candidate for privatisation, which must surely come in the next parliament unless it is vigorously resisted. In the last fortnight we have seen the suspension of workers in Bristol, and Belfast Tomb Street's depot. There could again be national action when management and the union start talking about pensions in March. In short, a battle has been won but the war continues.


Anonymous said...

without doubt id describe it as a victory, but as you say a battle won not a war. the burslem posties have set the benchmark, now when pensions are threatened in march/april, posties nationally will have a lot more confidence to go out and win.

Foxessa said...

I don't comment because I'm so ignorant of place, people and issues here.

But I continue reading your blog, hoping to become more educated.

Thank you!

Love, C.

Frank Partisan said...

Not being local, your analysis seems correct.

marshajane said...

Cheers for this report Phil - I really should read your blog more often!

Phil said...

For comrades information, the manager responsible for negotiating this deal has been sacked by Royal Mail. Coincidence?