no postal peace without an all-out strike

22 09 2009

by Gregor Gall

Have you noticed your post isn’t arriving as regularly as it usually does? Have you noticed there are many days when you expected to get post but didn’t get a thing?

poststrikepostbox

For a strike involving tens of thousands of workers and affecting millions of householders and businesses, debate about the current postal dispute is worryingly absent from the political arena. Neither Royal Mail nor the government is keen to say anything, whether good, bad or indifferent, about it. There is a wall of almost impenetrable silence. Indeed, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) has accused the government of “going on strike” by refusing to do or say anything. The reason, the CWU alleges, is that the government is still smarting from having lost its battle to partially privatise Royal Mail earlier this year after a union-led rebellion.

Starting in mid-June and continuing on a weekly rolling basis, just about every part of the country has been affected by the strike. It is over jobs, pay and working conditions. The union estimates that more than 20m items of post are caught up in the backlog, so this will be where your expected items of mail that haven’t yet turned up are currently stranded.

So, when the postal service is supposed to guarantee by law service delivery all across and throughout Britain, why hasn’t the government intervened? Ordinarily, it would instruct the postal regulator to suspend Royal Mail’s monopoly so that other operators could provide the service. It would also pressure Royal Mail to negotiate with the union as a way to resolve the strikes, as in did in the last national strike in 2007 and on many occasions before that.

It may be that with the summer recess of parliament and the absence of an all-out national postal strike, the government feels it is under no pressure or obligation to ban union and employer heads together. The fact that the media has not run with the postal strike story to any great length and affected businesses have not made their voices loudly heard has probably added to this feeling.

But it is just as likely, as the union has hinted, that the government is both sulking but also playing a high-stakes game. Having had to drop its plans for part-privatisation because of fears of a backbench rebellion after saying it was the only way to ensure for the survival of the company, the government seems to be playing a long game even though its time in office is running out.

By allowing a breakdown in service provision to precipitate a political crisis, the government thinks this will be the opportunity to both crush union opposition, support the company’s slash-and-burn modernisation plans and return to the “there is no alternative” agenda of privatisation.

This supposition is supported by the strongly worded attacks on the union by the government. In July Peter Mandelson claimed the union had its head in the sand and was a dishonourable negotiating party. It is all the more supported by the rejection by Royal Mail and the government (as Royal Mail’s only stakeholder) of the union’s offer of a moratorium on strike action for serious talks on modernising the business.

Ironically, the only serious hope for a stable and lasting resolution to the current dispute is the prospect of a national all-out postal strike. This would use the autumn return to official parliamentary politics to put pressure on the government to tell Royal Mail management to negotiate an acceptable outcome. It looks like it’s going to be a case of going to war to bring about peace.

*This article originally appeared on The Guardian website

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2 responses

22 09 2009
Nathan

This is a very good analysis of the situation.

From what I have seen on Newsnight and other ‘respectable’ purveyors of liberal-left opinion, there seems to be an incredulity that there could even be a strike nowadays.

The interviewer’s tone with the head of the CWU was one of exasperation, with extraordinary questions such as “isn’t it time to just grow up” and frankly absurd assertions such as “don’t you realize your are digging your own grave and everyone will just switch to using the internet?” Such questions were, obviously enough, not leveled to Royal Mail’s management on other occasions.

It seems that to the middle-class liberal-left organized labour is just a relic of the past: “don’t they just realise that they were defeated in the 1980s? We want to talk about things and people that really matter: human rights, the environment, immigration! Please just go away and let the grown ups handle politics….”

More evidence, as if we needed it, that the enemy in this country today is not the far right but our own hegemonic liberal-left: the BBC, the NGO-Charity complex, the so-called ‘left’ papers and policy thinktanks.

22 09 2009
Nathan

Whereas over at Guardian Online the road to serfdom seems to be being paved by a resentful mob chanting “don’t you know it’s a recession, you’re lucky to even have a job!” Bend over acquiescence to capitalism and management hierarchies seems to be the new reactionary spirit in the UK today: and funniest of all, these people believe themselves to be hard nosed pragmatists – ready at any occasion to just accept ‘reality’ and the state’s/management’s line!

Worst of all are perhaps the cynics though, with a “plague on both your houses” idiotic rhetoric – much the same as the equally inane “all politicians are stupid, and dunno wat they are doing” mood – the same mood that plays into the hands of “we shud just have Branson running the country” or “give it back to the Queen, she wud sort it all out”. Very sad.




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