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Postal workers - taking no shit

In 2000, over half the strike days in Britain were in the Post Office. Most were unofficial. The run-up to the New Year saw plenty of direct action, with royal mail workers walking out across Britain. In particular, Mersyside postal workers weren't afraid to show their anger at management tactics. Bootle were out, which spread to Liverpool, while Frodsham (30 staff) came out in November. Then West Derby in Liverpool (70 staff) were out between Christmas and New Year.

But feelings are running high nationwide over management attacks, as the new Labour drive towards back-door privatisation continues (see elsewhere in this issue). The following strikes have taken place in the past few weeks: Coventry, Luton, SE1, SE28, Bridgewater, Oxford, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Swindon, Bristol, Blackpool, Bradford, Keighley, Guildford, Fife and the Lothians. Romford were on a work to rule, counters were out in East London, Bromley and Dartford, and Parcelforce had sit-ins at Liverpool and Oldham offices.

On 12th January, a worker was suspended at Liverpool's Copperas Hill Mail Centre and staff immediately walked out in support. The worker was accused of swearing at a manager who himself swore.

By the middle of the following week, all delivery offices in the Liverpool postcode area had gone on strike. Postmen and women were joined by catering and clerical staff. Colin Churchill, Area Manager took every opportunity to state Royal Mail's case on local TV and radio broadcasts. His favourite word seemed to be ‘unlawful' and he repeated this word with the regularity of a demented parrot.

A writ was issued naming local union officials in an attempt to intimidate staff into ending the dispute. In response, the strikers escalated their demands, while Rail Terminal staff in Warrington, Scotland and London began refusing to handle Liverpool mail.

Crewe office refused to unload scab mail from Liverpool. The next day, four Crewe workers were suspended and over 350 staff walked out, followed by staff at Congleton. Staff across Cheshire were instructed by the union (CWU) to keep working. By the 20th, managers began moving mail from Crewe to other offices in Cheshire and parts of Merseyside. Two days later, staff at Warrington, Altrincham, Runcorn, Lymm, Frodsham, Winsford and Tarporley decided not to handle the scab mail. Staff were asked to leave the premises and were told that pay would be stopped. Bosses told staff that the action was ‘unlawful'. One local rep enquired “Whose law? Not ours.”

With Cheshire showing solidarity with workers at Crewe and Liverpool offices, management were forced to concede defeat. The sacked worker was reinstated and bosses agreed to an independent inquiry into the much-hated conduct code. This was a spectacular victory - it may even be the beginning of the end for the hated ‘Way Forward Agreement' which has given bullying managers the green light to victimise anyone they take a personal dislike to. We might have acted unlawfully, who cares. Morally we were right all along.

Contact the Communication Workers Network for the latest info. or to get involved. CWN, c/o PO Box 29, SW PDO, Manchester M15 5HW. solfed@solfed.org.uk

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Solidarity Federation