Tag Archives: CWU

Northampton demo report: ‘Just the start’

Dave Isaacson witnessed an overwhelmingly positive public response in Northampton


Over 200 people took to the streets of Northampton to demonstrate their opposition to the Con-Dem cuts on Saturday March 12. This followed other mobilisations in recent weeks outside the local council chamber and a successful ‘Shake yer butts against the cuts!’ benefit gig on March 11, which raised over £150 for campaign funds.

While many of us had hoped for a larger turnout for Saturday’s demonstration, there was nothing to be too disappointed about here. The march itself was lively and diverse. A significant proportion of marchers had been mobilised by local trade unions, most noticeably the CWU, PCS and Unison.

Also present were students, families, disability activists, pensioners and two bangra, drummers who led the march from Beckett’s Park, around the town centre, to the piazza outside All Saints church, where the finishing rally was held.

The response from the general public as the march made its way through the town was overwhelmingly positive with numerous people taking a break from their Saturday shopping to applaud and thank those on the march. I am pretty sure that others decided, upon seeing the march, to join in, and later on other people were drawn in to listen to the speeches at the rally. I even saw a community police officer applauding one of the speakers. Leaflets advertising the upcoming TUC march in London were also distributed to onlookers and passing drivers (many of whom hooted their support). This positive response shows that there is certainly the potential for us to build larger mobilisations in the future.

As for the left groups, the Socialist Party were by far the best represented on the demonstration and there were a few comrades from the SWP and CPGB. While some Northampton Labour Party activists were on the march and have been supporting the anti-cuts campaign, the absence of their CLP banner was made all the more obvious by the presence of that from nearby Kettering. Labour Party lefts recently convinced one of their Northampton branches to call for the local party to campaign on an anti-cuts manifesto in upcoming local elections. Whether the whole CLP can be won to adopt this position we will see.

A handful of Green Party activists were also present and Del Pickup, one of their former candidates (in Kingsley ward in 2007; whether he is still a member I do not know), has now been selected to stand as a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate in the local elections.

The final rally was chaired by Ron Mendell (Northampton Trade Union Council and Northampton Alliance to Defend Services) and featured militant speeches from a number of trade union representatives, including Matt Wrack (FBU), Roger McKenzie (Unison), Cheryl Pidgeon (TUC Midlands regional secretary) and comrades from the Education Activists Network and Unite Against Fascism.

All speakers were clear that the national TUC demonstration on March 26, while hugely important, was just the start of an ongoing campaign against cuts and privatisation. Speaking about the industrial action that we can expect to see in the upcoming period, the CWU regional official (standing in for CWU deputy general secretary Dave Ward) on the platform said that he and his members would rather break the law than cross other workers’ picket lines.

dave.isaacson@weeklyworker.org.uk

Other coverage

Gallery of Dave Isaacson’s pictures from the march and rally: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=644883&id=625205187&l=a75eec2fef

Youtube video of the protest:

ITV Anglia news report: http://www.itv.com/anglia/a-march-against-cuts36306/

Northampton Chronicle and Echo report: http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/community/marchers_protest_against_cut_backs_1_2499003

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Northampton rallies against cuts

Stand together to defend our communities”

Meeting reported in Chronicle and Echo

Hannah Phipps joined 150 others in Northampton’s historic Guildhall

We don’t want anyone believing the cuts are necessary,” declared Mark Serwotka of the PCS. He was joined Tracy Morel of Autism Concern and Mick Kavanagh from the CWU’s National Executive Council.

Opening the meeting, Ron Mendel of Northampton Trades’ Council called for those present to oppose all cuts and privatisation; “forge unity between providers and users,” he urged. On top of county council cuts of £67m the borough council is to cut a £4.7m.

Tracy Morel warned of 1.3m jobs being lost across the public and private sector. There are 1,500 families in Northamptonshire affected by autism and they faced a loss of support if the cuts are implemented.

Mick Kavanagh advised the meeting that the government wanted to get its hands on the postworkers’ pension fund – worth £25b. This was a “government for the rich” and they were seeking to dismantle the Royal Mail. Postworkers had defeated previous attempts to privatise their service and would do so again.

The final platform speaker was comrade Serwotka. He congratulated the meeting for a “fantastic turn-out.” We need a discussion about “what we can do,” he continued. He went on to list some of the attacks planned by the ConDem coalition: a rise in VAT; reductions in Housing Benefit and pensions. What the government promised was not a couple of years of pain but “generations of misery.”

Turning to the coalition’s junior partner, comrade Serwotka told those assembled the Lib Dems had “lied to the people of Britain .” He recounted a post-election meeting he had with the governor of the Bank of England; “What did you say to Nick Clegg to make him change his mind?” he asked him. “Nothing I didn’t say publicly before the election,” came the reply.

It was the likes of Vodafone and Philip Green who were the ‘scroungers’, not the people on benefits – we must “fight under the banner of ‘No to all cuts’”, the comrade declared. There were no “deserving and undeserving” service-users and we must “stand together to defend our communities.”

Comrade Serwotka finished by calling for the TUC demonstration of 26 March to be the “biggest demonstration in British history.”

The meeting was opened to speakers from the floor: libraries threatened with closure; care homes closed; support services reduced or withdrawn altogether.

A recurring theme was the £120bn ‘tax gap’ – several speakers demanded action on tax evaders and the closure of tax loopholes, while highlighting the loss of 25,000 jobs in Revenue and Customs. Summing up, comrade Mendel called for persistence – we were “in it for the long haul.”

Northampton anti-cuts demonstration: Saturday 12 March. See http://www.againstthecuts.blogspot.com for details.



Labour Party: Diane Abbott splits left

Communists want to see the Labour Party completely transformed, writes James Turley


Labour’s leadership contest is now properly underway, with the opening of nominations on May 24. Aspiring candidates will have to secure the consent of 33 Labour MPs in order to go to the vote later this year.

According to the Labour Party’s website, David Miliband and Ed Miliband are now officially nominated, though David is now ahead of his brother in terms of backers. Ed Balls and Andy Burnham are still some way behind … and at the time of writing John McDonnell has just four nominations – including, believe it or not, the execrable Frank Field and Kate Hoey.

While previously the post-Brown leadership contest was due to have been conclusively stitched up, with a ludicrous three-day nomination period initially imposed by the Labour national executive committee, now it has been extended to a miserly 16 days.

The protests began, naturally, on the Labour left, who are hobbled enough already by the MPs’ stranglehold over nominations; but quickly they spread. Jon Cruddas, the soft left angling for a post as David Miliband’s deputy, criticised the time limit forcefully. It was a measure directed clearly against the left, traditionally underrepresented in parliament anyway, but particularly badly marginalised at the present time.

In fact, so flagrantly anti-democratic was the original timetable that even Ed Miliband deigned to offer support to disaffected Labourites, via the social networking site Twitter. With both Miliband camps dissatisfied with the three-day period, to say nothing of less powerful figures in the party, one has to wonder who supported it in the first place.

So the contest – at least, any contest not completely internal to New Labour – is just about alive. Still, the safe money is on a New Labour-only non-debate, as the first Labour left to throw his hat into the ring, McDonnell, knows all too well. His was the only serious left challenge to Gordon Brown’s coronation in 2007, but despite an energetic campaign – not to mention a longer campaigning period – he was unable to get enough nominations. The reasons are multiple, but the two most important were the Labour Party machine’s desire for an orderly Blair-Brown transition, and the fact that the largest trade unions refused to lift a finger for him and cajole their parliamentary groups into offering support, preferring instead to crown Brown. (It does not help that some left-led unions are not affiliated to Labour, leaving them in no real position to influence the outcome of such struggles.)

This time around, the number of nominations necessary has fallen – but only in proportion with the overall size of the parliamentary Labour Party. The number of identifiable lefts has certainly fallen too; though their electoral performance in the recent general election was generally better than the right, the latter have long consolidated their control over selections.

McDonnell’s only major rival on the left last time was Michael Meacher, who pulled out when it became clear he had very little support whatsoever (it turns out, thankfully, that barely coherent conspiracy theories are not enough to secure leftwing support for a former Blair cabinet minister). He recommended his nominators transfer their support to McDonnell. This time around, the surprise rival is Diane Abbott, a long standing left MP best known today for her odd-couple TV partnership with reformed Thatcherite Michael Portillo.

This makes it extraordinarily difficult for either Abbott or McDonnell to make the ballot. They both fish, broadly, from the same pond: the shrinking number of Labour left MPs. There are differences too: McDonnell enjoys (if that is the word in a Labour leadership race) support from the far left, for a start. Socialist Appeal, the Socialist Workers Party, the CPGB and many others have weighed in for his candidacy; even the Socialist Party, officially committed to the dogma that the Labour Party is completely dead as any kind of organisation of the working class, has found the necessary spine to come out for McDonnell. He also has the advantage of enthusiastic support from the RMT.

Abbott’s supporters have tended to use a single buzzword: ‘diversity’. It is certainly true that she is the only woman and the only ethnic minority candidate; for anti-racists and anti-sexists whose beliefs tend towards the narrowly statistical, a black woman on the ballot is an achievement in itself. It would be something of an event, particularly if she somehow managed to go all the way and get the job.

The question is rather: what is there that politically differentiates Abbott from her better-established rival? The only honest answer is: not a whole lot. Both are opposed to the government’s programme of cuts, and would be opposed to a Labour government’s programme of cuts; both opposed the Iraq war from the outset, unlike Johnny-come-latelies like Ed Miliband and Ed Balls (although Abbott, unlike McDonnell, refused to call for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of British troops). Both are, of course, opposed to all forms of racism, and are at least prepared to position themselves to the left of the Tories and Lib Dems on immigration. In the absence of significant political disagreement, Abbott’s campaign amounts to splitting the left-Labourite nominations and votes. McDonnell, either diplomatically or naively, officially welcomes Abbott’s campaign, calling for further reforms from the Labour NEC so they both can contest the leadership; but in reality, their uneasy coexistence would destroy the chances of a leftwing Labour leadership – almost certainly at the nomination stage.

Behind this lies the widespread sentiment that this is a squabble between unelectables, and the real duty of socialists is to support somebody like Ed Balls, who represents a ‘realistic’ left candidate. That is the argument of Ken Livingstone and, one presumes, his allies in Socialist Action. Perhaps also of the Morning Star. Its report avoided taking sides between McDonnell and Abbott. So is she being used by the ‘soft left’ in order to sabotage McDonnell’s campaign so as to excuse rallying to Ed Balls in the name of left unity? Possibly. Yet the fact of the matter is that Ed Balls has said basically nothing that separates him substantially from the Milibands; he is assumed to be to their left simply by not sharing their surname. The battle between McDonnell and Abbott is a battle to represent the Labour left not satisfied with that choice; but it is a battle neither can win.

It is also worth noting that a certain amount of left posturing is ubiquitous among the Labour candidates. Ed Miliband and Balls both express, as noted, certain regrets concerning the Iraq war. There is a tendency for the Labour Party to drift to the right as it approaches government, and to the left when its power expires; the election defeat has finally robbed an increasingly directionless New Labour of its last remaining selling point – results. The careerists most closely associated with the New Labour project have had to disavow the term – not New Labour but ‘Next Labour’, demands David Miliband … Speaking of the Labour right, the choice is just as slender as between candidates of the left. All candidates appear to be outdoing each other at cynical anti-immigration rhetoric. The trick, as it ever was for New Labour, is to outflank the Tories to the right; only Labour, it is claimed, is in touch enough with the ‘white working class’ properly to ‘control’ immigration. Neither Ed nor David Miliband, nor Ed Balls or Blairite former health minister Andy Burnham, is able to sustain this illusion; exactly how the NHS, for example, would function without a ready supply of skilled migrant labour is a problem of scanty concern to our would-be premiers – unless they should be so unwise as to try to translate this kind of policy into reality.

David Miliband and Burnham are, we are told, Blairites, and the Eds Brownites; this is supposed even now to indicate some kind of principled difference. Yet the notion that Gordon Brown represented anything other than a less PR-friendly spin on Blairism is transparently risible after three years under his cosh (with the collusion of the Milibands and Balls). Both, it turns out, were enthusiastically Atlanticist variants of neoliberalism. Neither was guaranteed a future after the financial crisis. The political franchise of most mainstream media outlets has long been transferred from Labour to the Tories (even the Labour-stalwart Guardian backed Clegg in this election); the competition between Labour factions over immigration is suddenly of precious little concern to a reactionary press with its favoured boot-boys back in charge.

That the Labour right – or New Labour, as it branded itself for the last 13 years – represents nothing politically distinctive from typical rightwing governments around Europe is old news. That Blair and Brown were so transparently mendacious in their political billing as ‘progressives’ paralysed the trade unions and workers’ organisations as they struggled to politically dissociate themselves from a government they nonetheless materially supported.

Today these organisations have the opportunity to revise radically their political commitments; even a consistent version of the Labourism unsurprisingly endemic in the unions would be an improvement over the incompetent ‘realism’ that recommends a vote for Brown over Blair, or Ed Balls over Ed Miliband. There is every sign, however, that this opportunity will once again not be taken. John McDonnell’s support is concentrated in disaffiliated unions; though Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, politely touts both McDonnell and Abbott for glory. Most of the other unions – Unite, Unison and so on – can be expected to come out in favour of whichever New Labourite appears least comfortable in his own skin, with Balls the main contender.

Communists want to see the Labour Party completely transformed – from its foundations it has stood for the British working class’s attachment to the nation-state and to the undemocratic constitutional order, and the reciprocal delivery of crumbs from the ruling class table. We want do drive out the pro-capitalist right wing, not seek some comfortable deal with it. That means we need to overcome Labourism in both its leftwing and rightwing guises. If the Labour Party were to disappear, or be completely subsumed into a bourgeois liberal grouping on the model of the Democrats in America, it would be a big setback for the working class movement in Britain. But that is exactly where right Labourism points – strange though it might first appear, something reinforced by left Labourism. In the name of realism and gaining a majority, left Labourites constantly seek to reach out to the right. In other words the trade union bureaucracy and the openly pro-capitalist right. So in order to cement the independent initiative of the working class it is necessary to supersede left Labourism positively. The nomination and election of John McDonnell as Labour leader would provide the best conditions to take forward this argument.

CWU President Jane Loftus resigns from SWP

Following her vote, on the Communication Workers Union’s postal executive committee, for the acceptance of the interim agreement and the halting of the postal strikes, it became clearer than ever that the Socialist Workers Party had to do something about Jane Loftus’s repeated breaches of collective discipline in that organisation. It has been widely reported that the SWP asked her to choose between keeping her union position or making a self-criticism of her recent vote for the interim agreement. Given this choice she opted to resign from the SWP. It is good that the SWP leadership decided to take action over this. Unfortunately there has been no mention of this on the SWP’s own website so far – if it was left to them postal workers would be left uninformed of this development.

The following article was written by a Milton Keynes Communists member for the Weekly Worker before it was revealed that Jane Loftus had resigned.

CWU president addresses union rally

Bring Loftus to account

Dave Isaacson condemns leading SWP members who continually undermine and sabotage attempts to forge rank and file organisation

There was one significant omission in Jim Moody’s article on the sell-out of the postal strike by the Communication Workers Union leadership, which allowed CWU president Jane Loftus to come out of it looking rather good, when actually she has been an utter disgrace (‘Militants condemn sell-out’, November 12).

Loftus, a long-standing member of the Socialist Workers Party and therefore supposedly a revolutionary, is also a member of the CWU’s postal executive committee (PEC), which voted unanimously on November 5 to accept the interim agreement and call off the strikes, just as the strength of the postal workers was starting to be realised. This goes completely against the position of Loftus’s organisation. Socialist Worker has rightly stated that “Leaders of the postal workers’ union were wrong to suspend strikes at Royal Mail last week … There was no reason for the union to sign up to the agreement. The proposed escalation of strike action – that would have seen two 24-hour strikes in close succession last week – had widespread support within the union” (November 14).

Another Socialist Worker article by Cambridge CWU rep Paul Turnbull calls on postal workers to “restart the strikes immediately”. Yet neither questions why Jane Loftus did not vote against this sell-out – indeed her name is not mentioned at all. Activists in the SWP and militants in the CWU need to ask what is going on here. The SWP’s newspaper, Socialist Worker, is arguing one thing, while their highest placed member in the CWU is doing the exact opposite. Like other socialists all over the country, SWP activists put massive amounts of time and energy into supporting the postal workers and their strike. No wonder Socialist Worker might not want them to know that their own comrade on the CWU leadership colluded in undermining that hard work.

Many would expect better from a member of the SWP, but this kind of behaviour is not an aberration. Back in 2007 Loftus failed to speak out against the rotten deal which ended that dispute. The only PEC members who openly campaigned against the 2007 sell-out were Dave Warren and Phil Brown. Loftus also colluded with the bureaucracy by keeping their secrets and withholding vital information from the membership during closed-door negotiations with management. The SWP failed to use this information to warn strikers of the impending sell-out and call on workers to organise independently of the bureaucracy. Again, back in 2003-04 Loftus voted for the Major Change agreement, a management package that involved job cuts.

Loftus is certainly not alone, however. Her actions are reminiscent of those of Martin John and Sue Bond in the Public and Commercial Services union. Similarly, these were the SWP’s leading comrades in a union with a left general secretary (Mark Serwotka) and leadership (dominated by the Socialist Party in England and Wales). The SWP has consistently downplayed (or kept silent about) any criticisms it may have of left union leaders such as these in order to try and draw them into supporting various SWP ‘united fronts’. In the process the SWPers closest to them in the trade unions clearly bought into the ‘awkward squad’ hype and are in thrall to these bureaucrats.

There are plenty of perks to the job and other social pressures which weigh upon those who enter the upper echelons of the union structures. A revolutionary party should be constantly on guard and fighting against the effects of these pressures on its militants, yet the actions of the SWP leadership often do just the opposite of that. Their desire to get close to and win the approval of ‘left’ union leaders creates a culture of diplomatic silence and conciliationism, while what is necessary for accountability within the unions is open debate and rank and file independence from the bureaucracy.

As members of the PCS national executive committee Martin John and Sue Bond had failed to support SWP policy within the union on a number of occasions, and then in 2005 they knowingly went against SWP directions and policy to vote with Serwotka and SPEW for a scandalous pension deal which sold away the rights of new entrants. Only after regular exposures of their actions (not least in the reports of CPGB member Lee Rock in the Weekly Worker), and growing complaints from other SWP members, was the leadership forced to take action against these renegades.

Initially Socialist Worker ignored the actions of its members on the PCS NEC, while condemning the deal as a betrayal of future generations of workers – sound familiar? Even after disciplinary action was begun Sue Bond got off very lightly with a letter of apology in which she stated: “I do regret the position our vote left comrades in, and the significant implications for the left in other public sector unions. I can certainly assure comrades that I have no intention of breaking party discipline in the future” (Weekly Worker November 17 2005). Martin John flounced out of the SWP the day before he was due to face a meeting of the SWP fraction within PCS. It was not until four weeks after the pensions deal was voted on that news of all this made it into Socialist Worker.

However, it is not just a few individual SWP members succumbing to the pressures of the bureaucracy. The SWP itself has consistently failed to use its positions of influence within unions to build genuine rank and file movements which are independent of the union bureaucracy. The SWP-sponsored occasional publication, Post Worker, does not openly take on the likes of general secretary Billy Hayes and his deputy Dave Ward when they act against the interests of their members. Rather, it regularly gives over significant space for them to promote themselves. It might as well be an official union publication.

SWP members may well wonder about the priorities of their leadership, when Alex Snowden – a Reesite Left Platform supporter – has been expelled for “factionalism” (during the pre-conference period when temporary factions are allowed), yet Jane Loftus seems to have got off scot-free for a blatant act of treachery. Comrades in the SWP need to ensure that Jane Loftus is held to account and faces disciplinary action. She must be called before a fraction meeting of SWP comrades in the CWU and made to explain her actions. She must either recant and campaign openly against the acceptance of the interim agreement in line with SWP policy, or it is she who should face expulsion. Beyond this, major questions have to be asked about whether she can continue to be the SWP’s leading representative within the CWU, given her track record. And all of this must be done openly with full reports in Socialist Worker.

I have been told that CWU executive members can only subsequently campaign against majority decisions if they immediately registered their dissent. If this is the case, then Loftus must be made to step down from the PEC in order to campaign within the CWU accordingly.

Prior to this latest sell-out, Socialist Worker quite correctly asked the question, “How do we fight when union leaders waver?” Matthew Cookson wrote: “The best way to take the struggle forward is to organise workers on a rank-and-file level. A strong organisation of this nature could support the officials as long as they were representing the union members, but could act independently the moment their leaders began to look for some way to settle their dispute unfavourably” (October 31).

Yes, but the actions of leading SWP members continually undermine and sabotage attempts at forging such rank and file organisation. Comrades in the SWP need to think much more deeply about the role their organisation plays within the unions. They must be free to use Socialist Worker as a tool to explore why it is their leading representatives in the unions end up acting against the interests of the working class.

Militants condemn sell-out

selloutAbandoning postal strikes in the run-up to Christmas is at best mistaken, writes Jim Moody

Did they jump or were they pushed? No doubt various factors exercised the leaders of the Communication Workers Union in deciding to abandon last week’s scheduled strike action.

As the CWU’s postal executive committee discussions and negotiations with Royal Mail were in closed sessions, we may never know the full facts. Nor is the CWU’s national executive committee forthcoming. But despite the pious promises made in return for the CWU calling off the strike action, postal workers have been placed in an impossible position, and their struggle to secure their long-term future has basically been abandoned by their so-called leaders.

Concessions by Royal Mail are minimal. Its promise to negotiate on job security is by no means a guarantee that there will be no redundancies or even no compulsory redundancies. It was certainly far from sufficient reason to call off a strike when the employer was at its most vulnerable, as Royal Mail was when faced with being unable to deliver a sizeable chunk of the Christmas post.

Worse, many unagreed changes locally imposed by management ‘executive action’ – enforced switches in shifts and delivery rounds, for example, not to mention the ‘temporary’ transfer of mail centre work to ‘out houses’ staffed by casual labour – remain in place. In response branch officers are talking about requesting authorisation for fresh local strikes.

When it comes down to it, general secretary Billy Hayes and deputy general secretary Dave Ward have achieved what they have been suggesting to management in speeches for months: we can call off the strikes if you give us something we can sell. One member of the NEC told me that there was a distinct lack of clarity within the union at all levels on the aims of the strike anyway.

Management has therefore not had to give very much away: Hayes and Ward declared themselves amenable to compromise if management would only show itself in similar colours. That is why some of the reasons put forward for the sell-out are more likely erroneous than not. For example, some have suggested that management might have threatened to press on immediately with derecognition of the union, something that a secret Royal Mail plan did envisage.

Or perhaps the Broad Left minority (eight out of 28 voting members on the NEC), the more rightwing Effective Left (dubbed ‘Defective Left’ by opponents), plus unorganised members – erstwhile militants almost to a man and woman – on leading CWU committees wanted to abase themselves before New Labour to bolster its fading electoral fortunes rather than do the job they were put in place to do: represent the interests of CWU members. As it happens, most of the Broad Left members of the NEC are on the telecoms side.

But neither of these two scenarios appears likely to union militants. They consider it much more probable that union leaders felt they risked losing control of the strikes if they continued with them. To get more than paper concessions from Royal Mail it would have been necessary to escalate the action, without doubt. This would have involved ceding control over the day-to-day running of the strikes to the mass of the members, who would have needed to organise picket rotas, solidarity appeals, etc. without the involvement of national bureaucrats.

Nonetheless, abandoning strikes in the run-up to Christmas, Royal Mail’s busiest time of the year, is at best mistaken and at worst a treacherous turn by CWU leaders. Both sides are well aware that comparatively few items of post are delivered in January, which is the earliest that the union’s leadership expects to contemplate further action, should it deem necessary. And why would it not be necessary, since management promises to negotiate can simply come down to reiterating previous positions on job losses and speed-ups? Having lost its purchase by abandoning strikes now, the union faces an uphill battle against a bellicose foe in the new year. Is it more likely that postal workers would rather fight now or after the Christmas break? No-one can in all seriousness suggest the second, if they want the workers to win.

One militant postal worker to whom I spoke told me that the mood in the workplace is roughly, “What the fuck are we going back to work for?” As days go by, this is settling into a ‘making the best of a bad job’ attitude. He said: “It’s a sell-out masquerading as something else” – an assessment that is still to be disproved. Nonetheless, postal workers do intend pushing the promises about local arrangements in the interim agreement as far as they can – and even further.

Of course, the biggest worry about the November 5 interim agreement among the membership is whether it represents a truce or a surrender. Many militants thought that involving the TUC would mean an immediate cave-in by the union; in the event, it took the CWU leaders a week to come up with the interim agreement with management.

Local industrial action by postal workers was the engine that propelled the union bureaucracy into calling national strikes: first one-day affairs, then a planned, but now aborted, couple of days as we started into November. The evident militancy fuelled by the mass of members’ anger over Royal Mail’s destruction of jobs and speed-ups (euphemistically labelled ‘pace’ in the recent agreement) now has nowhere to go, given the demoralising effect that the leadership’s action will inevitably have had.

Despite calls from some far-left groups for the union membership in the localities to restart the strike under its own control, the absence of rank and file organisation within the CWU means that such calls cannot be fleshed out in any meaningful way. There is no network and no organised debates at any level about the rights and wrongs of the action being taken. No-one, apart from those making the calls, sees this happening. This is a national issue.

The same goes for officially sanctioned local actions (which in any case will clearly not be approved by the NEC). At present, most lower-level union officials at the regional level fully support the interim agreement, so they form a barrier that extends down from national level to any attempt by local union organisations to take back the strike as their own on a large geographical base. Even cooperation across London, which led the way in militancy during the local strike wave earlier this year, is hampered by this regional lethargy.

While the sole Socialist Workers Party member of the national executive, vice-president Jane Loftus, has pitched up at meetings and in articles to promote the strike, there has been hardly a squeak out of the two national executive members who are members of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, Gary Jones and Bernard Roome. But maybe their silence is because of the extreme compartmentalisation within the union that favours bureaucratic manoeuvring by full-time officials. Telecoms members of the NEC are, after all, not expected to interest themselves (or ‘interfere’) in disputes involving the postal side. On the face of it, this obstacle to internal solidarity is in massive contradiction to the solidarity in the rest of the working class movement that postal workers ought to expect as their right in their current struggle.

What the interim agreement does do is pass things back to the localities on a bad basis. They will be left to their own devices, rather than being part of a nationally organised dispute. Local negotiations may have been reinstated, which is all well and good, but how long will they continue and what can they achieve in terms of binding agreements? The interim agreement calls for fortnightly reviews of progress over the next five weeks. Of course, five weeks takes us close to the end of December, which is pretty convenient for management. If anything goes awry by the end of this period of the cessation of hostilities, then we shall be into a stage when Royal Mail is already breathing easier, having finagled a solution to its Christmas delivery problem.

As for the most important questions concerning job losses and speed-ups, the interim agreement has only platitudes to offer. One paragraph reads: “This agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU, reached under the auspices of the TUC, provides the basis for a ‘period of calm’ free of industrial action, during which the parties are firmly committed to work together intensively, to reach agreements that will enable further change and modernisation to be implemented from the beginning of 2010 onward.”

So “modernisation”, though given a different content by management and the CWU, is accepted by both sides. The words “change and modernisation” have a deadly ring about them for the mass of postal workers, however, for they have seen where they have already led: the loss of many thousands of jobs.

It is pretty clear that Royal Mail has sewn up what for it is a great deal in order to buy time – a most valued asset. Management must be cock-a-hoop. At the end of the local review discussions that the agreement document lays down management can quite easily revert to its former positions and again bully, victimise and call for ‘pace’.

By settling for a period of no strikes on the basis of mere promises the union leadership has forfeited any real leverage. None of the CWU leaders who have spoken to meetings of union reps since the interim agreement was announced have dared to suggest that it has been accepted because of the union membership’s weakness or lack of resolve: this has clearly not been the case. There has been no trace of any drift back to work in the course of the strike.

It may not be exactly a perfidious leadership that has brought this dispute to the pretty pass it has, but the inability of rank and file members to bring leaders to heel by organising themselves independently has taken its toll in allowing the bureaucrats free rein. Unless postal workers organise themselves independently of their officials, they will be unable to change this state of affairs – or inspire other workers who, make no mistake, will also be in the firing line.



Royal Mail’s assault and our political tasks

As expected, attempts to broker a deal between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union have been unsuccessful. Mike Macnair examines why Royal Mail, encouraged by the government, has been determined to push ahead with confrontation, and looks at the implications of this decision

cwu-demoA Sunday Times front-page headline reads: “Brown faces winter of discontent” (October 25). In other words, this is not the only industrial dispute in the pipeline at the moment. There are a whole range of them expected to come to a head in the next six months.

There is a risk – one that would not be at all surprising, as it is normal to the British political cycle – that the last months of this Labour government will be characterised by large-scale industrial disputes and substantial disruption. This will therefore see an increasing degree of support for the Tories from suburban middle class voters due to the perceived lack of Labour control over the trade unions. Certainly the Tories are already winning a substantial number of votes. Nonetheless, the fear of a “winter of discontent” is plainly an element in the calculations of the government in relation to its attitude toward the current postal dispute.

The media are producing their usual outpouring of anti-strike propaganda. In particular it is said that Royal Mail is habitually losing money – surprise, surprise! Most postal services across Europe are subsidised. Even the early privately owned Thurn und Taxis postal service back in 17th century Germany had to have state-backed monopoly rights, for the very simple reason that a profit could not – and still cannot – be made without them. A universal postal service is, precisely, public infrastructure. Privatising the postal service or requiring it to make profits is like selling off the public highways in pieces or prohibiting public expenditure on ‘unprofitable’ repairs to roads and bridges.

It is true that the universal postal service is, in some senses, of decreasing use because people have turned to email and other forms of electronic communication. The same has been the case in relation to businesses for quite some time: private couriers offering same-day delivery were used for some time before fax and email became routine.

So there is lower demand for postal services than there has been in the past. The government has been looking for ways to undermine wages and conditions, drastically reduce its pensions commitment, casualise the workforce and hopefully even get rid of the universal service obligation. This assault is aimed at creating conditions for privatising the postal service – government subsidies would be withdrawn without too much worry about the major losers: people living in the countryside.

There would actually be some losses for business out of this policy. Who will deliver all the junk mail – probably the bulk of most post bags these days? Equally, online mail order operations like Amazon could suffer, as it is unlikely that private couriers could actually deliver with the same coverage and at the same price.

The government and its servants in Royal Mail management demand ‘modernisation’. What this actually means is not primarily automation. That claim is bullshit. What it means is a major speed-up, attacks on working conditions and a move to, in effect, piece work, resulting in people not getting paid for a full shift. The language of ‘modernisation’ is merely code for a huge attack on the workforce.

Provocations

In reality there has been industrial guerrilla warfare in Royal Mail locally for at least four or five years. Certainly there were major disputes going on in the more militant sorting offices as far back as the last general election. It was clearly decided in the spring/summer of this year to bring this simmering guerrilla warfare to a head, and have a massive, national confrontation with the CWU.

I say ‘clearly decided’ because it is obvious that in the last six to nine months there has been an escalation of unilateral action by management in the form of provocations, victimisations, etc. Actions that can only be intended to trigger local action and a climate of militancy, leading to a massive vote in support of industrial action. It is equally clear that management (and behind them business secretary Peter Mandelson) intended, as Thatcher and co intended in the 1984-85 miners’ strike, to control the timing of the national dispute. Here the point is if possible to break the union before we get into the Christmas run-up, which is the peak of the mail service business.

Similarly Thatcher aimed to bring out the miners before the overtime ban had reduced the coal stocks to the point where there would be forced power cuts. These tactics have been reflected in the political sphere, with absolute and complete intransigence on the part of Mandelson. And with Mandelson’s unequivocal backing, the Royal Mail management has stood firm to its assertion that it will not go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service without a pure and unambiguous guarantee from the CWU that there will be no strikes. But  the CWU could not deliver this even if it wanted to, because most of the industrial action has been local, over which the national union has less direct control.

Of course, this is not all one-sided. The CWU executive is generally seen among the membership as a militant leadership, and it, too, has been using the period of local and guerrilla struggles to prepare for the larger struggle which has now arrived.

What we have seen in the last months in relation to this dispute is therefore the run-up to a major class confrontation just like in 1984-85. There is an intention in government – at least among Peter Mandelson and his co-thinkers – and among Royal Mail management, to have a big confrontation and inflict a massive defeat on the CWU workers similar to that of the miners’ strike. This is expected to knock on the head any serious industrial militancy in the next six to nine months, as it will be an object lesson to other unions and other workers.

It will also be an object lesson in a second sense. The Labour government will demonstrate to capital, and to the capitalist media, that they are a safe hand on the tiller, that it is possible for a Labour government to smash an industrial offensive of the working class before it gets off the ground, and therefore capital should leave Labour in place rather than back Tory leader David Cameron.

The bourgeoisie has its concerns over Cameron. Yes, there is at the moment massive support for the Tories. Yes, the media have been backing him. But there are worries about how safe Cameron and shadow chancellor George Osborne will be as managers of the economy, at a time when quite a lot of media commentators are worrying about when the second shoe is going to drop in relation to the economic crisis.

There are also worries that a Cameron government might tip relations with Europe so far into Eurosceptic territory that Britain can no longer build alliances to block further EU integration. This is a central part of the role Britain plays for the United States in Europe: controlling a possible global rival by building alliances against Franco-German integration proposals.

So there are reasons for the capitalist class to have concerns about a Cameron administration. And if the Labour government can show, in these circumstances, that it can break a substantial public sector trade union, derecognise it and casualise its workforce, then Labour might, from that point of view, be in with a chance of regaining some of its lost bourgeois and middle class support prior to the next general election. There are, then, clear political calculations why this government might be thinking about doing a ‘Thatcher on the miners’ job in relation to the CWU.

Labour Party

In discussing the government’s policy I have referred particularly to Peter Mandelson. The reason is not merely that he is the relevant minister, but that there are indications that Gordon Brown is rather less up for a full-on confrontation (see Financial Times October 24); the failed TUC-sponsored talks (without the precondition demanded by Mandelson and management that the strikes be called off) represented a slight retreat by the government.

Behind this is a fundamental political fact. For Thatcher to set up a major class confrontation with the aim of breaking the National Union of Mineworkers was ‘extreme’ from the point of view of the 1940s-70s, but perfectly consistent with the longer historical role of the Tory Party. For a Labour government to actually smash one of its own major affiliated unions in a major national class confrontation would be something different altogether. Rather than allowing Labour to retain power, it would be more likely to break up the Labour Party. The result could be a split by the unions and the left, or – as in the 1931 fall of the Labour administration and the formation of the National government – a party revolt, leading to a split of the right to join up with the Tories to force the confrontation through.

True, the current Labour government since 1997 has faced down trade union action more than once (for example in the case of the firefighters). But in general the workers’ movement had not responded in a militant way. What appears to be different this time is the willingness of the movement to fight. A major conflict between the government and the CWU would pose severe problems for the Labour Party, that is for sure.

If Brown does back down from an all-out confrontation, it will be presented by the media as yet another Brown U-turn. Brown’s reputation for dithering not only reflects a hostile media, but is a real phenomenon. Unlike cynical careerists such as Blair, Mandelson and co, Brown was a genuine convert to neoliberalism from the left; hence, the 2007-08 crash shook his convictions and left him rudderless in policy terms. If Labour does go ahead with a major attack on the CWU, and the result is not a major split in the party, we in the CPGB will certainly need to reassess our current judgment that Labour remains a bourgeois workers’ party: the event would look like the party finally ditching the ‘workers’ side of the contradiction.

But, whatever exact diagnosis we make, if the government goes ahead with plans to break and derecognise one of the Labour Party’s major affiliated trade unions, this will be a fundamental shift in politics and in particular of Labour Party politics.

Our tasks

post workers picketI have no idea why CWU general secretary Billy Hayes let himself be reported as saying he is in a stronger position than Arthur Scargill was (The Times October 17).

True, strike action has received very clear majority support in a ballot. But the actual underlying sectional economic positions are if anything weaker than those of the NUM in the 1980s, and the ability of the postal workers to sustain their internal solidarity in relation to a furious media offensive is likely to be less than the miners. The miners lived in concentrated communities, had networks of solidarity outside the pits in place, and indeed, as a workforce, were highly concentrated. Postal workers are concentrated only in sorting offices, but atomised when out on the streets. So the actual position of the CWU is relatively weak in the purely trade unionist, sectionalist-syndicalist sense of its ability to disrupt the economy.

However, this situation is to a considerable extent general in the service sector (and, indeed in some industrial sectors dominated by highly automated plant with small workforces). In this sense in future disputes the CWU will indeed look like a union with strong sectional power. But this is entirely consistent with my fundamental point: namely simple reliance on ‘industrial muscle’ – ie, sectional ability to disrupt production – is decreasingly adequate as a strategy to defend working people’s immediate interests.

Even if the sectional strength is less than Billy Hayes’ Times interview suggested, the possibilities of the strike winning broad public support are real. Precisely because of the increasing atmosphere of class confrontation in the dispute, because of the intransigent alignment of the government behind Royal Mail management and because we see the unanimity of the bourgeois media behind ideas most clearly expressed in the Daily Mail headline, “The lemming strike is on” (October 22), there has been some public reaction against the capitalist united front. We are beginning to see some, inchoate, inadequately politically represented, support for the postal workers. A poll reported in The Independent on October 24 showed 50% supporting the postal workers and only 25% supporting management and Mandelson.

So where does that leave us? It looks like we are headed for a major class confrontation with a serious and unambiguous effort to break the CWU, and thereby give an object lesson to the rest of the trade union movement, in the hope of preventing a “winter of discontent”.

What should the political left be doing? There are two sorts of task: simple solidarity ones, and those that are specifically political. The first of these are tasks that the labour movement and left will probably do well in spite of divisions and disorganisation. Raising the issue in other trade unions, getting CWU speakers to meetings, organising solidarity campaigns and support groups, collecting for strikers in hardship and so on. Promoting the idea of solidarity action: thus, for example, in Unite the question of instructing the managers not to scab has been posed.

The Socialist Workers Party is therefore entirely correct to advocate the rapid formation of strike support groups, which can play a critical role in mobilising public support and solidarity. There is also the question of international solidarity. Even if this is only symbolic in character – as, in this dispute, it inevitably is – such international solidarity would strengthen the morale of strikers and assist the struggle for broader solidarity within Britain.

A specific task lies in the student movement, because traditionally students have been recruited as casuals by the Royal Mail. We must agitate against students acting as scabs – this is an issue to be raised, addressed and spread. Indeed the general attitude towards scabs is critical. Casualisation is already extensive in the Royal Mail, partly inevitably because of the seasonal nature of the business. Nevertheless it is vital to get across the message that during this dispute taking casual jobs is scabbing. This is partly a job for the student movement; but it is also a job for strikers themselves: the movement needs to revive the basic ideas of non-cooperation with scabs, and that picket lines mean don’t cross. And it is also a job for PCS members working in job centres and so on: scab ‘casual’ jobs in Royal Mail are not ‘normal’ jobs to which the unemployed should be sent and PCS members should refuse to fill them.

Political tasks

The other aspect, where the far left is traditionally much weaker, concerns specifically political tasks. The far left is bad at these because they are the tasks of a party. Solidarity campaigns are necessarily broad movements of all those of whatever political complexion who wish to support the strikers. Hence they necessarily find it hard to address the politics of the strike.

For example, there is an early day motion opposing Royal Mail management’s intransigence, etc. Has your local Labour MP signed it? If not, why not? If your local Labour MP is supporting ‘modernisation’ and all that crap, perhaps it is time that his/her constituency office or surgery should be besieged by strikers and their supporters.

This sounds like a solidarity campaign-type action. But actually it turns out that broad solidarity organisations find it extraordinarily hard to undertake campaigns to besiege scab Labour MPs or whatever, because the Labour lefts and the trade union officials would be unwilling to pursue them. Stop the War Coalition in the 2005 election is an excellent example of the problem – it was unable to make any recommendation on who to vote for. Even in the 1984-85 miners’ strike this issue was posed, as the union leadership was very reluctant either to enter on the terrain of politics itself or for the support groups to do so.

What was said above about the Labour Party means that an absolutely central issue is the question of sharpening the divisions between left and right which a major confrontation with the CWU will inevitably produce. Parts of the left will undoubtedly call for the CWU to disaffiliate from Labour. But at the moment that would be a counsel of retreat and a road to depoliticising the union: neither ‘son of No2EU’ nor any of the other left groups and ‘unity projects’ presently represents a realistic alternative electoral project. What is immediately needed is for the CWU to adopt a tactic of reducing general financial contributions to Labour, targeting any support on Labour MPs and candidates who have backed the strike, and also being willing to back selected workers’ movement candidates outside Labour; if this leads to the party leadership seeking to remove affiliation, the union should fight back.

In other words, the requirement is not (yet) to run away from the Labour Party, but to promote and sharpen a fight both within and outside it against the most pro-capitalist wing of the party.

Equally important is explaining both the character of what is going on, that it is a class confrontation motivated and driven by politics. That is a task for a Communist Party, for communist papers, and for leaflets addressing the broad masses in the districts where they live. The far-left press and the splintered groups do part of these jobs, but we are too limited by our divisions and the left press and leaflets often restrict themselves to basic trade union solidarity – the Morning Star as a daily is closer to having the resources, but prints only what suits leading union officials.

Strike support groups cannot substitute for these tasks, for the reasons already given. Neither can the splintered organised left and the even more splintered ‘independents’. A coalition of the far left could begin to do some of them. In doing so such a coalition would be beginning to act as a party. But for the moment most of the far-left groups fetishise either their own independence as ‘the revolutionary party’ (all 57-plus of them); or ‘broad unity’, which leads to an inability to take political action because it has to include some element of the ‘official lefts’; or both at the same time. So, as valuable as a far-left coalition for the purposes of political solidarity with the postal workers would be, it probably will not happen.

CPGB

Realistically, the CPGB cannot play this role either, because of our very limited resources. We can and should argue for Communist Students to campaign for students not to scab on the postal workers: a campaign which could be conducted in unity with other left student groups and could be very successful. Our contacts, through Hands Off the People of Iran, with the Iranian workers’ movement, can and should be used to promote symbolic international solidarity with the strike.

More generally, what we can do is largely limited to the use of the Weekly Worker, with which we can propagandise around the idea that solidarity has to be more than just hardship support and agitation in the trade union movement; that solidarity has to address the politics, the MPs and the political context of the strike.

The paper also needs to make an effort to contact CWU militants in the localities and get their stories. In spite of the fact that this is something the whole of the left is doing, in the context of the bourgeois media overwhelmingly giving the management and government version of the story, low-level exposures of the provocations management has been engaged in is a useful activity. We need to develop more and broader contacts across different localities, and get the information into the paper.

Equally militants and the left need information about the political alignments within the CWU and about what is going on in the dispute at national level. Are the far-lefts, some of whom sit on the CWU national executive, acting as communists or merely as trade union officials? We need to try to get the information and publicise it.

Across all this, the fundamental point is to use all the resources we have to try and develop the sense of the political context of the dispute, its significance and the question of solidarity of the working class as a whole with the strikers.

Postal workers: form strike committees, build strong picket lines

postal-strike

Today it is the jobs and conditions of postal workers that is on the line, writes Jim Moody. But if New Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems have their way, it will be all of us on the chopping block tomorrow

Backed to the hilt by the state, Royal Mail’s aim is to crush the postal workers’ strike and destroy their union. This has become ever clearer during the last fortnight. So, as the first two days of national strike action begin, rank and file workers are faced with the challenge of how to fight for their jobs and save their union from annihilation.

With 120,000 Communication Workers Union members having had the opportunity to vote for strike action, the massive 76% in favour is decisive. A resounding success for those in the union who have hammered away in the localities, building the strike movement piecemeal. Certainly that was the only way that the union’s leadership would counternance holding a ballot for national action. Far from becoming dissipated or dispirited by the time it has taken for the leadership to get its act together, militancy has grown by leaps and bounds at the ground level.

By now we all know how vile the management of Royal Mail is. Exposed by Newsnight a week ago, Royal Mail’s secret document Dispute: strategic overview clearly lays down management’s intention of continuing to implement a policy of undermining the CWU’s role in labour relations. Even going so far as to consider the possibility of removing it as the recognised trade union. If union bureaucrats do not play ball – and at present the membership won’t let them – then Royal Mail plans to institute a “programme of reducing relationship with union.”

As a first stage to derecognition, the document advocates taking away union representatives’ current rights to carry out their duties during work time (‘facility time’). In addition the provision of meeting spaces for the CWU in local offices will be withdrawn. Royal Mail has also made it clear that it will carry through plans that will decimate the workforce and increase the work burden of those who remain employed, all “with or without union engagement”.

Royal Mail has provocatively cancelled a planned campaign sponsored jointly with the CWU, Ban Bullying Week. As the CWU says, it has done this just when management bullying and harassment are causing more and more problems in the workplace. One of many examples followed the introduction of computerised Geo-Route plotting of postal walks and drives: when it failed to live up to the hype, it was the man or woman on the ground who got blamed – despite the many warnings from the union that the system was unworkable.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Royal Mail is more than happy to see its customers suffer through strikes. It estimates that this will undermine its employees’ stand against cuts, by eroding public support. So they will be beaten back to work in defeat – or so senior managers imagine. As Royal Mail’s hitherto secret document makes clear, “demonstration of commercial impact of dispute – strikes make things worse – the more we can demonstrate this to our people, the better.” In effect Royal Mail is saying that the more business it loses, the better.

Readers will know that Royal Mail wants to recruit 30,000 scabs. Ostensibly they are being brought in to deal with the backlog that the series of local one-day strikes has resulted in, though it is arguable whether this is legal under industrial relations legislation. The scabs are to be used after Royal Mail refused to allow postal workers to do overtime work: CWU members could not possibly be allowed to ‘benefit’ from their strike action by receiving a meagre time and a third in overtime to clear the backlog.

Equally bellicose has been unelected business minister Lord Mandelson. He has clearly expressed the Labour government’s position: Royal Mail has to be ‘modernised’ at the expense of jobs and conditions. So there is no point looking upon the government as some kind of ally, despite the CWU contributing handsomely to the Labour Party’s coffers over many years. True, there is a wide body of support for the CWU coming from backbenchers, including in the form of early day motion 2035. Nevertheless it is hardly surprising that many CWU members are incandescent with rage over a Labour government which is in effect egging on a management attempt to break their union.

Royal Mail might have offered to take part in arbitration to avoid the strikes this week. But that was simply a publicity stunt: its conditions were that the CWU roll over, call off the strikes and begin negotiating away jobs and working conditions. Rightly the CWU has rejected this out of hand. Royal Mail has simply refused to go for arbitration in all but name. It wants confrontation. However, why should workers be forced to accept what Acas decrees is reasonable? It is not exactly a surprise that such establishment bodies tend to favour … the establishment – in the guise of a compromise settlement.

Despite Royal Mail manoeuvring and clear intentions to break the union, Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, seems to be banking on Acas. He insists that the CWU “remains available for talks”. However, he says, any third party involvement,  needs to be on “an entirely transparent basis” with a “joint intention of reaching an agreement” (www.cwu.org).

The problem with all this is that it leaves rank and file postal workers around the country as passive onlookers. There is also the danger of a rotten sell-out. So strike committees need to be set up, giving the rank and file its own input into the aims, running and termination of the dispute. Local strikers will push forward new, energetic and popular leaders and they obviously need to lead local CWU organisations for the duration of what looks set to be a long and bitter struggle. Local strike committees are especially needed when faced by a strikebreaking force of 30,000 scabs. They are equivalent to a quarter of the CWU membership. There should be no cooperation with such casuals in between strikes, and strong picket lines should be imposed on strike days.

The CWU and CWU strike committees would also be well advised to learn the lessons of the 1980s miners’ and printers’ strikes and organise hit squads to persuade strike breakers not to scab. Obviously such bodies do not organise themselves and certainly the idea of them needs first of all to be popularised.

CWU militants are aware that the union leadership is, even at this stage, looking for a cosy compromise rather than winning the fight against the imposition of speed-ups and job losses. For Hayes and co what matters above all is that management is imposing, not consulting. Of course, rank and file members are right to insist that management must negotiate with their elected representatives. But they must remain vigilant against what is an inevitable tendency of union bureaucrats to settle for a less bad deal when their members are under attack.

Of course, most postal workers have taken part in local strikes precisely because they damned well do not want any more job losses. Somewhere around 50,000 have gone already in the last two years. Enough, they say, is enough. It is true that for the ordinary CWU member every day out on strike means a day without pay. Not that postal workers are well paid in the first place. But if Royal Mail, New Labour and the Tories have their way, they will be even more poorly off in the future. These workers have known for months that they have to make a firm stand. There can be no more acceptance of vicious attacks lying down.

Collections for the postal workers at workplaces and elsewhere are important. But more is needed. Supporters must be encouraged to join picket lines outside sorting offices and distribution depots. PCS members at job centres must not help recruit scabs for Royal Mail, and student groups and student unions should launch a campaign to stop their members from taking temporary postal work while the dispute lasts. Public sector workers and their unions should also be brought into active engagement with the postal workers. That means delegations, resolutions and above all a refusal to cross picket lines or in any way strike break. Joint days of action would be a real boost too. The attack on the postal workers is a precursor for what all three main political parties intend to do. Cuts, cuts, cuts. Pension holes, alleged overmanning, etc, will all be used to break other unions, push down wages and force through speed-ups.

The state machine is already preparing for combat. According to one report, “The Association of Chief Police Officers … said that it was closely monitoring the situation and had issued guidance to forces on dealing with large-scale strike action. Each police force is assessing and reviewing the implications for public disorder that might arise from industrial action” (The Guardian October 17).

It is up to the rest of the working class to give solidarity to the postal workers. But in order to make this really effective we must generalise this dispute and give it a political form and content. We must challenge Royal Mail and its right to manage; we must challenge New Labour and the Tories and their cuts programme; we must organise our own combat party with a programme that can link our day-to-day struggles with the perspective of a new society that replaces the capitalist imperative of profit with the communist principle of production for the common good and distribution according to need.