Sunday, 11 October 2009

In support of the Royal Mail strike action

British postal workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of national strike action, the dates for which will be announced very soon.

As is to be expected from an industry dependent on the state and big business for funding, advertising, and a constant flow of "news," the mass media is almost unanimous in its opposition to the action. Unfortunately, the myths and lies that they are peddling have turned the public against it. The Scotsman tells us that a poll has found "that 64 per cent do not support the strike, because they believe postal workers won't achieve their aims, or because they think striking is wrong at this time." Further, "94 per cent of people believe the strike will harm small firms and 75 per cent think it will damage the postal service in the longer term."

The arguments will be familiar to those within the labour movement. They crop up every time workers try to improve their own lot, or stand up for their rights against those who have capital. Most prominent, as it is the one most likely to turn public opinion, is the "fear" that industrial action will disrupt services at a particularly hectic and/or vital time.

For Royal Mail, that time is Christmas. Ever the apologist for working class submissiveness, the Daily Mail sums this argument up best, saying that the decision "to take industrial action is heaping misery on both families and businesses with the festive season looming." It also quotes Dr Adam Marshall, of the British Chambers of Commerce, as saying that "this strike announcement defies logic at a time when businesses and Government are working hard to move the UK economy back to growth. The CWU's call for strike action in the run-up to the busy Christmas period is akin to a death wish."

Does it really need pointing out that, if it didn't cause massive disruption, a strike would have no effect whatsoever? A strike is, by definition, a mass refusal to work aimed at putting pressure on the employer to make certain changes or concessions. If it did not do this, precisely by causing disruption and loss of money, then it would neither demonstrate the power of organised labour to resist those who employ them, nor have even the slightest hope of success.

It is also important to consider the short-term effects of a strike on the public when weighed against the long-term effects of the "modernisation" plans that the workers are striking against. Royal Mail wants to implement 50,000 job cuts and a pay freeze. This effectively the same as enforcing strike conditions permanently, with less staff doing more work. That Royal Mail executives received over £10 million in bonuses, and the company earned £321 million profit, whilst low-paid workers face redundancy shows the utter contempt that the leadership really has for their employees or the working class in general.

The company's "efficiency" drive, then, offers inefficiency and increasing backlogs of work whilst those at the top reap huge rewards. Far from delivering "Christmas chaos," the strikers are resisting moves to drive the postal service into permanent chaos for staff and customers in the name of profit.

But even that profit is under threat. Royal Mail faces a £10bn pensions deficit, due in large part to by Royal Mail's decision to take a 13-year "pensions holiday" between 1990 and 2003, while postal workers continued to pay their pensions contributions. Not only has this swallowed up money that could have been used for both service improvements and the protection of jobs, but it the collapse of the entire company. Thus, every single failure by Royal Mail that harms workers also harms customers, all in the name of "efficiency."

We need to be supporting the postal workers, not blaming them, as victory in an all-out strike is perhaps the only alternative to a disaster against which "Christmas chaos" pales in comparison.