THE Covid pandemic turned our lives upside down. Many workers were furloughed. Many made the shift to working from home. Others lost their jobs completely. But many also kept our vital services going, day in, day out, often at personal risk and family burden.
Our posties are just one such group of workers. Every day, throughout lockdown and beyond, our postal workers have continued to collect, sort and deliver mail and parcels.
These items were, for many people, one of the few links – if not the only link – to the outside world. Our posties kept people connected during Covid.
But more than this, our posties also provided human contact to people otherwise completely isolated. Letters coming through the letterbox or parcels being left safely on the doorstep were the excuse many folk needed to say a hello to another human being. Sometimes the postie was the only human contact some folk, particularly the elderly or infirm, or those in rural areas, would have for days. Our posties are one of the important strands of community – vital connectors that help glue our society together. That is why the attacks on them as workers, and on the valuable work they do, must be resisted.
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Few words in politics ring as many alarm bells as “modernisation”. It may sound like a positive and progressive plea for the future, but too often it signals an asset-stripping, privatising agenda with job cuts and a slashing of terms and conditions.
And that is what the current “modernising” of our postal service amounts to: thousands of jobs cuts, a dismantling of pay and conditions and an end to the universal service obligation. They are seeking to shift operational focus to special deliveries and parcels, as these are the most profitable. That means that letters, including important health appointments, certificates of life and death, birthday cards, the very stuff of life, will no longer be a priority.
Despite having announced profits of £758 million and paying out sky-high salaries to senior managers and hundreds of millions of pounds to shareholders, Royal Mail has imposed a pay settlement that is way below any possible interpretation of inflation or fairness.
With the Retail Price Index reaching an eye-watering 11.4%, Royal Mail imposed a paltry 2% pay rise earlier this year on the thousands of workers who brave the elements every day. They’ve promised an additional 3.5% that won’t be backdated and then 1.5% next year if certain targets are met. This is not just inadequate; it is a significant real terms cut.
With skyrocketing bills and energy prices, 97.6% of postal workers voted to support industrial action in the Communication Workers Union (CWU) ballot, an overwhelming mandate. The strikes that we are seeing now are the first national strike action postal workers have taken since 2009.
There is a second, but related, dispute about terms and conditions, with posties also fighting to save their jobs and the very idea of the postal service.
Postal workers have not asked for anything extra, they are campaigning to keep the rights that they already have. But for Royal Mail bosses, that is too much. They are trying to turn posties into gig economy workers with little to no employee rights and have announced plans to make 10,000 workers redundant.
These are just some of the reasons I wholeheartedly support Scotland’s posties and the CWU’s industrial action. During these postal strikes, the UK Government and right-wing press are doing all they can to demonise the workers who do so much for us. They are using the same reactionary lines against the CWU as they are against the train drivers and the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT).
These attacks are the natural response from an anti-worker and anti-union Tory government that has contempt for working people and is terrified of the power of solidarity. This contempt is clear: only weeks ago, in the dying days of Liz Truss’s disastrous premiership, the UK Government published reactionary new legislation that would curb the rights of unions to take strike action at all. It is no wonder that trade unions, particularly strong ones like the CWU and the RMT, have been so hated by successive Tory governments. They have always been instrumental in securing better working conditions and rights for all of us. Whether it is the minimum wage, the right to paid holidays, weekends or better pay and conditions, these things would not have happened on their own.
They are rights that have been hard fought and won by organised, unionised workers. Such rights will be crucial during a time of Tory cuts and austerity we are currently facing.
And it’s not just Tory governments who have undermined the rights of unions. Successive Labour governments have been all too happy to take union money but have totally failed to overturn the regressive anti-union laws that were introduced by the Thatcher government in the last century. Tony Blair went as far as calling the party’s trade union link a “defect at birth.”
If we are to build a fairer, greener and better recovery then it must be one with public services, workers’ rights and trade unions at its heart. The CWU represents a key voice in the fight for a better world, based on hope and solidarity, and against the failed economic policies of successive UK governments.
Postal workers provide an essential service. They sort and deliver our mail. They connect us to family and friends around the world. They provide an important point of contact and essential lifeline, particularly for those who live alone. They brighten up so many days. And I am proud to stand with them.
Our postal workers deliver for us every day. It’s time for Westminster to deliver for them.