On the Royal Mail strike picket line in Whitechapel, east London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Strikes by Royal Mail workers come this week after inflation rocketed to 14.2 percent, and after Tory chancellor Jeremy Hunt last week unveiled a new round of austerity. It means that almost every single worker in Britain now faces a huge real-term pay cut, and will bear the brunt of a broadside attack on the whole working class.

If you get a 5 percent wage “rise” it is in effect a cut of more than 9 percent.  Food and drink prices are up 16.4 percent in a year, the biggest rise for 45 years. The price of milk was up by nearly half and cheese by more than a quarter.

The figures underline the importance of the present wage battles. Workers need victories in Royal Mail, rail, BT, NHS, university, school, civil service, firefighters and other pay fights.  There must not be deals that accept cuts—but action that meets the scale of the assault.

In Royal Mail, workers were set for nine more strike days, starting from Thursday of this week, alongside university workers in the UCU union.  Teachers in Scotland, Aslef rail workers, health workers and some government workers are also set for action, or were set to name strike days. But union leaders could do even more.

Although rail workers in the RMT union voted last week for more strikes, union leaders had not called new dates as Socialist Worker went to press.  The union’s national executive were meeting on Tuesday to discuss further action.

And though 100,000 civil service workers have voted to strike, their PCS union has only called some of them to action. In Royal Mail, the pay dispute has reached a pivotal moment—with bosses doubling down on their assault on workers.  After weeks of talks, they made an “offer” of a pay rise of just 3.5 percent. 

This is to be coupled with cuts to sick pay, allowances and premiums, later start and finishing times, and new monitoring technology used to push workers harder. They also want to cut union reps out of negotiating changes to deliveries in local offices.

And they have already begun a process of slashing 10,000 jobs, asking workers to volunteer for redundancy. CWU London divisional rep Mark Dolan told Socialist Worker, “This is the most serious situation we’ve ever been in. That’s because of privatisation.  “We’ve protected terms and conditions fairly well since then but this is the real big one.

“It’s the most serious dispute we’ve had in my 43 years. The stakes are very high.” CWU union leaders last Thursday announced five more strike days in the run up to Christmas, on 9, 11, 14, 15, 23 and 24 December.  These are on top of strikes already called for Thursday and Friday this week,  and 30 November and 1 December. 

But on Monday of this week Royal Mail chief executive Simon Thompson threatened that if strikes go ahead, he’ll respond by scrapping even the meagre pay “offer” and launch even more attacks. His appeal for an agreement is really a demand that union leaders give in to what he wants—or he’ll punish Royal Mail workers.

The alternative is to show workers won’t back down, and meet the threats with all-out strikes to push him out the door.

British Telecom Harder strikes still the way to beat bosses 

CWU leaders have said they are close to a deal in the battle with telecoms giant BT, but that chief executive Philip Jansen is delaying its agreement. CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr told CWU reps in a meeting on Wednesday of last week that he would give Jansen 48 hours before calling new strikes. 

But there was no news of a deal as Socialist Worker went to press, and no new strike dates were called either. Union reps in the meeting last week called for action to pile on the pressure.  One of them, Matt, told Socialist Worker, “It was disappointing that we’d been called to go to London at the 11th hour for a meeting only for Jansen to stall on a deal agreed in principle between BT and the CWU.

“A lot of reps think Jansen is just stalling for time, and said we should stop messing about. “We could have hit BT on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. They want to stop messing about and get some strike dates in there.” Matt added that the strikes have started to cause real problems for BT and Openreach bosses—and more could push them even further.

“The company is lying when it says we haven’t had an impact,” he said. “They’re way behind on their pledge to build our fibre network by 2026. “If they fall behind on that there’ll be penalties for BT as a lot of the funding is from the government.”

And he added that the campaign has built the union’s ability to fight, after more than 30 years without strikes. “We’ve got a more united workforce now,” he said.

Post Office votes for more

Post Office workers have voted for more strikes in their long‑running battle over pay.  The members of the CWU union voted by 91 percent for action in a re-ballot, six months after they first voted for strikes. Workers in crown Post Offices—the large, state-run branches—and the logistics and distribution drivers have been fighting after bosses offered a pay increase of just 2.5 percent. 

Since then, action forced bosses to up their offer to 5 percent—but this is still way below inflation. Post Office workers struck for six days in the six months since the first ballot, with the last strike taking place in September. CWU acting deputy general secretary Andy Furey said the union’s leadership would meet this week to discuss the next steps in the campaign.

With Post Office bosses moving so little, it’ll take much more hard-hitting and sustained action to push them into giving a proper pay increase.

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