Strike Wave

24th May 2023

What are your jobs? 

Kevin: I’ve been an  OPG postie for about five years. 


Kevin: Ordinary Pay Grade

Spud: Is that what that means, same here, also for about five years. 

Have you been involved in industrial  action before? 

Spud: No, we’ve both been in the CWU since we started here (Communication Workers Union), but this is the first time we’ve been on strike.  

Kevin: I’ve supported some other picket lines but never been on strike myself, I’m also a dual carder with the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World Union0. 

Why was striking important to you?  

Spud: From my point of view it was because they are trying to turn the royal mail into another amazon style delivery service. They don’t want to do literally what it's there for, just profit at the expense of those sending and receiving post.  It has always been there to deliver letters, and now packets, to every single household in the UK six days a week, with few exceptions. It’s always had no discrimination between packets and letters, and no added costs for distance.

Spud:  Now they want to prioritise the big retailers packages, rather than the letters. Even if that letter is your doctors appointment, or like your letter to your gran. 

Kevin: Yeah they want to be more of a parcel delivery company, do away with the Universal Service Obligation that means they have to keep doing what Spud just said. 

How would those changes  affect your job? 

Spud:  More unachievable work targets 

Kevin: It’d be a ‘race to the bottom’. The proposed changes are a big attack on T&Cs not just pay. For example they want to switch to later start and finish times, which is a big problem for those of us who have to pick up kids from school. It also means working later into the dark in winter. They are completely changing the company. 

So worse hours for less money? 

Kevin: They tried to do all of these changes by a sort of ‘executive action’ without consulting the union, which goes against previous agreements. It is the biggest attack on the workforce and union possibly in the history of the Royal Mail.  

Any reason they chose to go for the union ? 

Kevin:  Simon Thompson , our current CEO, has a history of union busting. The whole board probably sees the union as a big obstacle to them changing the Royal Mail so drastically. Hence the all out warfare against the union. 

How much support has there been in the workplace?

Spud:   the support has been very strong

Kevin: We've only had two of our workers cross the picket lines and scab, out of a workplace with sixty of us. 

Spud:   nationally the vote has been like 92% in favour of strike action, and this is easily reflected on the ground

Kevin:  Yeah, our office has been pretty solid. 

How active is this support? 

Spud:   we’ve always had the legal number of official pickets, with lots of the rest of us out in support. Plus lots of other organisation’s joining in with that. 

Kevin:  It has been a bit weather dependent. On a sunny day you’ll get more people out supporting us.

Worst  pickets? 

Kevin: Early in the morning in december, we were out in the ice and snow, a lot of rain and wind

Spud:  Normal British weather!  But even when it was at its worst we still had enough people outside to be meaningful. 

Must be used to it with the job

Spud & Kevin: Yeah!  

Spud:  Something maybe the management lot didn’t take into consideration. They thought it would tail off as it got colder and wetter, but it didn’t!

Kevin:  we’re in it ‘till we win it.  The passing support, from both pedestrians and motorists has been great. Even the vast majority of our customers, even when they are showing up to be told they can’t collect a parcel today have been supportive. 

How long have the strikes been going on now? 

Spud:  Us posties started in August. Must’ve been out 18 or 19 days in total.

No drop in morale or determination since then? 

Spud:  if anything the attitudes have hardened on both sides.  Those who support it support it more, whereas those against it are doing whatever they can to make life difficult. 

Kevin:  By people against he means management! 

Spud:  Yeah! 

So what’ve they been doing ? 

Kevin: They used to give a little speech about how all pickets had to be legal and respectful. Which was tbh completely unnecessary. Really patronising stuff, about how we shouldn’t be abusive or aggressive, like we were school kids. They were given in every office as a national strategy. They also told us a lot of nonsense, like if there were more than the six official pickets outside the building we’d be breaking the law, or if we took photographs whilst outside our workplace THAT would be breaking the law. All to try and intimidate us out of our completely legal actions. 

Kevin: There has been a campaign of suspending union reps, and active striking workers on spurious grounds. The suspensions always end, and then the supposed cases get dropped, but it is stressful in the meantime. 

Spud:   I think it is systemic bullying and intimidation, from Simon Thompson at the top all the way down, to the petty local managers. 

Kevin:  There was also an overtime ban despite a massive backlog of work. 

Spud:  they wanted to starve us out of the pay. 

Kevin: Instead they got in agency staff, on way more money than us, to try and clear the work. 

Spud:  And these staff don’t have the training or experience to do the job we do. Things take much longer to clear with them. 

Has there been a big involvement of agency workers on strike days as well as scabs? 

Kevin: We have had some turn up on strike days. They weren’t told they were going to be scabbing, first most of them realised it was when they saw our picket. A lot of them were turning round and refused to cross. A couple even joined our picket line with us! 

Spud:  They weren't the only ones given no info. The company made no effort to let customers know. Lots of people would show up to pick up parcels only to find the office closed, and get quite perturbed. 

Kevin: Next time we’re giving them the managers mobile number so they can sort it out hah! 

So Royal Mail hasn’t been able to keep things running on strike days? 

Kevin: Nope!

Spud:   Not even special deliveries! Those are normally the ‘beyond important’ top of the list deliveries to be made. 

Kevin:  When they do get the agency staff would go out on delivery, they’ve been making mistakes, getting lost, taking ages. They’ve been leaving parcels on door steps – which we never do in Royal Mail. Meanwhile the actual posties scabbing on the strike were allowed to stay indoors,

Spud: Lots of managers going to hang out inside as well. Always being blatant in crossing the picket line. 

Kevin: Some of them would come out and try and talk to you like their your mates. Like we’re a big team and this is an unavoidable natural event, and soon it’ll blow over and we’ll be having pizza parties. 

So are the managers trying to do your jobs?  

Kevin: A couple of them have given it a go! Just parcels, since the company doesn’t care about letters any more. A lot of the time they just seem to hide in the building all day. Seems like  they just sit in the office twiddling their thumbs. 

Spud:  They’ve also been getting ‘strike busting bonuses’ to cross pickets on strike days. They started off as cash incentives, and have ended up being shopping vouchers.  “be a scab, get an M&S voucher!”

What has it been like working in between strike days? 

Spud:   Tense! They’ve gone out of their way to break the trust between management and the workforce. The managers don’t seem to understand that once the union is broken the management are next. 

Kevin:  They’ve destroyed any semblance of good will from us towards the management of all levels.  The quality of my work has definitely deteriorated. It’s harder and I have less incentive. You’d be more inclined to go the extra mile – often literally – when the company seemed at least halfway decent, and management was supportive. Now I’m starting to hate not just my managers, but the whole company itself. It’s like they’ve forgotten we’re the ones that keep things running, and there are way more of us than them. We’re not locked in the  office with them, they’re locked in the office with us!. 

Spud:   Up until February things were still chaotic from the December strikes.  

Kevin:  We were delivering flyers for black Friday sales in january. It was unprecedented chaos. It was glorious. 

Any predictions for how the action is going to go ? 

Kevin: Well we’ve won some things already. There has been a limited agreement on pay. 

Spud: Apparently. They have been making agreements on a Friday, then breaking them again on a monday. So it's really hard to understand what the outcome will be. They’ve taken the good name of the company and put it down with Evri (my hermes), in the minds of customers.

Kevin: That's 500 years of good will down the drain. 

Kevin: In honesty? We will win some things, we’ll lose some. This whole thing has been quite emotional. It has been empowering seeing action in the form of strikes, in the wider social, in the wider context of the strike wave alongside other workers, it has been inspirational, to see a bit of class pride and solidarity.  I only hope it radicalised more of our colleagues. 

Is it a common feeling that you are part of something bigger? 

Spud: Seems like it. 

Kevin: For one thing I think people would feel more vulnerable if it was just us, and more open to criticism. I like to think we all recognise we are part of something a bit bigger 

Spud: Having the other unions and other workers show up has helped with this. We’ve had teachers, lecturers, fire officers, and a couple of nurses. At one point some folks from a renters union blocked the gates of one of the delivery centers!

Kevin: Some of our members have joined other peoples picket lines as well its been going both ways. 

Where would you like to see this bigger something go? 

Kevin: Well, a general strike and a revolution of course. But we’ve got a way to go!  At the very least an increasingly generalised class based resistance to the powers that be, to the ever encroaching cut backs and repression. I’d like to see some of the elites hanging from lampposts. 

Spud: It would be nice if we had a proper national strike, just to let the ruling class know that everyone has had enough. That the current way society is structured isn’t sustainable, and isn’t in anyone’s interest except a small group of the super wealthy. 

Kevin: We want to foster and encourage the culture of resistance. Something we see a lot more in other countries. Even places as close as France, they strike harder, they riot harder, and they win more victories for the working class as a result. 

How much trust do the rank and file have in union leadership at the moment ?

Spud:  There is some worry that the union will allow the company to get away with too much, in order to try and save as many jobs as they can – rather than trying to save the institution AND the jobs. 

Kevin: Obviously everyone supports the union, though of course we are critical when needs be. People are worried about how it will end, worried about losing more money, but we recognise there is no other choice. It’s a big fight for our futures. 

Spud:   and it is a fight worth having. 

Kevin:  and a fight our employers started – but we will finish it..  Like I  said I haven’t seen such an unmitigated attack on workers in a long time. 

Spud:  It is very Thatcherite, it's like they looked at the playbook for the mines and went ‘we could do that’. 

Do you feel there are stronger bonds between Royal Mail workers now, perhaps more of a chance of radical action? Wildcats and the like? 

Kevin: Well a wild cat is a beautiful thing, and sometimes they inspire me more than the bigger union organised strikes. I think certain of our offices are pretty famous for them! 

Spud:  When one of our fellow workers was suspended during the strikes we all sat in the tea room and refused to work.  Eventually we were persuaded back with some promises about the outcome for her, but it was long enough to make the point. 

Kevin:  One of our offices in Liverpool went wildcat over allegations of a racist manager. The strike then spread to the main mail center, so post for the whole region were shut down. Whenever there are bullying managers who cross a line, everyone just sits in their tea room!

Kevin:  Our little wildcat tea room sit in was the first time something like that has happened in years. I like to think our colleagues see the wider issues, like it isn’t just about one of us getting bullied, or one person's job, even people that dislike the person in trouble will come out. 

Spud:  Also we’re seeing a lot of people flat out refuse to do things they would do before. Either because they are helpful people, or are persuaded or pressured to do them by management. We effectively have self imposed bans on doing any little extra work that helps management.

You mentioned earlier that a lot of the public seem supportive. Even those disrupted. Has that stayed the case even after the months went on? 

Spud:  It has actually gotten better. I’m pretty sure it started off with some folks thinking ‘bloody posties they just want more money and don’t want to work hard”.That has now, with more reporting, and more word of mouth, turned into “I can’t believe the bosses wanna do that to royal mail”. Feels like way more of them are with us than opposed to us. 

Kevin: I think anyone who saw any of those parliamentary committee hearings about royal mail is on our side now! Simon Thompson was caught out lying to this parliamentary committee, and then he got recalled, and made to swear as if in court! When he was speaking that time, and trying really hard not to lie OR to tell the truth he ended up crucifying himself, got properly roasted by the committee. The CWU put some clips of it on youtube, they are comedy gold. 

Anything you’d like to add to the interview?  

Kevin: Victory or death! Escalation or utter defeat! Something along those lines. 

Spud:  There has to be change, the ruling elite can’t expect it to carry on with the same bullshit. Hopefully we’re worrying some people in their expensive suits, and hopefully the change will be for the better. ■

At the time of print, the CWU’s leadership had halted strike actions and its negotiators have reached an “in principle” agreement with Royal Mail. Members still have yet to vote on the proposed deal on pay, working conditions and the terms of employment. Previous pay offers have been rejected as insufficient and compulsory work on Sunday has been a red line in the talks so far. According to Royal Mail, the company had already lost £200 million during the strikes and even feared that it might fold entirely.

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