Socialist Worker

Is Royal Mail preparing a secret scabbing operation?

by Simon Assaf
Published Tue 11 Aug 2009
Issue No. 2164

An industrial complex on the edge of a Northamptonshire village has become a centre of the battle for the future of the postal service.

Crick houses Royal Mail’s national distribution centre. Some 750 workers work there—and they handle more than half of Britain’s mail.

Bosses chose the site as an alternative to the original centre in Northampton that had a strong tradition of union organisation.

Drivers at Crick struck on Friday of last week over the imposition of changes to conditions without consultation with the union.

Pickets were determined and good humoured, relaxing in the sunshine among the maroon CWU union flags planted on the grass.

Drivers from other companies on the vast industrial estate beeped their horns and waved as they drove past.

Mark Batterham, the area distribution rep, told Socialist Worker that apart from two or three strike breakers, the 150 drivers were solid.

“We are angry and frustrated, and tired of the hostile attitude from managers,” he said.

Workers are angry about changes to the way their work is allocated being made without any agreement with the union.

“It is our practice to assign tasks according to seniority,” said Mark. “Management then imposed a lottery system where they pull names out of a hat.

“This means that people’s shifts have become random and no-one can organise their work and family life.”

Mark said that bosses recruited new workers at the site who they believed would not become part of the union.

But the union took root, driven for the most part by attacks on working conditions and a botched attempt to set up a management-run company union.

“Many workers are new to the struggle with little history in the union tradition. But the complex was unionised in 18 months with people joining en masse during the 2007 dispute,” Mark said.

This has left managers red faced and frustrated. Crick has come to symbolise the failure of its anti-union drive.

But workers were worried by the number of non Royal Mail lorries attempting to cross the picket line.

These were from trucking companies that had recently signed contracts with Royal Mail—including Truckline and RCS Logistics—and some owner-driven rigs registered in Ireland.

Strikers suspect that management are attempting to put a strikebreaking force in place.

Many of the strikers who spoke to Socialist Worker said they believed management wanted revenge for the government’s botched privatisation.

Trade and industry secretary Peter Mandelson’s plan to sell off part of Royal Mail ran into the sand after determined opposition.

Strikers believe that management is determined to weaken the CWU so that, whichever party wins the next election, they can put privatisation back on the table.

They said the provocations were part of a strategy to spark unofficial strikes, or provoke workers so that they could punish the union and key militants.

But Mark said, “We are not going to be threatened by management. We remain determined.”


Article information

News
Tue 11 Aug 2009, 18:46 BST
Issue No. 2164
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