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Editorial: This strike vote is about more than Royal Mail

A NINETY-SEVEN per cent vote for strike action by Royal Mail workers against attacks on pay, pensions and conditions agreed only last year is an emphatic warning to CEO Rico Back to back off.

A turnout of 76 per cent sweeps Tory strike ballot thresholds aside like straw. Since giving notice of its intention to ballot for a strike, the Communication Workers Union has shown how effective trade union organisation can overcome the repressive hurdles placed before our movement by a government keen to make strikes impossible.

It has combined relentless workplace-level agitation by reps with a sharp comms operation to mobilise massive depot gate meetings.

That operation has kicked into gear to ensure news and images of these meetings have spread round the workforce like wildfire, allowing staff to realise their strength in numbers. 

From intensive phone-banking that ensured tens of thousands of CWU members were called directly, to a squad being sent to the shores of Lake Zurich to project the union’s message onto Back’s luxury lakeside pad, this was a campaign that pulled out all the stops.

There are reasons why we all have a stake in Royal Mail workers winning this battle.

Back’s plan to hive off Royal Mail’s parcels delivery wing Parcelforce as a separate limited company is, as CWU leader Dave Ward has warned, a form of asset-stripping.

The rise in online shopping and increase in parcel traffic have partly offset the long-term decline in letter-posting caused by changing communication habits as email and instant messaging become the norm.

A rationally planned and wholly public postal network could adapt for this, but Royal Mail has already been handicapped by undercutting from companies not bound by the universal service obligation — the requirement for same-price delivery to any part of the UK that underpins Royal Mail’s nature as a public service. 

Creaming off the most profitable parts of services to allow private “investors” to make a killing while running down the rest of the operation is a tried and tested technique that has allowed corporate parasites to grow fat off our health and transport systems.

Attempts to split Parcelforce and to transfer its workers using the Tupe regulations are clearly a bid to evade the commitments made by Royal Mail to the workforce under the Four Pillars Agreement in 2018.

The agreement was noteworthy not just for its protection of pay and pensions but for its recognition that technological change ought to result in a shorter working week — a principle the CWU has been influential in pushing throughout the movement, where it is now TUC and Labour Party policy.

Ward is correct to hammer home the message that our whole economic set-up is not designed to deliver a future worth living in.

CEOs’ astronomical pay cheques — typical pay has soared from 20 times to 120 times the average over 30 years — do not reflect any value they add to the companies they lord over.

Back, who was lured to Royal Mail with a £6 million golden handshake from its own GLS subsidiary, a Dutch-based private parcel delivery firm notorious for provoking strikes by its super-exploited European workforce, is typical of a breed of corporate execs who maximise short-term shareholder profit by extracting as much as possible before discarding their companies and workforces.

But technological change will not remove the need for universal, affordable deliveries. Royal Mail's existing network, a committed workforce and trusted identity are national assets that could be deployed to address the slow-motion death of communities.

Royal Mail’s management refuses to innovate or imagine a different future because it has been captured by an elite that’s doing very well out of a failing status quo.

This isn’t just a strike for postal workers. It’s a strike against a corporate culture of managed decline and for a more productive, more rational and more sustainable future.

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