Postal workers rally in a mighty show of strength

Socialist Party in CWU public meeting: How can we win?
6.30pm Tuesday 20 December. Zoom ID: 89269239057

by Paula Mitchell, Socialist Party executive committee

The 9 December, the first of six December strike days by postal workers in the Communication Workers Union (CWU), will be remembered for a long time.

Photo: Paul Mattsson

The strike day began with freezing picket lines in the dark, all round the country. More than 1,000 London CWU members gathered outside Mount Pleasant, the site of Royal Mail’s HQ, to hand CEO Simon Thompson his P45.

As we then marched behind an open-top bus through central London to a national rally in Parliament Square, coach after coach was pulling up on the Thames Embankment, delivering postal workers from all over the country.

Several branches raised their banners and marched down Whitehall. The numbers were so huge, they were queueing to get into the square.

Almost 20,000 workers, in the pink hi-vis vests of the CWU, filled the square to overflowing. There hasn’t been a sight like it in years: Parliament Square filled with trade unionists.

The sense of collective strength was huge. Young workers helped older workers to climb onto the walls along the back so they could see the giant screens. The chants would swell and die back, then swell up again: “We want Thompson out!”

Thousands took the Socialist Party bulletin and hundreds bought the Socialist. Some told us they had worked the nightshift but still travelled to central London to make their voice heard.

Trade union leaders spoke from various other unions also balloting and striking. The biggest reception was for Mick Lynch of the rail union RMT and, of course, CWU’s general secretary Dave Ward. Two trade union leaders who have a massive mobilised membership underneath them, demanding the fight goes on, and who, through leading unions taking historic national action, have given confidence to hundreds of thousands of others.

Dave Ward pointed out the £758 million in profits announced just months ago, followed by the decision to give £560 million to shareholders. “We should run the company!” he declared, to great applause. One demand along that road would be to open the books – show us where the £5 billion in profit since privatisation has gone!

CWU members demand CEO Simon Thompson resigns – if he does, that will be a victory and will give confidence to postal workers. But the issues Royal Mail members are facing are not just about a bad boss – after all, the union successfully campaigned to force out the previous CEO Rico Back. The CWU should demand of Keir Starmer that he announces now, on day one of a Labour government, that he will implement the resolution agreed at Labour Party conference to renationalise Royal Mail. That would put Royal Mail bosses and the Tories under enormous pressure.

The rally then went “for a little walk”, as Dave Ward described it, up to Buckingham Palace! What a sight: thousands and thousands of trade unionists in front of the palace, getting a little taste of the streets belonging to them, a glimpse of potential power.

Workers were exhilarated, being together in such big numbers. Imagine the effect of a 24-hour general strike – not 20,000, but hundreds of thousands, even a million, out demonstrating together.

Postal workers on the protest spoke to Camden and Haringey Socialist Party member Charlie Craven

“We are striking mainly about our terms, conditions, and a half-decent pay rise. One of the main concerns for a lot of us is the changing of our working times. They want us to start work up to three hours later, which is an absolute joke. No one wants it. The customers don’t want it. CEO Simon Thompson basically hasn’t got a clue what he’s doing running this company.

“Our conditions have been deteriorating. Where I work, we’ve had about seven to nine vacancies all year. Some customers are only getting one delivery a week, if that. They’re just running the service down purposely, as far as I can see.

“None of us want to be on strike running up to Christmas. This is the last thing we want to do. In my 29 years as a postie, I don’t think I can ever remember us being on strike at this time of year. So that gives you an indication of how serious this is.

“There’s a lot of people unhappy in this country, people who don’t have proper work, and people who are very unhappy about how they’ve been treated. But no one wants to be on strike. The nurses don’t want to go on strike. The people on the trains don’t want to be on strike. BT workers don’t want to be on strike.

“But it’s just these big companies. I mean, Simon Thompson won’t even get in the room and negotiate.

“No one’s got any faith in him, everyone’s lost confidence in him. How can a bloke be in a job still, when you’re giving £600 million to shareholders, and then you claim you’re losing a million a day? Anyone else would get the sack.

“I’d rather be at work delivering people’s Christmas cards and post than being on this strike and protest. I love my customers and I’ll try and look after them. This is the last thing I want to be doing. But hopefully, this can do some good.”

“They want us to work Sunday. They want to take away sick pay. They just want to make this like the gig economy.

“I’ve done forty years in the postal service, and I have never known us being treated as badly as we are at the moment. All I want to do is serve our customers, but I don’t know what is going on at the moment. There is an agenda behind the scenes, and it’s not to help the public or anyone else.

“If we stick together, we will win. While Thompson is in charge, we have no chance, he’s got to go.”