Article from the November 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
Pay the postal workers now!
SAVE OUR POSTAL SERVICE
By Stephen Boyd
FORGET THE lies and propaganda you may have read in other papers. The facts are: 8,500 postal workers have been waiting two years for a €30 a week pay rise and 78 An Post pensioners have died waiting for a €15 a week increase; Postal workers are low-paid with a basic wage of only €463 a week and must work overtime just to have a decent income; In some rural areas postal workers are unable to work overtime and need second jobs to make ends meet.
Management is responsible for the high levels of overtime worked in An Post. There are 600 unfilled posts, and without overtime the postal system would collapse. Postal workers are constantly under pressure from managers to work more and more overtime just to make the system function.
On 7 November postal workers participated in an overtime ban and all out strike action at the GPO in Dublin. The CWU leaders called off the industrial action after only 16 hours following a proposal by the National Implementation Body (NIB). The Socialist Party argued last December that it was a mistake for the leaders of the CWU to abandon their campaign of industrial action in favour of going to the Labour Court. Subsequently the Court ruled that wage increases should only be paid if the workforce accepted detrimental changes in work practices. Once again the leadership of the CWU has suspended industrial action, but the NIB cannot be trusted anymore than the Labour Court. These bodies exist to stop industrial action and to "persuade" workers to accept compromises that inevitably favour management.
In a CWU press statement, general secretary Steve Fitzpatrick said, "[The An Post] workforce have now no choice but to consider all forms of industrial action, up to and including all-out strike across the national postal service. Our members have now mandated us to use all available industrial relations muscle, to ensure that low paid workers and pensioners get their entitlements". And that is exactly what Steve Fitzpatrick and the CWU officials must do - carry out the mandate that the members have given them to use industrial action to force this arrogant management to pay up with no strings attached.
The battle at An Post is not just about a E30 a week pay rise. Fundamentally this is a "war" about the future survival of An Post as a publicly owned postal service. The government is preparing to privatise our postal system. Minister Noel Dempsey has issued a threat to the CWU that if they took industrial action he might speed up the liberalisation of the letter delivery service. The CWU leaders should meet this challenge and force the government to pay an annual subsidy to An Post to help fund its social obligation.
There is a crisis in our postal service. The workforce are low paid, demoralised, and over worked due to staff shortages. And what is management's answer? They want a further 1,500 job losses and the right to employ casual low paid workers!
The time for talking is over, it is time for Steve Fitzpatrick and the other CWU officials to show real leadership and fulfill the mandate the membership have given them. A militant and concerted campaign of industrial action including strike action will not only result in postal workers getting their pay rise (without strings) but will be a major setback to the government's privatisation plans.
SOCIALIST PARTY CALLS FOR:
- The government to pay an annual subvention to An Post to fund its social obligation. No to liberalisation, no to privatisation.
- Set up disputes committees in all An Post workplaces with delegates elected to a national disputes committee.
- Regular members, meetings to ensure postal workers are fully informed and that
there is democratic control over the industrial action.
- The immediate payment of sustaining progress with no strings attached and all monies fully backdated.
- The introduction of a basic Euro 600 a week wage for postal workers as a first step towards a decent living wage.
- Fill the vacancies. No to further job cuts or detrimental changes in work practices.
Postal workers talk to the Socialist
"We are so angry, there should be no talks..."
TERRY KELLEHER, An Post worker and CPSU Trustee, spoke to a number of postal workers about their current dispute.
How do workers feel about the propaganda from the company that many postal workers earn from €60,000 to €80,000 pa and some finish their work after three hours?
We are outraged by these blatant lies by the company but not surprised. We know some lads earn a lot of overtime and good luck to them; they spent their life in the job. We knew the company would use this to undermine the union's actions. But the majority of workers who do overtime do so to lift themselves above a basic of €468 (after 20 years' service). Many of us are pressurised by management to work harder and do overtime, so when they claimed that we finish after three hours it made us more determined to take action against this management. Being treated like this through the media is destroying any commitment and loyalty left in the company. The feeling is even after this dispute is over this management has wrecked workers' morale.
Do you think the overtime ban and picket on the GPO was effective?
In general many thought it was effective but that it should have lasted longer. It certainly highlighted our case and put us in the public thoughts by hitting the GPO. But to be taken seriously some of us felt it should have gone on until we proved how angry and serious we are about getting our pay increases. There were some in the district offices who felt we should have been all out immediately on indefinite action and feel this is the only way to get through to Mr. Dempsey (Minister over An Post) and his cronies in charge.
The CWU leadership suspended the action to allow "independent" assessors to look at the finances of the collection and delivery proposals. How do members feel about this decision?
Union members feel confused and want to know what this development has to do with payment of sustaining progress. The gut reaction of many people is that it is a bad decision and that there should be no talks without payment of our wages first. There is a feeling that once again the initiative has been lost similar to last year's one-day stoppage. There is belief we had the public on our side and now that could be lost if the talks fail and further action drags on. Some members have already made up their minds that we are being sold out.
What do members think the CWU leadership should do now if the talks fail to deliver the sustaining progress wage increases?
The strong feeling on the ground is that we are heading to an all-out strike because that is what management want and many if not all of the CWU membership are ready for it. We are so angry, there should be no talks and more action until we are paid, it is that simple. The mood could be different in the country about an all out but it is clear we are all united to take some type of industrial action. There is a large amount of anger against the government and we feel this strike, like 1979, will be very political. The union should go after Fianna Fail during the dispute.