Revealed: how the Post Office plans to break the strike

Managers are urged to spy on and photograph activists

Kevin Maguire - Saturday November 1, 2003 - The Guardian

Royal Mail managers have been ordered to spy on strikers and staff who threaten to join the wildcat walkouts disrupting postal services across much of Britain, the Guardian can reveal.

Instructions sent to sorting and delivery offices this week marked "in strictest confidence" but obtained by the Guardian disclose plans to break the strike by gathering covert intelligence on activists and union officials.

Managers have been told to identify ringleaders and eavesdrop on conversations between employees, noting in diaries exact times, dates, names and what is said.

They have been told to summon union representatives to meetings when trouble is brewing, and to write down the reaction of those involved.

When representatives leave the meeting, managers have been assigned to follow them surreptitiously and closely watch whom they speak to.

All activists should be under permanent observation and will be challenged at the first rumour of a possible walkout.

In addition, managers have been told to ask union representatives in advance what they are planning to say at mass meetings. Permission to hold the gatherings on the premises should be refused if a manager is not allowed to attend, and if the meeting goes ahead anyway, it should be interrupted and the names of those present taken.

And finally, if a strike starts, managers have been ordered to film, video and photograph picket lines. They have been urged to buy disposable cameras if necessary and use CCTV cameras to back up witness statements.

The operation, unprecedented by a big public employer since the 1984-85 miners' strike, is intended to stop strikes and to garner evidence for possible legal action against individuals and the Communication Workers Union.

Although the union has repudiated the unofficial strikes to avoid an injunction and potentially catastrophic compensation claims, the 11-page document makes clear the Royal Mail believes CWU leaders are privately involved.

In bold type, with the warning emphasised by the use of capital letters, the document tells managers: "The evidence that you provide may be used in court so it is vital that it is as detailed and as clear as possible. Please ensure that any material is dealt with IN STRICTEST CONFIDENCE."

Last night Labour MPs joined CWU leaders in condemning the Royal Mail's action. John McDonnell, chairman of the party's Socialist Campaign group, denounced their "McCarthyite tactics", and Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said: "If the management spent less time spying like the Stasi in East Germany and more time trying to resolve grievances and this dispute, there wouldn't be any strikes."

Evidence is being covertly gathered within what the Royal Mail calls "the matrix", a series of scenarios involving the threat and taking of unofficial industrial action.

The document sets out the steps to be taken with military precision and provides examples of actions to take.

"Make a note of the reps movements, noting who they speak to immediately after leaving manager's office," it says. "Assign appropriate numbers of managers to closely observe all the reps/ committee members on site... Follow and make notes.

"Observe the picket line using CCTV if available, take pictures of the picket line (buy a disposable camera if possible) and make a note of date, time and who is on the picket line.

"Pay particular attention to any CWU reps/committee members or individuals who are not from the office in question... Should the picket line start to behave in an unacceptable manner then consider taking video footage."

Managers were told to send signed witness statements, including second hand accounts, photographs, leaflets, posters and other information by email or fax to a London-based industrial relations team. "Don't worry about whether a piece of evidence is relevant or not: simply pass it on," the instructions say.

Royal Mail defended the operation last night. A spokeswoman said: "We feel very strongly that our customers' mail is being disrupted and if we can take steps to end the action, we will do so."

Striking workers were later told to go back to work and "get on with the job".

Roger Baynes, head of operations for Royal Mail, insisted staff were being intimidated into joining the action: "The vast majority of our employees don't want to be out on strike, they don't want to lose money, they don't want to disrupt services to our customers."

He told Channel 4 News: "I am desperate to get this sorted out, for our employees to come back to work, restore services to our customers and get on with business."

Peace talks continued yesterday for a fourth successive day as the unofficial action spread to Stoke-on-Trent, Bristol and Swindon.

The CWU has estimated that more than 25,000 workers had joined walkouts in parts of London, Kent, Essex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, the West Midlands and Cheshire.

The dispute was ignited by disciplinary action taken against drivers in Southall, west London, after they had returned to work on October 17 after a balloted 24-hour official strike about the London weighting the day before.

Postal workers accused the company of using a vote against a national pay strike in September to impose change, suspending local agreements on wages and conditions.

Mr McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington in west London, said: "This dispute is not about money or wages, its about workers reacting to provocation by management. It is appalling that Royal Mail is subjecting its employees to... intimidation and McCarthyite tactics."

Hundreds of millions of letters are thought to be undelivered in a dispute costing Royal Mail an estimated 10m per day. The Royal Mail has suspended high-value special deliveries in the capital and started sealing red postboxes.

Restrictions were lifted on four private licensed mail companies yesterday by the postal regulator, Postcomm, permitting them to deliver direct to homes for existing bulk customers.

Back to the main SP site