Belfast Postal Workers enter 2nd week of Unofficial Strike

As we go to press, hundreds of postal workers remain on unofficial strike in Belfast and Mallusk against bullying and harassment from Royal Mail management.

By Gary Mulcahy, Socialist Party Belfast, Feb. 8th 2006

Royal Mail has been paralysed by a magnificent show of solidarity by postal workers across Belfast and the shutting down of Mallusk sorting office which sorts mail across Northern Ireland. The strike has seriously disrupted the service.

What sparked the strike was a provocative and unjust disciplinary procedure taken against two CWU reps on Tuesday 2nd Feb by management in the North Belfast delivery section. This is part of a long campaign of harassment and bullying from tyrannical bosses in Royal Mail stretching over two years. Postal workers took unofficial action last September and February in similar circumstances. This latest incident of management intimidation though has enraged workers at Royal Mail. One of the union reps had been keeping a record of a long list of incidences of management harassment against postal workers in a diary. Management searched a drawer containing his personal belongings, removed the diary and photocopied the material. They then accused him of bullying and intimidating other workers!

In response the North Belfast section staged a walk-out. When news arrived at the South Belfast and West Belfast sections, they spent little time in organising a solid walk-out in solidarity. On Thursday 4th Feb, the bulk of workers at the Mallusk sorting office joined the strike. This shut down distribution of all mail across Northern Ireland and has enormously strengthened the strike. In response, Royal Mail have flown 50 managers from England to scab on the strike and are being put up in the luxurious Hilton Hotel for their treachery.

Royal Mail had refused to negotiate with the CWU until workers returned to work, but were forced into negotiations after Mallusk was shut down. Since then, Royal Mail have taken a hard-line position resulting in talks breaking down with CWU national officials. The national leadership of the CWU have done everything they can to get the workers to return to work but are facing a determined workforce and a determined management. Management has placed impossible conditions on workers returning to work which break past agreements and health & safety regulation. Each of the branch officials has been personally targeted by Royal Mail. They received a letter at their homes during the night from Royal Mail threatening them with legal action if they took part in the strike. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has offered to mediate future negotiations.

Incredibly, the BBC came into possession of a GMB letter which is being used to undermine the strike. The letter attacks the strike by claiming it was for 'spurious reasons' and that the strike had become 'deeply sinister'. In Northern Ireland the word 'sinister' has become associated with paramilitary involvement.

The CWU is calling for an 'independent' review of management/employee industrial relations. Royal Mail has refused to discuss this proposal, yet they have agreed similar 'independent' reviews in parts of England where disputes have emerged in the recent past.

It is clear that Royal Mail senior management are trying to take on the union in Northern Ireland in order to implement new practices needed as part of preparing Royal Mail for privatisation. This is a battle which needs to be won by the union in the interests of postal workers across the North and Britain.

Unfortunately, there has been poor communication between union reps in different parts of the North causing confusion amongst workers in different areas about the issues involved. In order to strengthen the strike and spread it to new areas, reps from the affected areas in Belfast need to visit all areas to explain the issues and why this strike has to be won.

The level of support in the community was expressed in dramatic fashion when over 350 postal workers left a rally in Transport House in Belfast on 7th Feb and marched up the Shankill Rd, across the 'peaceline' at Lanark Way and down the Falls Rd. The communities of the Shankill Rd, Springfield Rd and the Falls Rd came out along the route to show their support to their postal workers, Catholic & Protestant. Politicians from the right-wing sectarian parties spoke at the peaceline about the need for the dispute to be resolved. Not surprisingly, none of them took part in the full march! The Socialist Party was the only political party with a banner on the march and our slogan 'For Worker's Unity' was applauded along the route.

An appeal should also be made to the wider trade union movement for solidarity action especially the raising of cash to go towards a strike fund. The real issues behind the strike need to be clearly explained to other workers. The mainstream media has muddied the waters by refusing to give an accurate account of the issues behind the strike. Instinctively, many working class people understand that low-paid postal workers would not easily go on unofficial strike action for more than a week without pay. Support groups involving postal workers, trade unionists, socialists, community activists and young people should be formed in order to carry out solidarity work in the communities and workplaces and to raise money for a strike fund.

To send messages of solidarity to the striking postal workers, e-mail the Socialist Party (socialistpartyni@btconnect.com ) in Belfast who will send them directly to the workers on the picket line.



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