Posties have protested outside the Scottish Parliament with trade union allies in a display of unity, determination to resist attacks from Royal Mail, and stop the running-down of the service. Alice Kinghorn-Gray and Lewis Akers report from the demo.
The chants of “Thompson out” filled the entrances of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 15 December, as striking postal workers and trade unionists from across Scotland gathered at the Scottish Parliament. Their demands were simple. For Royal Mail bosses, headed by CEO Simon Thompson, to cease the persecution of trade unionists at the company, and to return to negotiations over pay.
The current round of strike action takes place against the backdrop of a real terms pay cut for postal workers – an unagreed 2 percent pay awarded while inflation is in double digits – and Royal Mail attempting to push through “modernisation” which will tear-up hard-won terms and conditions. Craig Anderson, Regional Secretary for CWU Scotland summed up Royal Mail’s push to change working conditions as an attempt to “decimate the postal service” and “turn it into a gig economy employer.” The impact of this transformation would be stark, meaning lower pay, mass redundancies and a worse work-life-balance.
Tam Dewar, a CWU divisional rep told the crowd that striking workers were safeguarding a service that “keeps society going” and that so many “isolated communities and small businesses” rely on. During the pandemic and lockdown, the economy relied heavily on delivery services and workers. Politicians and employers alike were quick to praise these workers, but have now turned on them.
“No politician from any party is coming to your rescue – we need to do it ourselves.”
A crucial theme of the rally was the mismanagement of royal mail and the fact that communities will be severely impacted because of modernisation plans which put shareholders profits before the needs of the communities and workers alike. Reforms are undermining Royal Mail’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) – the stipulations which bind the Royal Mail to a universal service delivering year-round and to all areas of the country. A key provision means that the cost is the same for sending post from Lands’ End to John O’Groats. As a result, unlike with parcel companies, rural communities aren’t punished by geography.
These standards have been under competitive pressure with the growth of rivals, and since the privatisation of Royal Mail in 2015. Despite these pressures, Royal Mail Group have announced £758 million in profits.
The dispute has seen CWU members exchange solidarity with other workers in dispute against the backdrop of prices fast-outstripping wages. Speaking at the rally Gordon Martin, RMT regional organiser, said that the strikes going on just now were not just about maintaining pay and conditions in the present, but they were a sign people weren’t prepared to “pass on inferior conditions” to their children and grandchildren.
Although politicians from the Scottish Parliament were there on the platform, Craig Anderson told the crowd the Royal Mail had attempted to butter-up some Scottish politicians with free breakfasts and lobbying efforts. If confirmed, this would only reinforce the words of Gordon Martin who told the crowd: “No politician from any party is coming to your rescue – we need to do it ourselves.”
Roz Foyer General Secretary of the STUC said victory could be had “by standing together.” This is crucial if workers want to defeat the “bullying tactics used against people on the picket lines and reps being suspended.” Workplace CWU reps have been suspended at several sites across Scotland, as company bosses deploy increasingly authoritarian measures to quash the dispute.
Anger at the Tories was palpable at the demonstration. The demo at the Scottish parliament followed a demonstration of thousands at Westminster, the largest posties demonstration in modern British history.
The Holyrood rally coincided with the launch of the Scottish Budget, and after days of SNP parliamentarians congratulating themselves for establishing a supposedly pro-union culture in Scotland. But the Scottish Government has been responsible for a not dissimilar environment of public sector cuts and fostering privatisation, private finance and a friendly relationship with big business. We need to turn up the heat on the Scottish government too.
Only by building cross-union coordinated can action win. We cannot let Royal Mail become another P&O or British Gas. That means cross-union and cross-industry action, as well as growing mobilisations like the protest outside the Scottish parliament.