Northern Ireland: Belfast postal workers on unofficial strike

Second week of industrial action against bosses’ bullying

Northern Ireland

Belfast postal workers on unofficial strike

Hundreds of postal workers are on unofficial strike in Belfast and Mallusk against bullying and harassment from Royal Mail management.

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

A provocative and unjust disciplinary procedure taken against two Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) representatives on Tuesday 2 February by management in the North Belfast delivery section sparked the strike. 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 kept a diary record of a long list of incidences of management harassment against postal workers. Management searched a drawer containing his personal belongings, removed the diary and photocopied the material. They then accused the union rep of bullying and intimidating other workers!

In response, the North Belfast section staged a walk-out. When news of the incident got to the South Belfast and West Belfast sections, the postal workers there quickly organised a solid walk-out in solidarity. On Thursday, 4 February, the bulk of workers at the Mallusk sorting office joined the strike. This shut down of distribution of all mail across Northern Ireland enormously strengthened the strike. In response, Royal Mail flew in 50 managers from England to scab on the strike. The scabs are being put up in Belfast’s luxurious Hilton Hotel.

Royal Mail refused to negotiate with the CWU until workers returned to work, but they were forced into negotiations after Mallusk sorting office was shut down. Since then, Royal Mail has taken a hard-line position, resulting in talks with CWU national officials breaking down.

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 and safety regulations. Each of the branch officials has been personally targeted by Royal Mail. They received a letter at their homes during one night from Royal Mail threatening them with legal action if they took part in the strike. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has offered to mediate future negotiations.

Incredibly, the BBC came into possession of a General Municipal Boilermakers (GMB) union 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 Communication Workers’ Union (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 to bring in 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. To strengthen the strike and spread it to new areas, union reps from the affected areas in Belfast need to visit all areas to explain the issues and why this strike has to be won.

Workers’ march across Shankill and Falls

The level of support in working class communities was expressed in dramatic fashion when on 7 February over 350 postal workers left a rally in Transport House in central Belfast and marched up the ‘Protestant’ Shankill Road, across the ’peaceline’ at Lanark Way, and down the ‘Catholic’ Falls Road. The communities of the Shankill Road, Springfield Road and the Falls Road – Catholic and Protestant – came out along the route to show their support for their postal workers. 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 urgent need to raise money 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 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 ( in Belfast which will send messages directly to workers on the picket line.

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February 2006