Northern Ireland: Historic strike victory for postal workers…

But workers face petty, vindictive management

The recent three week unofficial strike by 800 postal workers based in Tomb Street, in Belfast, and Mallusk [see previous reports on] forced a complete climb down by Royal Mail management.

On returning to work, however, the workers have found that the underlying issues that caused the strike are still unresolved. The strike was against the bullying and harassment that has become part of the culture of Royal Mail management.

It began over a single incident – when managers in the BT13 (Shankill Road) area tried to discipline union reps for keeping a record of incidents of management harassment – but quickly spread as other workers walked out in support.

Management clearly thought that if they took a firm line they could break the strike. Instead of giving way and meeting the worker’s demand for an independent review of industrial relations, they responded by threatening legal action against the officers of the union branch and by placing impossible conditions on a return to work.

If they expected the workers would buckle under these threats, they miscalculated badly. Three weeks into the strike, with the workers still absolutely solid, management agreed to the demand for a review and withdrew the strings that they had previously tried to attach to this.

This was an historic victory. The postal workers showed how workers from both communities in Northern Ireland can stand together in struggle. They succeeded in defying the anti trade union laws and most importantly they showed that, where workers stand solid, strikes can be won.

Yet, when they went back to work, they found that management, clearly smarting from the defeat, were still determined to behave in a petty and vindictive manner. Tony McCall works in the Shankill area and was one of the first to walk out. He describes the problems they have encountered since going back to work:

“We quickly found that a lot of things haven’t changed. Those who were on strike have been refused additional overtime to help clear the backlog. The overtime has gone to scabs. They have also brought in casuals who don’t know the routes.

“In order to try to get back at the workforce, management are prepared to let the quality of service fall”.

This article also appears in the March edition of ‘The Socialist’, paper of the Socialist Party (Ireland)

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March 2006