As current action hangs in the balance, Shabbir Lakha talks to CWU postal executive member Andrew Hopping about what lies ahead for the postal workers
Your forthcoming action has an extraordinary mandate (89% to strike on a 74% turnout). What has the impact of the High Court’s ruling on your timetable had on members’ morale?
Well, we thought we had exhausted options of external mediation prior to balloting, but Royal Mail didn’t take us seriously, so they didn’t react. They didn’t see the result coming, so we were forced into the process of courts. And courts generally don’t side with trade unions. So now we have a 4-5 week period where an external mediator – that both sides have agreed upon – will look at the case and make recommendations, and whatever will happen afterwards will depend on that.
So it is a bit frustrating for our members, particularly because the plan was to strike around Cyber Monday and leading up to Christmas which is when we could have had the biggest impact. But nonetheless, our members are very much up for the fight, and we know that we have the mandate for strike action, so we won’t have to ballot again if it comes to it.
We’ve had a resounding victory, and the business has completely been taken aback because they thought they could throw their money around and get a No vote, but the opposite happened. The mood music in delivery centres is “we’re not having this” and regardless of the court process, that isn’t going to change.
How do you think the combativity of your members relates to the fightback of other public sector workers?
Usually trade unions are reactive, but this time we’ve set the agenda. We had a successful Four Pillars campaign and engaged all our local reps by campaigning in every area. At a time when inflation is at 3% and the shareholders have received a huge pay out because the business made over £500m in profit, being offered a 1.5% pay rise and the announcement that the pension scheme will be closed would have caused a row anyway. But by being proactive, we’ve come out ahead and the business completely misjudged the mood. Now unfortunately Royal Mail has been privatised since 2013 which means our members are not part of the public sector, and the legally binding agreement we signed meant industrial action has been avoided thus far, but by us taking this stand now and with the resounding support for strike action that we received, I think it’s given confidence to unions and workers all over the country to fight back.
How does a pro-union Labour leadership benefit trade union activists today?
Our General Secretary, Dave Ward, has been pro-Corbyn from the start and he rallied our members behind Corbyn. He said of Corbyn: “he stands for trade union values, we’re on the cusp of getting someone right at the top who supports us”. So he really got the political side of things going. Knowing that someone in Government supports us like Corbyn does, it’s given trade unions a lot of confidence, even the smaller unions. The Labour leadership has also had a big impact in inspiring people to join trade unions. And we also see more trade union activists getting involved in politics – so rather than the usual career politicians, we’re seeing more working class trade unionists getting involved and working in politics.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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