Thursday, 26 July 2007

Background to the Oxford post strike

Respect members and other Trade unionists from Oxford joined a rally yesterday to mark the start of the the latest 24 hour strike by post workers in Oxford.

Below Paul Garraway explains the background to the recent strike. Paul is the political officer of the CWU’s South Central No 1 branch. He writes in a personal capacity.

Workers at the Oxford mail centre were last week provoked into seven days of unofficial strike action, but Royal Mail’s attempt to break the union failed

“Suspension should only occur when it is necessary to prevent the risk of further breaches of conduct, to protect employees, property or mail, or to protect Royal Mail’s good image and standing in the community.” The Royal Mail Conduct Code

On Monday 16 July Royal Mail suspended Steve Gill, the area processing rep for Oxford mail centre and escorted him off the premises. He had been interviewed and asked only two questions – “Were you working on the 7 July?” and, “Were you doing your collection in Watlington?”

No charges were presented, yet Steve was immediately suspended. It was later to emerge that the interview was a response to a complaint from a sub-post office manager, whose small workforce had worked through the national dispute.

The suspension was looking very much like a stitch up. If these charges were so serious, why had it taken managers nine days to act on them?

Royal Mail had broken the agreed conduct code when they removed Steve from the mail centre – it was taking unofficial action! There was no reason why Steve could not continue with his duties while any charges, however spurious, were being investigated.

This was rightly seen as a direct attack on our CWU union. A meeting was quickly arranged in a car park and workers voted unanimously to walk out immediately.

In the run up to the first national strike on 29 June, Royal Mail had stopped all overtime in the Oxford mail centre.

They even started redirecting work elsewhere – something they continued to do up until the walk out. Workers were removed from their normal duties and made to work elsewhere, while an untrained manager did their work.

Royal Mail also brought in rules that were designed to humiliate workers, like having to hold your hand up if you want to go to the toilet.

Oxford CWU members showed incredible restraint and refused to be provoked during the period of national dispute. Our branch requested an official ballot for industrial action – following unanimous votes on every shift – in an effort to keep a lid on the growing anger.

However, Royal Mail was determined to drive the mail centre out on strike – and, by suspending one of our reps, it ensured that the dispute would be unofficial.

Managers then announced to the media that they had suspended two people. The second being a driver, who was still out on collections and therefore oblivious to what was happening.
He had not been interviewed, formally charged, or even told of his impending suspension, yet he was already “guilty”.

On his return to the mail centre, bosses attempted to interview and charge him but they would not allow him any union representation. So he refused to be interviewed and went out to join the picket line.

The next day workers from the mail centre voted to stay out until Thursday in the hope that Royal Mail would be reasonable and lift the suspensions. But when it had become obvious that this was not going to happen, they voted unanimously to stay out until the following Monday.
In response Royal Mail threatened to suspend Bob Cullen, the area processing rep, and Brian Jeffries, the area drivers’ rep, when they returned to work.

Three delivery reps were also given written warnings indicating that they would be next for suspension. When the national union sent an officer to help deal with the situation, Royal Mail remained intransigent and escorted him off the premises.

Over the weekend negotiations reached their highest level with Dave Ward, the CWU deputy general secretary, and Martin Collins, the assistant secretary, becoming involved.

It was becoming apparent that the “charges” against the suspended workers were as ludicrous as we had always been believed. Royal Mail agreed to a three-week timescale in which the investigation into the incidents would take place.

It was accepted that no one was to face charges for their actions during the strike, and that all threats to holiday and overtime agreements were to be withdrawn.

Management agreed that national officers of the CWU could defend the two suspended workers until the matter was concluded.

The branch committee therefore decided to recommend a return to work.
Workers had lost money but had made their point. And, although the two were to remain suspended, the branch felt that they would be proved innocent, and would be back at work within three weeks.

Dave Ward offered the workers at the mail centre an opt-out of the national action on 25 July so that they could recuperate some of their lost income. However, they flatly refused this. The Oxford mail centre remains defiant and voted to join the national dispute in solidarity with the rest of the country.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Flooding in Oxfordshire- Why are we spending millions on a disastrous war when we should be investing in the global battle against climate change?

For years scientists have been warning that global warming does not simply mean warmer weather, but more extreme weather patterns as weather systems like to gulf stream are affected by rising temperatures.

Climate change really is the elephant in the room as politicians talk about building flood defences and drain repairs before moving onto defending corporate pressure for more unsustainable building on flood plains.

In the UK we need to thinking about cutting CO2 emissions by 90% over the next thirty years, yet the Labour government is pressing ahead with road widening and airport expansion and putting only pitiful amounts of money into renewable energy development.

Basic rational solutions like bringing buses and trains back into public control and expanding cheap, convenient and affordable public transport to reduce car use are not even discussed. Even more crazy are the budget cuts faced this year by the Environment Agency, even as people struggle to deal with the aftermath of the floods, it has been revealed that England’s flood defence programme is facing funding cuts that could last until 2011!

Oxford Respect calls for:

*Government aid to support communities affected by flooding, especially low income families who may not have full insurance cover.

*Investment in safe affordable council housing that meets the highest standards of energy efficiency and built in sustainable locations.

*A return to public control of rail and bus services.

*Significant and sustained investment in development of renewable energy sources for implementation both in UK and in developing world, with free transfer for renewable energy technology.

*End to all subsidies for nuclear power.

*Heavy fines for companies that pollute the environment to make it more cost-effective for them to implement safeguards against pollution incidents.

*Adequate investment in flood defence, drain and sewerage systems.

Ultimately to safeguard our environment, we need to build a society based on human need, not the need for profit.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Rally to support post workers this Weds

A message from Oxford and District Trades Council

Dear brothers and sisters,

Dave Ward, CWU Deputy General Secretary (Postal sector), met with the Oxford Royal Mail management yesterday and negotiated a return to work agreement for the Mail Centre the members were happy with and voted to accept. In exchange for the unofficial action to be called off, Royal Mail have:

1) disclosed the accusations against Steve Gill and the suspended driver
2) accepted to follow the correct disciplinary procedure with an unusually fast and strict timetable of 3 weeks;
3) accepted that a national official will deal with both cases (also unusual at this stage of a disciplinary);
4) withdrawn all threats to Bob, Kevin and Bryan

During a packed meeting at the Cowley Workers Social Club this morning Dave Ward told the members that in consideration for the loss of pay in the last week the workers at the Oxford Mail Centre had special dispensation from the CWU national leadership NOT to take part in the planned official strike this coming Wednesday (from 7:pm through to Thursday). Guess what? Those pesky posties voted to accept the deal and go back in on Monday, but unanimously voted TO STRIKE on Wednesday with the rest of the Mail Centres in the country.

(Please note that according to the national CWU plans, Delivery Offices will strike separately from Friday evening through to Saturday).

CWU have asked us to show our support with a RALLY THIS WEDNESDAY from 7:00 pm, when the pickets arrive at the Mail Centre. Please circulate the request widely, come along with colleagues, family, friends and banners. Let's force the Oxford Mail to publish photos showing that Oxford supports the posties and thanks them for withstanding the horrendous pressure and attacks from all sides, even if (shock and horror!) they dared having a barbecue on the picket line last week instead of publicly flagellating themselves. They have again shown wonderful solidarity with each other while defending the mail service for us all.

I hope to see you there.


Dona Velluti
Oxford & District Trades Union Council

Monday, 16 July 2007

Oxford post workers take a stand against bullying management

Postal workers at the Holloway depot in Oxford have walked out today on unoffical action in response to a CWU rep being victimised.

More details to follow.

***Apparently the other union officials have also now been suspended.

This is a serious attack on one of the best organised CWU branches in the country.

There will be a protest this Friday in support of the Cowley postal workers, please try to attend and bring union branch banners where possible. Assemble in the car park at Holloway Mail Centre, at the top of the Cowley Road 6.30pm***

*****The protest has now been postponed until next Tuesday*****

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Oxford post workers stand up for a public postal service

Respect members again joined local CWU picket lines this week to show support for the strike against job losses and pay cuts, as New Labour continue their attempt to ram through privatisation of the mail service.

Gordon Brown: Everything changes to stay the same

By Tom McCulloch, Oxford Respect

Thirteen years have passed since Gordon Brown and Tony Blair sat down for dinner at the Granita restaurant in Islington and carved up the leadership of New Labour. Brown agreed to take control of economic policy, allowing Blair to take the crown. The rider was that when Blair stepped down Brown would step up.

Thirteen years. Unlucky not for Brown, whose craving for ultimate power is finally satiated, but the millions of working people who have come to loathe the warmongering Circus of Spin that is New Labour.

It was a disappointment to many that left-wing MP John McDonnell could not muster enough support to stand against Brown for the Blair succession. It further disappointed thousands of Labour activists, eager for an opportunity for serious debate on the direction of the party. There is anecdotal evidence that lapsed Labour members were even re-joining the party in the hope of voting McDonnell. That the disappointment has been so muted is testimony to what many have long suspected; New Labour cannot be reclaimed for progressive politics. The party is emasculated, power resting firmly with the leadership.

That Blair has been forced from power in disgrace, long before he wanted to, should rightly be celebrated. It is a victory for the Anti-War Movement, which has constantly hounded a Prime Minister guilty of taking the country into an illegal war. Senior diplomatic sources at the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence have told reporters it would not upset them too much if Blair was tried as a war criminal.

However, Blair could not and did not take Britain to war in Iraq and Afghanistan on his own. The presidential tone of his premiership is perhaps sufficient for ministers to absolve themselves of guilt. It is not enough for the millions who find the government collectively responsible. Blair needed cabinet and MP support and got both.

As the leading New Labour ‘intellectual,’ Gordon Brown is a powerful and influential advocate of war and other aspects of the party’s neo-liberal programme; new Trident nuclear weapons, more nuclear power stations, a public sector pay freeze, private sector expansion into the NHS and education, and the legislative erosion of civil liberties and harassment of the Muslim community that has resulted from the ‘War on Terror.’

Talk of a Brownite-Blairite split is a red-herring, peddling the illusion of a healthy and dynamic battle of ideas at the heart of New Labour. Roy Hattersley in 2000 claimed Brown was a ‘secret socialist,’ the myth being that because Brown is a product of the Scottish, old Labour establishment he is more ‘left-wing’ than Blair. In fact, the reality of the Blair-Brown friction is rooted in the altogether more grubby realities of ego and ambition. An overview of the Chancellor’s record makes the ideological commonality crystal clear.

Despite the introduction of a low minimum wage and modest tax credits the income gap between rich and poor has not narrowed under New Labour. Indeed the gap between North and South is growing and in April it was announced that UK child poverty had risen by 100 000. Also, the growth in inflation means real income is falling as the cost of living increases. Meanwhile, Brown demands public sector pay rises of 2%, while happily watching executive pay skyrocket. In 2006 the wealth of the richest 1 000 people in Britain increased by 20%.
Yet billions are set aside to pay for disastrous wars, the nuclear ‘deterrent’, and new generation nuclear power stations, hugely subsidised at the expense of clean, sustainable alternatives. The cost to the NHS of Private Finance Initiative hospitals, containing on average 28% fewer beds and staff, is 45 billion. The scenario is repeated with PFI schools, despite them being ‘significantly worse’ than other schools, according to the Audit Commission.

Internationally, Brown poses as a friend of the poor. However, only the very poorest and most heavily indebted countries will qualify for the debt-relief deal he brokered at the G8 meeting in 2005. All participants also have to adopt ‘structural adjustment programs,’ i.e. privatization, de-regulation, and the opening of markets to international competition. The human cost of these programmes is well documented: poverty, unemployment, and political persecution, as people fight the erosion of their human rights. Refugees, seeking respite from these conditions, are met in Britain with draconian anti-asylum legislation, backed by Brown.

There should be no illusions about Gordon Brown. The unpopularity of Blair and the media obsession with the ‘Iron Chancellor’s’ ambition and ‘psychological flaws,’ have meant his personal responsibility as the architect and banker of so many of New Labour’s neo-liberal policies have been somewhat masked. Prime Minister Brown shall have no such cover. As a result, many more Labour party members and elected officials shall join the exodus to Respect, making it the natural home for those who believe in peace, solidarity, and public services.

John Rees on The future of Respect July 2007