‘TRADE UNIONS MUST TAKE ACTION WITH THE POSTAL WORKERS TO DEFEND THEIR JOBS AND BASIC RIGHTS’ – urges the News Line/All Trades Unions Alliance meeting

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CWU rep BILLY COLVILL speaking from the platform
CWU rep BILLY COLVILL speaking from the platform

THE trade unions must take joint action with the postal workers to defend their members’ jobs and basic rights.

They must go forward to bring down the Brown government, replacing it with a workers government that will expropriate the bosses – a News Line-All Trades Union Alliance rally in central London heard on Sunday.

A hundred trade unionists and youth took part in the meeting at the Conway Hall.

News Line Editor Paddy O’Regan told the meeting: ‘There has been a very interesting discussion, but it’s not really a discussion, it’s a struggle.’

He said that the United States, once the envy of the capitalist world, was in real trouble, with its ‘giants of industry’, now crippled.

Ford had already sacked many thousands of workers, whilst workers at Delphi – once part of General Motors – had suffered 50 per cent wage cuts.

The situation had reached the point where US union leaders were going to China to try and persuade the trade unions to ‘force wages up’ there in order to keep jobs in the United States!

The US working class was beginning to understand that all the talk of the working class becoming the middle-class was an illusion, and they are ‘going to have to defend their rights in the same way that they won them, through remorseless class struggle in the 1930s and 1940s.

‘The American Dream has been turned into its opposite by the crisis of capitalism.’

He added about the struggle in Britain: ‘We weren’t astonished at the big majority for action in the CWU.

‘The working class knows it must defend its livelihood, its future or it is zero, it’s nothing.

‘What’s happening on the picket lines is that a big education is taking place.

‘People are entering into struggle and learning about the fight.

‘What clinched it for lots of CWU members is the attack on their pensions.

‘When they heard that their final salary pension scheme was to be ended, that was completely unacceptable for them.

‘Their whole struggle, their whole struggle to live was being spat on by the millionaires and billionaires.’

He added: ‘The health service is also going to be defended.

‘The question is whether the working class has a leadership that is going to carry through and prosecute this struggle to the end.’

He warned about the postal workers’ struggle: ‘All the CWU leaders are saying is that “as soon as someone will talk to us we’re going to call off all strikes”. That’s idiocy!

‘A lot of reformist trade union leaders have already negotiated away final salary pension schemes and agreed to big job cuts.

‘What the CWU leaders are saying is “we’re willing to give you something like what you want’’. They’re looking to betray their members to begin with.

‘It’s the membership that’s demanded more action. The membership wants to fight.’

O’Regan said the union leaders had a big problem. In reply to a question in parliament last week, from Labour MP, Emily Thornberry, Gordon Brown had spelt out that ‘all settlements’ had to be part of the struggle against inflation and workers would have to understand this.

There were going to be no talks or rotten compromises.

He warned that Brown’s statement meant that the postal workers, and all sections of workers, must not only accept a real terms pay cut, they must accept massive attacks on their terms and conditions and mass sackings.

This was from a prime minister who in his previous job as chancellor had created the conditions for the equity capitalists not to pay ‘a penny tax at all’.

He reminded the audience that neither Brown nor any of the other leaders of the government had ever condemned the owners of Gate Gourmet for their decision to sack the entire workforce.

Far from being ready to get round the negotiating table, the bosses of Royal Mail and the government were taking on the working class to destroy their living standards, he said.

In fact, O’Regan said, inflation was set to rocket, not just food prices, but rail fares, air fares and everything else.

‘More and more of a burden will be placed on the working class,’ he warned.

He said there was a tremendous fear amongst the ruling class of the movement in the working class that these attacks on the Welfare State and workers’ living standards were provoking.

‘This struggle has got to be waged,’ he continued.

‘The postal workers executive meets on Monday.

‘Every branch of the CWU should say we want indefinite action and we demand you call a national demonstration and call on all the unions to join it.’

He said if the CWU called an indefinite strike and called a national demonstration ‘you would have the same numbers out as you had for the march against the Iraq war and the ground will be established for a general strike.’

He urged CWU branches to form Councils of Action in every locality, and to invite every trade union and community organisation to attend and organise sympathy action and strikes in support of postal workers.

O’Regan added: ‘The Labour Party is yesterday’s party. It was formed when Britain was a great imperial power and it was able to win concessions because of that.

‘We’re now in a revolutionary period of mass actions, general strikes.

‘We must not be frightened of bringing down the Labour government and bringing in a workers government and expropriating the bosses.’

Rob Bolton, HP Section Chair of CWU Central No.1 branch, said the vote in favour of strike action by the postal workers was a ‘fantastic’ one, adding: ‘The ballot result was more than we expected.

‘It shows that a change is taking place, not just in our union but all unions up and down the country.’

He said: ‘It is the economic crisis that is driving the employers – private employers and public employers.’

He said the idea that Royal Mail could be brought to the negotiating table by one and two-day strikes ‘was flawed from the start’.

He said to win the struggle a ‘general strike’ was needed.’

Consultant surgeon Anna Athow, a member of the BMA, said: ‘Within 11 days of becoming the new prime minister, Gordon Brown’s agenda for the NHS became clear with the publication of the Ara Darzi plan for health services in London and his appointment as under-secretary of health.

‘This plan states that district general hospitals are finished.

‘It proposes a reduction in comprehensive district general hospitals in London from 32 to between eight and 16, so therefore 16 to 24 District General Hospitals are to disappear.’

She continued: ‘This government has to be defeated and replaced with a workers government.’

She urged everyone to come to the next mass picket by the North East London Council of Action against the threat to close Chase Farm Hospital on Tuesday August 21 outside the hospital gates.

CWU Harrow Deputy Area rep, Richard Kassir, said: ‘Today’s government is like a gang of thugs of the sort the Daily Mail like to stereotype. They are blinkered rather than hooded.’

Speaking about the postal workers’ strike, he said: ‘If other unions with their own struggle, particularly in the public sector, like the nurses, firefighters, civil servants etc, were to coordinate with us, or we with them, then I believe we would have a winnable fight.’

Billy Colvill, a South-East London CWU rep, told the rally: ‘Yesterday I was on the picket line and we were out 100 per cent.’

He said what was happening to the working class under capitalism reminded him of the film ‘Jaws’: ‘Eating us up and spitting us out.’

He warned: ‘The CWU policy is a few strikes, one day, rolling, will put pressure on our employers and this government and bring Royal Mail to the table to negotiate.’

He added: ‘We need to strike indefinitely. We need to organise and appeal to other unions to support us, not just financially but to take action together.’

Hank Roberts, a member of the NUT teachers’ union executive, and leader of the Wembley Park Sports Ground occupation, took part in the discussion from the floor.

He thanked the News Line for its coverage of the struggle at Wembley Park against the government’s City Academies programme.

‘It has been the best coverage of any newspaper, including all the left,’ he said.

He added: ‘We organised the occupation of the sports ground and we have been there four months.’

He said the government’s drive to smash comprehensive state education had to be defeated.

‘We cannot let these scumbags get away with it,’ he told the meeting.

Dr Banou, a GP, said: ‘Young doctors do not have jobs. Older doctors are being forced into early retirement.

‘At either end of the age range, doctors are being chased out of the UK.

‘What the government would like is to have all workers part-time.

‘We’re all going to be fighting for survival.’

Huw Davies, a CWU Counters rep, said post offices bosses were out to smash the Counters service, privatise post offices and slash the wages of what staff remained.

He urged a boycott of WH Smith over plans to transfer 70 Crown Post Offices to their high street stores.

Niaz Faiz, a member of the PCS GEC at Defra (Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs), warned against compulsory redundancies in the civil service.

He added: ‘There is deep-seated anger, not only against the government but at trade union leaders who are not prepared to take the fight to the government.

‘I think that’s totally unacceptable.

‘We should be there with them (the postal workers) showing our solidarity.

‘We must come together to defeat this Labour government. Let’s start the fight now.’

Hillingdon Hospital UNISON steward Malkiat Bilku said a ‘revolutionary leadership’ was necessary in the trade unions to win the fight, adding: ‘This government’s policy is to attack the working people.

‘Everyone has to unite to stop these attacks.’

Rashid Khan, Greenford Bus Garage TGWU member, said: ‘The time has come for us to stand up, to unite. All the unions have to get together.’

He condemned the treatment of the Gate Gourmet workers by the TGWU leaders who ‘sided with the management’ against their own members.

He added: ‘A lot of people are going off the Labour government.

‘They came up with these policies and the workers are paying for it very heavily at the moment.’