More than 800 postal workers from across the country marched on the Labour Party conference in Manchester on Monday.
They were joined by disabled Remploy workers already hit by a mass closure programme being implemented at the government-run company.
Earlier in the day, GMB members demonstrated outside Marks and Spencer in Manchester city centre over the dismissal of ‘whistleblower’ Tony Goode.
GMB member Goode, a single parent of two children with 25 years unblemished service, told the press in August that M&S were going to cut the redundancy terms for 66,000 staff.
A GMB spokesman told News Line: ‘Tony Goode’s appeal is on Friday at M&S head office in Paddington and the GMB will also be staging a protest outside the hearing.
‘Over a dozen GMB delegates to the Labour Party conference, and Unite, have picketed outside M&S this morning.
‘And trade unionists from Australia visiting England decided to join the picket.
‘A lot of shoppers have told us the next time they go in, they intend to see the manager.’
The spokesman added: ‘Tony has to pay his mortgage and support his children and is relying on the support of GMB and we’re going to start seeking donations outside M&S stores around the country.
‘So this is the first in a series of demonstrations.’
Not far from Manchester’s shopping centre, postal workers in the Communication Workers Union (CWU), from the Midlands, Merseyside, Cheshire, west London, Plymouth, Edinburgh, Kent, Leeds, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, and many other parts of the country, assembled for their march to the Labour Party conference.
Dave Banbury, branch secretary and Colin Mason, area delivery rep, from Kent Ivicta CWU, spoke to News Line as the march assembled in Castle Field.
Dave said: ‘We’ve come to put our case to Labour Party delegates today against the continued liberalisation of the Post Office, the attack on our pensions and the deteriorating service to the public.
‘We’re totally against privatisation. We want a socialist government, a government that looks after the public services.’
He added: ‘We’re seeing the introduction of part-time workers in the postal service.
‘We’ll have a postal service run by part-time, short-term contract workers. It’s happening now.’
Colin said: ‘They’ll be able to change workers’ contracts to what they like.
‘The Labour Party have forgotten what they were built on the back of, on the back of trade unions and people’s rights to express their own opinions.’
Dave said: ‘We can’t defend jobs piecemeal. It means a national dispute to defend the mail centres.’
Colin added: ‘Action by all public sector unions could even be inevitable in the end.
‘I think we should all get together for industrial action, because it’s an attack on all the public services, not just us.’
Rob Richards, from Suffolk AMAL CWU, said: ‘Brown’s forgetting the people he’s supposed to be looking after, the reason why the Labour Party was founded, and that’s why he’s struggling.
‘There’s not a great deal of difference between Labour and the Tories now. It’s like a beauty contest.’
Bob Cullen, CWU Area Processing Rep, Oxford Mail Centre, said: ‘The unions should be looking at not supporting or sponsoring the Labour Party in any shape or form.
‘First of all, you have to break from Labour.
‘We’re a long way from an alleged workers’ party.
‘I’d like to see the unions get more teeth, all of them, particularly the CWU.’
Brendan O’Brien, a Labour Party conference delegate and CWU (telecoms) branch secretary from Birmingham, said: ‘I’ve come down to support my colleagues in the Post Office.
‘People feel strongly about pensions, closures, about reorganisation, about privatisation.
‘The union is challenging Brown and fighting him,’ O’Brien maintained, ‘and the demonstration is to keep the issues of Royal Mail – and the Post Office in the public eye and to show the CWU is a significant member in the trade union movement.
‘With the mergers of unions diluting the thinking within the trade union movement, it needs a radical union like the CWU.’
‘In the north-west they’re planning on shutting several mail centres,’ warned Andy Latham, Area Processing Rep, Cheshire No.1 CWU.
He called for the Labour government to ‘remove the stringent liberalisation measures, which are affecting the business.
‘The business’s reaction to this is the reason we’re here,’ he added.
‘Rather than putting the industry back on its feet, they see the easiest thing is getting rid of jobs.’
A rally was staged before the start of the march to the conference, at which CWU President Jane Loftus condemned the closure of post offices and mail centres under a Labour government.
Welcoming GMB members from Remploy to the demonstration, she said: ‘We congratulate you and hope you win your fight against closures.’
She concluded to cheers: ‘Allan Leighton leaves in March – now for Crozier and let’s get back to public services in the public sector.’
Carl Webb, CWU North-West Regional Officer, Steve Foley, North-West TUC chair, and CWU General Secretary Billy Hayes and Deputy-General Secretary Dave Ward were among the other speakers at the rally.
Carl Webb said: ‘We’re now seeing proposals to close five mail centres in the north-west, costing thousands and thousands of jobs.
‘We’ve seen hundreds of post office closures.
‘We’re in the forefront of fighting post office closures, liberalisation and mail centre closures.’
In a plea to the Labour Party and the Labour government, he said: ‘Remember who your friends are, remember the promises you make and for once in your life follow them through.’
Steve Foley said public sector workers had voted Labour, but ‘are now bearing the brunt of these attacks by the Labour government’.
He pleaded to the government: ‘We want you to listen and we want you to change.’
Dave Ward said: ‘We can be in no doubt that we’re here today demonstrating about the very future of Royal Mail and the universal postal service and the very future of the Post Office network.’
He added: ‘The policies of New Labour since 1997 have made our industry a disaster zone.’
Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, tried to assure the rally that the Labour Party Conference was going to vote for maintaining the Post Office as a fully integrated, publicly-run service.
But he admitted: ‘It’s not sufficient to have the commitments in policy. Now we need to see this government standing by its commitments.’
Hayes said that if the Hooper Report recommends privatisation of the Post Office, then the CWU will say ‘No’.
He added: ‘It’s not sufficient for John Hutton, Gordon Brown et al to simply say we live in a changing world.
‘We’re a powerful union and we’re not going to let this government get away with ignoring the commitments made in that hall today.’
The march, led by a Scots pipe band, made its way to the Labour Party conference, where police opened a barrier placed across the road, allowing marchers to assemble opposite the conference.
The demonstrators stood on the other side of the road, opposite the steps to the conference centre, which was surrounded by fences and barriers.
Paul Coggins, CWU S-C No.1 branch from Oxford, said: ‘We’re here to stop all the closures of the mail centres and protect our pensions.
‘It’s us who will pay for their crisis.
‘I’m sure the government’s got the money to put back into the pensions.
‘I think Brown needs to take notice of everybody, to understand the plights of people and all the troubles they’ve got, to remember his roots and where the Labour Party came from.
‘Industrial action should be the last resort, but if you’re put into that situation, sometimes you’ve got to go down that path.’
Roger Charles, Mount Pleasant CWU branch secretary, said: ‘We’re from London and it’s obvious to us the whole service is under threat.
‘Our members’ jobs are threatened, our pensions are being destroyed, the service to the public is under threat.
‘It’s obvious we’ve talked about things for a long time and now there needs to be some action taken in order to get the Labour government to listen to us and to do something for working people.
‘My belief is that Brown hasn’t done anything for working people in this country.’
GMB Remploy members Tony Gledhill and Peter Williamson, who joined the march, said the closure programme at Remploy was continuing, with 29 factories already shut.
Asked if they thought there should be action by the whole trade union movement to bring in a workers government, they said: ‘There’s no alternative.’
Tony added: ‘Our national secretary has said he’s not going to keep supporting Brown.
‘Definitely, all the unions must take action together.’