OVER 300 postal workers, their families and supporters defiantly marched in defence of their jobs from the Milton Keynes Mail Centre and on to Bletchley town centre on Saturday, November 15.
The closure of the mail centre was announced on Wednesday, November 12 and is part of a cost-cutting closure programme which calls for the amalgamation of the the Milton Keynes, Coventry and Northampton Mail Centres to a site in Northampton. Six hundred jobs are threatened by the Milton Keynes closure.
Sixteen other mail centres are to be closed across the country and a Communication Workers Union ballot for action is due in the immediate future.
The lively march was led all the way by a band of drummers and attracted much support from passing motorists and shoppers at the out of town retail centres. The determined and enthusiastic marchers certainly created a stir on entering Bletchley town centre where they received applause from the Saturday afternoon crowds.
Going first up one side of the centre and then back down the other, the marchers with their banners and whistles, and the drummers brought the place to a standstill as they made their way to their meeting around the town’s bandstand.
Many of the shoppers and shop workers took time to listen to the meeting where the speakers made plain their case pointing out that not only would the postal workers and their families suffer if Royal Mail was allowed to get away with its cost cutting plans, but the public too would suffer with poor service.
One of the marchers, Debra Barnard, at present on nights with special deliveries said, ‘I’ve worked for Royal Mail for 23 years. I’m really pleased with turnout today. Let’s hope it does some good.
‘A lot of people make a difference. They’re closing the centres to save money, it’s as simple as that. They don’t care about the staff.’
There were contingents on the march with banners from CWU branches across the region and further afield: Eastern branches, Northampton, Wolverhampton, Crewe, Watford, Harrow, Burslem, Newcastle, Midlands Region, South Central No.1 and Bletchley ASLEF branch.
Amongst speakers at the after-march rally were:
Lee Barron, Midlands Region secretary brought greetings from the Northampton and Coventry mail centre workers.
He said that just as postal workers had supported each other in past struggles, especially talking about a dispute at Northampton, they would do the same for Milton Keynes Mail Centre.
He added: ‘You supported us. We will stand with you.’
Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said that Royal Mail claimed to be modernising the postal service when in fact it was making it worse.
It was postal workers who were defending the service. ‘We’ve got one major, major problem with the Labour government.
‘They’d better understand that were serious.
‘We aren’t putting up with giving you money. . . when you turn against the workers who put you there in the first place!’
The government could invest in the industry to improve it he said.
He added that when the ballots go out to the 17 major sorting offices and a yes vote is returned, it will be taken back to national level and if necessary the union will not hesitate to get everyone out to win the case.
Paul Olden, CWU branch secretary Eastern No.6, said that the branch had put forward its own solution for the future of the Milton Keynes mail centre but it had been dismissed out of hand.
The loss of mail centres would put paid to Saturday deliveries – local and business.
He said that the work from Milton Keynes would not go to any other centre without agreement at national and local level. He called for a yes vote in the forthcoming ballot and for industrial action to safeguard their jobs.
Mick Fitzmaurice, Branch Secretary of the Northamptonshire Amalgamated Branch of the CWU, told News Line, ‘Our members in Northampton were promised a replacement mail centre following an arson attack on the Barrack Road sorting office in 2003.
‘This was on the basis of a simple job for job replacement mail centre, but Royal Mail has since adopted a slash and burn policy closing many mail centres all over the country.
‘We have continually pledged our support not to take mail from any mail centre without an agreement being reached with the local branch.
‘Milton Keynes, Coventry and Northampton have a long running history of showing solidarity during disputes and we will continue to fight Royal Mail every inch of the way if they fail to reach an agreement with this union on mail centre closures.
‘In 2003 the Northampton mail centre was under threat of closure immediately following the arson attack, and without question the Milton Keynes, Coventry and Peterborough branches vowed not to take any mail unless an agreement was reached locally to close the mail centre.
‘This type of solidarity goes without saying and Royal Mail underestimates the intelligence and resilience of our members when it is trying to fool them that they are all guaranteed a job, retaining their existing attendance patterns and take home pay.
‘It does not take a mathematician to work out that three into one does not fit in respect of jobs and even using Royal Mail’s figures they would be shedding hundreds of jobs across Coventry, Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire by amalgamating the three mail- centres.’
• See photo gallery for more pictures