HIGH-STREET post offices could be “extinct” within two years unless the industry sees a radical change of direction, CWU leader Dave Ward warned yesterday.
And workers taking strike action this week would stand firm despite underhand tactics — including taxpayer-funded incentives to scab on their colleagues — by Post Office bosses, he said.
Speaking to the Morning Star at the start of the TUC Congress, Mr Ward said workers were walking out of crown post offices this Thursday because “unless we take a stand now on this issue, in a couple of years there will be no Post Office as we know it.”
CWU members are staging a 24-hour strike to save an institution in “terminal decline,” with management having inflicted “a relentless programme of cuts, back-door privatisation and managed decline.”
They’ll be joined on the picket lines by hundreds of post office managers organised in the Unite union, who have voted to strike on the same day over the closure of the defined-salary pension scheme — a scheme ministers have admitted is “the best funded in the country,” Mr Ward charged.
Post Office bosses argue the closure of high-street post offices and their transfer to the insides of high-street shops such as WH Smith is a successful adaptation to change.
But the CWU says bosses at the publicly owned company count a reduced government subsidy as evidence of success — even though revenue is flatlining and “there is no strategy for the future.”
Over 100 crown post offices have already been closed and another 60 are set to disappear this year, with another 2,000 jobs on the line as the firm cuts further services, including by pulling out of the cash distribution network.
“We’re looking for a guarantee that these closures are going to stop,” Mr Ward said.
Confidence is riding high in the union with “massive support” reported from the public and CWU members for the strike action.
The Post Office has sought to downplay the strike, saying most post offices will be unaffected, because rural and community post offices are run as small businesses, with self-employed staff who are not organised in the union.
But the crucial role of high-street post offices means that the impact of the strike will be greater than the number of outlets affected might suggest.
And bosses’ efforts to undermine the strike imply that they’re more worried than they let on.
The CWU has written to branches warning that union reps are being individually targeted for compulsory redundancy and staff are being offered “additional payments” of up to £3,000 on voluntary redundancy packages if they maintain “quality of service” while their colleagues are on strike.
“This is completely unacceptable and the union will not allow our members to be victimised,” the letter reads.
Mr Ward has called for the Post Office to be at the heart of a “People’s Bank” that could provide ethical banking services to the public, putting flesh on the bones of the ethical investment bank mooted by Labour leaders.
“It’s high time Labour set out a new strategy for the Post Office. Business leaders in Britain are getting away with just crunching the numbers and managing decline.”
As part of the campaign to see that strategy enacted, Thursday’s strike could just be the beginning.
“We’re very interested in combining industrial action with other types of direct action,” Mr Ward says, noting that the union has approached Disabled People Against Cuts and the People’s Assembly over possible joint work in the future.
by Ben Chacko, Morning Star