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Proletarian issue 33 (December 2009)
Industry matters: Postal strikes suspended; deepening repression
Postal strikes suspended.

The “period of calm” that the CWU have agreed to will, according to TUC chief Brendan Barber, allow “negotiations to be held over the next couple of months through to the end of the year to secure the longer-term agreements necessary on all aspects of modernisation of Royal Mail”.

As our recent statement on the struggle of the post office workers made clear (see Lalkar, Nov-Dec 2009), the aim remains the privatisation of this public service. The move from a war of attrition (the rolling regional strikes) to action on a national scale had previously raised the struggle to a new level.

Now that the post strikes are off and recourse has been had to ‘independent advice’ (long urged by the Communication Workers Union and only grudgingly acceded to by management), both the postal workers and the public they serve are left scratching their heads.

Whilst all sides in the negotiation tiptoe around the ‘confidential’ character of the talks that led to this abrupt suspension of further planned strike action, posties are entitled to ask what Barber means when he claims that the agreement “provides a way of resolving outstanding local disputes”, disputes which have multiplied as local managers compete with each other to bully, intimidate and divide the workforce.

Is the “period of calm free of industrial action” also to be free of institutionalised bullying by management? Or will postal workers still be forced out on the street carrying quantities of mail that cannot possibly be delivered within the rostered turn, giving them a choice of working unpaid overtime or risking a disciplinary if they return post undelivered?

Will their union reps still be facing victimisation on the most fanciful of charges – like the pair in Bristol currently on suspension for having acted “inappropriately” by wearing football scarves on a picket line? Will their pension futures still be held to ransom, made conditional on how far private capital is allowed to undermine the service? Will the casualisation of jobs continue to divide the workforce and erode working conditions?

This campaign of intimidation cannot be reduced, as Barber would like, to simply a matter of “hard words” being said “on both sides”, now best forgotten. On the contrary, it is a conscious and continuing policy, all the way from the top, of demoralising and undermining this vital public service in readiness for its break-up and sale. That is what Royal Mail managers mean when they talk about ‘modernisation’, and that is what needs to be fought.

Sharpening crisis, deepening repression

Meanwhile, as the postal workers decide how best to take their struggle forward into 2010, the capitalist state is making clear exactly why it was in such a hurry to get all the so-called ‘anti-terror’ laws onto the statute book. Supposedly rushed through to stop ‘muslim bombers’ murdering everyone in their beds, the laws are already being used to try and stifle dissent against the conditions of war and slump being imposed by the crisis.

When Vestas workers and their supporters were trying to stop the company removing wind turbines, blockading operations on the Isle of Wight and in Southampton, four protestors who occupied a crane were detained under the ‘terror’ laws and released only on pain of ceasing to communicate with each other and staying away from the docks.

More recently, a blacklisted electrician sacked from his job at Fiddlers Ferry power station was effectively branded a terrorist by his former employers, Scottish and Southern Energy. By his persistent picketing of Fiddlers Ferry, it was alleged, Steve Acheson risked bringing down the National Grid, thereby ‘terrorising’ the nation’s electricity supply!

The judge dismissed the plea for a Prevention of Terrorism injunction to be slapped on Acheson, describing the company’s actions as “paranoid”. However, the company was guilty only of advancing a little faster down this road than the upper reaches of the judiciary consider wise at this stage. The road to repression is already well mapped out, and workers need to prepare for resistance.

The criminal blacklisting service run by former Special Branch thug Ian Kerr may have been shut down in February after 30 lucrative years of fingering ‘bolshie’ construction workers who dared to stand up for their class, but we can assume that all the household name companies that each forked out £3,000 a year to these snoops to get job applicants vetted – like Taylor Woodrow, Costain, Balfour Beatty, Laing, McAlpine, Amey and Wimpey – will already have found other ways to wage their permanent class warfare upon their own workforce. Let workers be no less inventive in their response.

Blaming the working class

Capitalism is failing a whole generation of workers’ children: intensifying educational inequality and narrowing the career prospects of millions of teenagers and twenty-somethings. The capitalist solution to the resultant social disintegration? Punish the ‘feckless’ working class.

Tragic cases like the death of a mother with her handicapped daughter, a consequence we are told of appalling neighbourhood bullying, are used cynically to bolster calls for tougher sentences for anti-social yobs. Such tabloid crusades serve capitalism by concealing the imperialist degeneracy that fosters such lumpen behaviour in the first place.

Right on cue came Brown’s declaration to the Labour conference that “From now on, all 16- and 17-year-old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes ... These shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly.”

This was a cheap and easy shot for the failing Labour demagogues. They cheered when Tony Woodley tore up the Sun newspaper, but are happy to go on tapping all the tabloid prejudices about single mums supposedly living the life of Reilly at taxpayers’ expense.

Within the genuine social solidarity of a socialist society, real support for teenage women caught in the bind of single parenthood could improve matters for both the individual and the wider community. Under a capitalist system racked with overproduction crisis and rotting on its feet, the only use of such do-gooding schemes is to point the finger of blame for all social ills at the working class, and to take the heat off the exploiters.

And who exactly is going to tell single mothers “how to raise their children properly”? Is it going to be the same ruling class that presides over the daily slaughter of the children of Afghanistan and Palestine by the (not that much older) young men of Britain, America and Israel?
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