Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Royal Mail workers walk out in Cornwall

Workers at the mail centre in Truro in Cornwall walked out yesterday as they had not been paid. Every December, Royal Mail takes on workers on short-term contracts to help sort the unusually high volumes of mail. These are typically students or the long-term unemployed. In Truro, these workers were due to be paid at the end of last week. When they were not, they complained to management. As nothing has been done by yesterday (Monday), these casual workers decided to take unofficial action and walked out. The workers came back to work today, but told management they would walk out again tomorrow if they were not paid by the end of today.

This is an incredibly brave action from a group of casual workers who are not in the union and who could presumably be sacked. Then again, Royal Mail's recruitment procedure is so long winded and inefficient and the employment period so short that it is probably not in Royal Mail's interest to sack these workers. But it is a sign of the times we are living in that this group of workers had the confidence to go on strike. It is undoubtedly the case that these workers will have been inspired by the mass co-ordinated strikes that took place just a couple of weeks ago.

The action had a knock-on effect across Cornwall. Mail volumes in Penzance Delivery Office were well below were they would normally be at this time of year. Brian Eddy, the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) rep in Penzance said "we've had less than half the mail come in than we would usually get and that's because of the walkout in Truro".

Many postal workers in Penzance are concerned because they know they will be expected to deliver all the mail when it does come in, despite a shortage of staff. Management at the office confirmed that the budget for overtime is capped at 15 hours per week for the whole office. This is incredible in an office of 80 staff where on one day last week, some workers went over their time by as much as 3 hours in a single day. This is only set to get worse over the next two weeks.

It is also believed that the weather may have caused some mail to have been delayed. Much of the mail in the area is transported by aeroplane and it is thought some planes could not take off yesterday due to high winds.

It has also been confirmed that the office intends to continue to begin to plan a complete revision of the whole office which will include a complete replacement of the inward sorting frames, a re-organisation of the other sorting frames and every walking round and every driving round in the office will be torn up and re-written. This means every postal worker will be put on a delivery they have never done before, at once. And they intend to start this process at the very height of the busiest time of the year.

The issue of wages not being paid, or at least overtime not being paid in full, is one that affects every postal worker in Cornwall. Budgets are kept unrealistically low and managers are encouraged to not pay overtime, presumably in the hope that workers will either not notice or give up continually fighting for it. Postal workers are being bullied into working overtime and threatened with being given different, less good jobs if they refuse. In some cases workers are being bullied into doing overtime without being paid for it. Many workers have had enough and are talking about refusing to do overtime in the future. Most postal workers are proud of the job they do and do not want to fail to deliver all the mail. But many now feel that it is only by doing this that things will change and Royal Mail will employ the staff that is required. There is also a fear that senior management are preparing the ground for privatisation.

Postal workers should put pressure on their union reps to ballot the membership for strike action so that the CWU can join the next wave of mass co-ordinated strike action.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

England rioters in their own words

In August there were riots, first in Tottenham and then the rest of London and across England. At the time, politicians dismissed the riots as 'criminality pure and simple'. For the first time a study has been carried out by the London School of Economics and the Guardian newspaper which involves interviews with 270 rioters. Of those interviewed, 85% cited anger at policing practices as a key factor in why the violence happened. Other factors cited included anger at the government over cuts to benefits and the educational maintenance allowance (EMA). Many of the young people involved had been on protests against the tripling of university tuition fees and removal of EMA. The government argued that the rioting was to do with gang culture. However, the report reveals that for four days there was an effective truce between gangs as they were united in fighting with the police.

See the Newsnight story and hear from the rioters in their own words for the first time here.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Thousands join hands to protect West Cornwall Hospital

Several thousand people met at St. John's Hall in Penzance, Cornwall at 11am this morning to join a demonstration against cuts to West Cornwall Hospital in the town. March organiser Alana Bates from Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance introduced Marna Blundy from West Cornwall Healthwatch and Andrew George MP who each made a short speech. The demonstration then marched up to the hospital and completely encircled it. At a signal from the organisers, everybody held hands, symbolically defending their hospital.

Estimates at the numbers involved ranged from 2000 to 5000, but whatever the true figure it was clearly a great demonstration of local people's concern at threats to the hospital. A ward containing half of all the medical beds at the hospital has been closed. The trust say it is just for the winter, but nurses at the hospital fear it will never re-open. There is also no doctor at night at the '24-hour' Casualty Department, meaning people have to travel to Treliske Hospital in Truro for treatment and, of course, families have much further to travel to visit relatives. One woman in her sixties had a fall in Penzance and was taken to Truro. She was discharged in the early hours of the morning and forced to take a taxi home. The cab driver dropped her at a cashpoint at 4:30 in the morning so she could get the cash to pay him.

Of course it is not just West Cornwall Hospital that is facing cuts. As a leaflet from Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance given out on the demo made clear,
"The Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust has been forced to make £20 million ‘savings’ because of the Tory-led government’s agenda of cuts and austerity. Nationally, according to the Royal College of Nursing, 56,058 posts are to go across the UK. This figure is up over 50% since seven months ago. These are not just cuts to 'back office' posts, as some would have us believe. Out of 41 Trusts in England almost half, 49%, of post losses were 'clinical', with a third (34%) being nursing posts (see http://frontlinefirst.rcn.org.uk/2011-cuts-report for more details). The government wants ordinary people to pay for an economic crisis created by the bankers, multinational companies and politicians. The government needs to be stopped and they can be. If you agree with us, join us."
Hands Off Our Hospital are meeting at 6pm on Monday 5 December at the Ritz in Queen's Street in Penzance. Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance are meeting at 7pm on Monday 12 December at the Crown pub at the bottom of Bread Street, also in Penzance. All are welcome to attend and get involved.