Whitstable CWU members to strike to save their office

10 January 2013

It must have been some time in September or November 2011 when we first cwu placardreceived the news that the Whitstable delivery office was going close and the entire operation relocate to the Mail Centre in Military Road in Canterbury.


I remember the mood in the office at the time. Pretty well every person I spoke to said emphatically, no, we must not let that happen. I can’t remember anyone saying that they thought it would be a good thing for us to move to Canterbury.


That, by the way, is what the Royal Mail refer to as a “consultation”. They tell us what they are going to do, and then tell us that the telling itself constitutes a consultation. There never was any consultation, in any recognised sense of the word, with the staff of the Whitstable delivery office.


There were talks with the union at the regional level about the closure of Mail Centres around the county and certain things may have been agreed, but the closure of the delivery office in Whitstable was not one of them.


Soon after that we started our campaign to keep the delivery office open. We’ve had three public meetings, two marches and a lobby of our MP. We’ve written hundreds of letters to dozens of different agencies. We’ve had street stalls and regular meetings. We got up a petition and gathered in excess of 5,000 signatures. We’ve written to the newspapers and talked on the radio. We’ve even had people send nude pictures of themselves through the post. None of it has made any difference. After a while people tired of the same old formulaic responses from the agencies who are supposed to protect our interests in this, particularly the regulator. It is an operational matter, we were told, and urged to continue voicing our concerns with the company. It is an operational matter, the company said, and then told us they have no obligation to consult with the public.


Even the Minister responsible, Vince Cable, said the same. It is an operational matter, he said. Please write to the company.


Finally we spoke to our MP, Julian Brazier, and to be fair to him, he did get us some coverage in the newspapers and on TV. However he was entirely unable to effect any changes in the policy and we were stuck up the same old blind alley. It is an operational matter. There’s nothing anyone can do about it, no matter how absurd a policy it is.


So this is the nature of the democracy under which we labour it seems: public companies which have no obligation to consult with the public, regulators who do not regulate, ministers who do not administer their areas of responsibility, and an MP whose only purpose seems to be his ability to get himself on TV.


Finally, in October 2012, after two years of almost continuous work, we called a union meeting and, by an overwhelming majority (19-1) voted to take a ballot for industrial action.


And that’s when this story really starts.


That’s when the company sat up and took notice.


If anyone tells you that industrial action doesn’t work, let them be aware of this. In all that two years of relentless activity there has been no meeting about the closure of the Whitstable delivery office with either the union or the staff, but within a few days of the ballot being called we had three senior managers come down to address us to try to persuade us to vote no, and within a few days of the result of the ballot in favour of industrial action (again by an overwhelming majority) another two senior managers turned up unannounced to try to persuade us not to strike. It’s like that old cliché about waiting for a bus. You wait for one for two years and then five of them all turn up together.


Meanwhile the union is now in consultation with management at both regional and national level.


Our little strike in our little delivery office in our little town is causing waves at the very highest level.


I once saw the following words written upon someone’s wall (wrongly attributed to Goethe, apparently) which I noted down:


“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”


That has been exactly our experience while organising this campaign. Over and over again things seem to have moved in our direction. From our first march in Whitstable, on a gloriously sunny day in March 2011, to the message from a union rep through our facebook page, telling us how to go about organising an industrial action ballot; from the meeting to vote for the ballot, to the ballot itself; from the involvement of political activists in the campaign to the overwhelming support from the community; from the use of a mobile, bicycle powered sound-system, to the fantastic response of local musicians and artists in supporting our campaign, it’s as if a spirit has been moving alongside us, shifting things in our favour. Even the weather has been on our side.


If I was a religious man I might say that God wanted us to go on strike. As it is, I’ll just say that there are mysterious forces in the universe working for the greater good and that our cause is for everyone, not only for ourselves. That alone justifies everything we do.

More information, and to post messages of support  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Whitstable-and-Herne-Bay-Delivery-Offices/123348144388355

Chris Stone

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