Interview with an An Post striker

Dr Groove (
Tue, 08 Oct 1996 10:00:19 +0000

Interview with an An Post striker
Teaching the bosses a lesson
The media reported the recent dispute in An Post over external =

recruitment. But in all the newspaper articles and TV coverage =

one voice was missing - that of the workers involved. Workers =

Solidarity spoke to an activist in the Civil & Public Service =

Union who was on the picket line.
Can you tell us the background to the recent dispute and how =

did it arise?
When secretarial vacancies became available management used the =

services of a private recruitment agency to organise a farcical =

competition process in which only one of our members succeeded. =

They then proceeded to fill the remaining vacancies by external =

recruitment on a highly selective and suspect basis, and then =

paid the new recruits =A3110 per week more than our members =

currently performing the work.
These secretaries work to the senior managers. Other vacancies =

in An Post have remained unfilled for years, i.e. they have =

been effectively suppressed. =

What were the first proposals by management?
Initially management made us absolutely no offers. They simply =

made up the rules as they went along, giving us one day's =

notice of bringing in an external recruit despite our protests. =

But once members moved quickly to take industrial action with a =

work to rule/limited telephone embargo, management responded by =

taking members off the payroll on the one hand and by offering =

compensatory terms on the other exactly one week later.
They wanted four external recruits and in return offered to =

uplift all current secretaries to the new pay structure/grade, =

to promote 12 members to vacant higher grades and to release =

eight other staff already awaiting promotion. These =

negotiations ended at 5am on 24 April 1996. The negotiating =

team agreed to recommend this offer because we believed that =

there was nothing more of substance to be gained.
Specifically, we made the judgement that we could not win the =

two key demands of members, i.e. to stop management bringing in =

external recruits and to get a guarantee against any future =

external recruitment. In essence, we were proved right =

because, although we got better terms in the final deal (five =

weeks later), neither of these key goals were achieved.
However, members decided that they wanted to give the company a =

bruising and they lashed us out of it for recommending these =

terms. One member even good-naturedly referred to us as 'The =

Birmingham Six', i.e. that we'd sign anything at 5.00am. The =

deal was rejected 4:1. =

Crucially, members demanded monetary compensation for the =

manner of their suspensions, in addition to the goals already =

mentioned. The lesson was clear. We misread the mood of =

members who, by now, were so frustrated with the machinations =

of management that they were determined to teach them a lesson =

they wouldn't forget in a hurry. In short, it is necessary to =

let struggle decide what it is possible to win.
What sort of difficulties did you encounter during the dispute?
The Industrial Relations Act was used by union headquarters to =

limit and isolate our action at every turn. Isn't it ironic =

that we have a minister (Pat Rabbitte) in the Cabinet who =

penned a pamphlet warning against the dangers of the IR Act =

before it became law and a trade union leadership determined to =

use it to stymie our actions in every way. Specifically, we =

had to fight tooth and nail to get clearance for strike action. =

Headquarters continually prevented us from escalating the =

action. It wasn't until 270 of our 500 members were suspended =

that they eventually agreed to allow us to ballot on strike. =

They refused to ballot our members in the National Lottery =

(whose employer is also An Post) on spurious legal grounds. =

Members have voted ritually down the years to condemn the Act =

but these developments made the matter concrete in very =

dramatic way. Everybody was sickened by the manoeuvres of Head =

Office and the official was regularly savaged at meetings. =

Secondly, we had a huge problem with scabbing during the =

dispute. Members of the Association of Higher Civil Servants =

(AHCS) openly performed our work in the key operational areas =

of Savings & Investments. We had a similar problem during a =

dispute last year and we called at the time for the expulsion =

of the AHCS from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. This =

resulted in a polite exchange of letters between our General =

Secretary and Peter Cassells. It goes without saying that =

nothing was done. =

Our Head Office compounded the problem this year by inviting =

the AHCS head honcho to our annual conference where he was =

wined and dined during the dispute! This has only strengthened =

the resolve of members to a) boot AHCS out of Congress and b) =

it has put a question mark over our continued membership of the =

We also encountered a lot of police interference, including =

special branch intimidation, on the picket line in response to =

our harassment of the scabs. This has put the issue of =

possible victimisation to the fore and we will be watching and =

waiting for any such move.
What was the final settlement and how was it reached?
Final terms were brokered by a mediator from the state-backed =

Labour Relations Commission after much jockeying for position. =

Typically these so-called independents invariably look at what =

management want and ask the union side to swallow 70% of it. =

Increasingly, they refuse even to bring forward formal offers =

unless the union negotiating team is prepared to recommend it =

to members in advance! They won't risk their reputation as =

successful brokers unless they can be guaranteed a good chance =

of acceptance.
The final terms were as follows: Three external recruits were =

proposed. A new secretarial competition to be held to fill a =

further three posts. If they are not filled internally the =

matter will be referred to a third party. 17 promotions were =

offered as well as an interest free loan of =A3450 repayable over =

15 months; no loss of seniority, service or other employment =

benefits as a result of the dispute; and the matter of payment =

to staff removed from the payroll to be referred to a third =

party for adjudication.
I was alone on the negotiating team in calling for rejection of =

the offer. I sensed that members were willing to stick it out =

for a better deal. I objected to the notion of settling on the =

basis of referring key issues to arbitration -- where they are =

likely to be buried. In particular I objected to the principal =

of the interest free loan and demanded a lump sum instead. Why =

should we pay for ourselves to return to work? The final result =

was 60% in favour of the deal and 40% against.
What is the atmosphere like following this settlement?
Members who voted against acceptance were inevitably =

disappointed but overall members returned with a keen sense of =

having licked the company good and proper, albeit at some =

personal cost to our pockets. We are all still awaiting the =

outcome of a Tribunal process (initiated last year) dealing =

with much bigger issues like the 3% PESP pay increase, =

threatened introduction of temporary workers/part-timers, =

changed work practices, etc. Members are bracing themselves =

for that battle as well.
On a personal level how would you assess the dispute and what =

lessons can be drawn from it?
This deal represents a solid victory on our part. Management =

have been given a bloody nose but like any beaten contender =

they will be back for a re-match, so we can't afford to be =

complacent about what has been won.
Some activists argued that because of the larger battle looming =

in the shape of the Tribunal mentioned above, it was necessary =

to settle to conserve our strength -- that it is no use winning =

the battle and losing the war and so on. I don't hold with =

that logic. We cannot choose the timing of our battles. The =

determination of members to fight again will depend on the =

conduct and outcome of this dispute. =

Important links were built during the dispute with members in =

other unions in An Post, especially the postal workers of the =

Communication Workers Union. Left activists ritually talk =

about the need to build such links, but it was absolutely vital =

in our case because of the sharing of information and building =

solidarity in terms of morale as well as money. =

We also set up a strike committee to involve members outside =

the official committee structure in handling the dispute. We =

issued strike bulletins and kept members constantly informed at =

mass meetings. Notwithstanding Head Office's foot dragging, =

this dispute was run by our members. The shots were called by =

us. This has incredibly strengthened the branch. As they say, =

things will never be the same again.

Irish Anarchist Paper
-- =

Noam Chomsky on Anarchism

Anarchist Publications at