The leader of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) declared Friday’s industrial action as “the biggest strike in the UK since 2009”, as he said more than 115,000 postal workers were out protesting over pay.
CWU general secretary Dave Ward says his members voted in favour of the strike by 97.6% in a ballot, after management “imposed” a 2% pay rise on employees but “rewarded themselves with record bonuses”.
Friday’s strike will be followed by further stoppages on Wednesday August 31, Thursday September 8 and Friday September 9.
Scores of CWU members, including Mr Ward and a person in a Postman Pat costume, were rallying at a picket line in Whitechapel, east London, on Friday.
They banged drums, waved flags and clutched placards outside the Royal Mail Whitechapel Delivery Office, as passing drivers beeped their horns in apparent support.
One man shouted “enough is enough, millions for the bosses, pennies for the workers”.
Members also chanted “Thompson out” – a reference to Royal Mail’s CEO, Simon Thompson – to the beat of drums.
CWU boss Mr Ward told the PA news agency: “This is the biggest strike in the UK since 2009, and we have got over 115,000 members who are out on strike today after delivering a massive ‘yes’ vote.
“And it’s over pay, and our members just lost total confidence in the actions of the company, the board, and they’ve lost faith in the leadership and people will understand that when they see the way that the company have conducted themselves.
“The company made record profits last year: £758 million. They gave away over £400 million to shareholders, they rewarded themselves with huge record bonuses for achieving their financial targets and then imposed a 2% pay increase on postal workers.
“Against the background of rocketing inflation, rocketing energy bills, it’s simply not acceptable.
“Postal workers in the UK are one of the last remaining pillars of our society.
“We are going to fight hard to get our members the pay deal that they deserve.”
He added: “In regard to the Labour Party, what we want is full support from them in this dispute, it’s a just cause.”
Royal Mail CEO Mr Thompson denied the accusation that money from the company has been handed to shareholders, saying the Covid-19 “bubble has burst”.
On Friday, he told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “Since the business has been privatised in terms of dividends, we paid out £1.9 billion, but in terms of pay rises during that period of time, we paid out £4.8 billion and I would also just like to make it clear that over the last three years, we spent £900 million on our team’s future by building infrastructure for parcels so that we can compete and win in the market.
“But our reality is that the Covid bubble has burst, and we can see the economic situation around us all.
“And our reality today is we are losing a million pounds a day.”
Mr Thompson said he was open to talk to unions today “as long as that discussion is going to be around change”.
He apologised to customers for a “disrupted service” during the strike by workers but stressed change was necessary for the company.
The CEO added: “What is actually on the table at this point in time is 5.5%, which would cost us around about £230 million. And that’s an extra £230 million in a business that is currently losing £1 million a day.
“Now, the other thing as well is we do need the change, to pay for that pay, because of our financial situation.
“And the change that we need is to pivot our business from a business that was built for letters into a business that can now win in the parcels market.”