More than 25,000 postal workers are to launch a series of strikes over the next few days in a worsening row over pay and jobs, threatening huge disruption to mail deliveries, it was announced today.
The Communication Workers Union said the walkouts will hit postal services across Britain, including the West Country, London, East Anglia, the Midlands and Scotland.
The strikes will be the biggest outbreak of action since a national stoppage in 2007, with more disruption threatened in the coming months.
The union's executive has decided to hold a national ballot of its 160,000 postal members next month, which could lead to nationwide strikes in the autumn.
Strikes have hit several areas of the country, notably London and parts of Scotland, in recent weeks in the dispute over pay, jobs and services.
The action is now spreading to other parts of the country, and for the first time will involve drivers of Royal Mail's articulated distribution lorries.
Drivers based in Northampton, Birmingham, Coventry, London and Essex will be among workers striking for 24 hours tomorrow, while postal staff in Somerset, Bristol and Edinburgh will take action on Saturday.
The strike will spread to Ipswich and Suffolk on Monday, with further areas set to be hit later next week.
The union said it had been forced to strike because cuts were being made to pay, jobs and services without agreement.
Deputy general secretary Dave Ward said the "panic driven" cuts were hitting postal services and accused the Royal Mail of imposing changes.
The Royal Mail has accused the union of reneging on a deal which ended the 2007 strike and was aimed at modernising the service.
A Royal Mail spokesman said: "Having met the union more than 50 times in recent months, it is increasingly clear that the CWU refuses to believe that mail volumes are declining despite the clear evidence of this.
He added: "Royal Mail last week met with the union and agreed a timetable for a new programme of talks about the final stage of the 2007 pay and modernisation agreement.
"Yet the CWU repeatedly ignores our requests for them to engage. The CWU claims to want to engage in this process, just as it claims to support the essential modernisation of the business.
"But today's announcement of a national ballot for strike action could not be clearer that the CWUs real agenda is to block change and modernisation at Royal Mail and to absolutely oppose on the ground our goal of making Royal Mail a strong and innovative leader in the UK and international postal markets."
Royal Mail said more than 90 per cent of staff nationally will continue to work normally, and that with the exception of local strikes, the "vast majority" of customers' services will be operating normally over the next few days.
The company said that outside London, fewer than 10 of its 1,500 offices were affected on Friday, 20 on Saturday and 12 on Monday.
Dave Ward of the CWU added: "Postal workers are sick and tired of an incompetent management running their business into the ground. Workers are busier than ever and being treated badly. The current round of cuts in jobs and services is unacceptable.
"Royal Mail agreed in 2007 to work with the union on agreeing modernisation. Despite explicit commitments to negotiate they are reneging on that agreement and imposing panic-driven cuts to jobs and services. This is downsizing, not modernisation.
"The company has failed to set out any clear or joined up vision of what modernisation really means. They must stop imposing change and work with the union to agree the bigger picture of modernisation that the postal service badly needs."
"We condemn the CWU for striking over much-needed modernisation and change which has already been successfully implemented by our people in the majority of offices around the UK and is working well."Reuse content