My Week: Billy Hayes

The leader of the postal workers' union on the week in which a vote for an all-out strike put him on the defensvie
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The Independent Online


There's the impending ballot result about whether postal workers are to strike, so I know it's going to be a tough week. I'm in Belfast today to attend an employment tribunal, although I keep in touch with senior management of the Communication Workers Union, of which I'm general secretary. We discuss strategic issues and also hold the central officers' meeting, which covers wider issues such as health and safety.


I fly from Belfast to Liverpool to visit my dad. He's 90 and still going strong, but he's having a trouble with his phone, so I go sort that out. I spend the train journey back to London working on papers, getting home at 11pm.


I'm back at headquarters and attend a staff workshop on our new grievance and discipline procedure. I meet the senior negotiating team, which has met Royal Mail, and discuss where those talks are going. There's still a long way to go to an agreement. We face huge problems. More than 60,000 jobs have been lost in the industry in five years, 3,000 post offices have closed and we've to cope with that change. While mail volumes have dropped by 10 per cent, there are still opportunities for Royal Mail to grow.


The day of the ballot results. I get up about 5am, which reminds me of my old job as a postman. I head to GMTV to be interviewed about the forthcoming announcement. I then do a huge number of television and radio interviews. Everyone's very tough. Radio 5Live interview me and use a lot of personal cases about the impact the strike would have on individuals, whether it is people with family fighting in Afghanistan, or people who can't get out the house and rely on the mail. My line is that postmen and women see these people six days a week, they know more than most about what Britain looks like in the 21st century. We don't like to have to disrupt people's lives but our people's lives are being disrupted so we have to stand up for ourselves. The ballot results are in and it's a 76 per cent "yes" vote to strike with a 66 per cent turnout, an absolute majority which is an amazing result in these recessionary times.


I meet the senior CWU team to discuss the next steps in our campaign. There is a piece in the press about me, comparing us with the miners' strike. I reply by saying that was a long time ago and the miners never had a ballot, like we have. I go to pick up some books I'd ordered as presents and wander round HMV. I buy Great Hatred, Little Room by Jonathan Powell, who was Blair's chief negotiator in the Northern Ireland peace process, to see if I can pick up any tips. We'll be looking at how we can solve this dispute without too much damage to anybody. We've got 10 days to get the Royal Mail back on track but for tonight, I take myself home to see the family and watch season three of The Wire.