João Isqueiro is member of Executive of SNTCT – The Portuguese Postal and Telecommunication Workers National Union spoke to Francisco Raposo on behalf of the NSSN
Francisco Raposo – Postal workers from CTT – Portuguese public company of postal services – are involved in a struggle process for a long time now. Can you describe the key issues of your struggle?
João Isqueiro – In response to the first question, postal workers’ struggle takes on two equally important dimensions: one concerning all citizens, which assumes the defence of the public postal service and another one concerning the workers in particular, defending the rights conquered throughout several decades, for 30 years now, which are being attacked right now.
Both dimensions are intertwined, because since 1982, when the CTT denomination went from a public company to an anonymous society, though with exclusively public capital, the privatization issue has been put on the table and since then several governments and administrations nominated by them have done all in their power to reduce to the minimum the public postal service, either through alterations in the service itself or through the reduction of workers. Closing down Postal Stations and limiting the access of more than 1 million Portuguese, forcing them to travel 30 or 40 km (45 to 60 miles) to have access to a service which has always been a local one and increasing the unnecessary cost to people which already have low income, namely unemployed and pensioners.
As far as the workers are concerned, the struggle has been in defence of the collective working contract, against salary cuts and in defence of a healthcare system that comprises not only the workers but also the pensioners and their families.
Francisco Raposo – We know that in the struggle against the dismantlement of the company, namely the closure of Postal Stations, a great deal of organizations and communities have been collaborating with you. What lessons and perspectives do you have on this field?
João Isqueiro – What has been achieved in the struggle against the closure of Postal Stations is a big movement of protest throughout the country, featuring alongside the workers, populations and mayors from all political backgrounds and which was able to get 22000 signatures against the privatization of CTT and delivered them in the Parliament on November the 29th, another national strike day against the privatization.
This is a fight which will not stop thanks to more closures of Postal Stations and Local Distribution Centres being possible in the future, thereby decreasing the quality, sigil and proximity of the service and also putting thousands of jobs at risk.
Recently, a pilot scheme began in Coimbra and Torres Novas (central Portugal) which allowed for the opening of two postal marks inside an hypermarket. This is worrying for postal workers because this puts at risk hundreds of Postal Stations as well as the respective jobs there. For the population, the great risk is tied to a lack of disciplinary code, compulsory criminal record checks, sigil duty and confidentiality, which CTT workers have but these don’t, thereby making these workers not suitable to handle mail.
The populations of several places which lost their Postal Station have given a great lesson of citizenship through demonstrations, concentrations or even peaceful occupations of Postal Stations, showing that they do not accept the loss of yet another public service like many others already lost (Community Health Centers, Police Stations, Local Tax Department, Schools, Parishes) and that the Postal service is the only connection to the Portuguese State in many areas, for instance the Ilhas Selvagens [Wild Islands, a place with no human habitation except for wildlife study and preservation], in Madeira’s archipelago where the only thing saying that territory is Portuguese is the postal mark placed there several years ago.
CTT have always been one of the few elements which contribute to the territorial cohesion of Portugal and that is acknowledge by citizens, mayors, businessman and other living forces, therefore being considered, year after year, the most trustworthy company in Portugal. We had the opportunity to confirm this recognition in all the country. The care, respect and trust a CTT’s worker deserves is far superior to anything we could imagine due to the social component of the postal service, which makes the worker not a merely intermediary in the communication process, but the face, the friend, the confidant of a vast majority of the population left in isolation by the political power and sometimes by their families too.
This love of the Portuguese for the Postal Service was cemented in nearly 500 years of this company always devoted to serve the people and the country even in the most darkest and perturbed hours of its history in which the postal workers never betrayed their fellow countrymen and always stood up in the vanguard of the fight for better social conditions of the people because they are a part of it too.
Francisco Raposo – With the imminent privatization – flotation on the stock market – a new phase of the struggle draws near: for now there is a strike announced. Do you care to elaborate on that?
João Isqueiro – There has been an attempt from the government and company to mystify the privatization process; after the flotation the fight against the privatization does not make sense, it is inevitable, all this process and there is no return. All this could not be more fake and misleading for the struggle against privatization does not end with the sale to private capital. Fighting for the defence of the public postal service, against the closure of Postal Stations, for a daily and door-to-door distribution is fighting against the privatization. Fighting for the defence of the collective working contract, for our healthcare subsystem, for our jobs and in defence of our rights is to fight against privatization.
On the other hand there aren’t inevitabilities. The privatization process, debt nationalization and reprivatization of Royal Mail are an example of that and it is important to keep fighting for what we believe is right.
Therefore we already have a strike on the 27th, 30th and 31st of December, which will stop mail distribution in Portugal for 8 days due to Christmas holidays and weekends.
We are willing to go as further as the workers want in this struggle that belongs to all of us with much determination and confidence. The same confidence that the National Trade Union of Postal and Telecommunications workers (SNTCT in portuguese) has demonstrated throughout several years of struggle and protest against directives that have established the postal market liberalization in the European Union, initially isolated but progressively we have been able to show that we were right and got the support from trade unions abroad and even from the Union Network International (UNI), thereby proving that the interests behind postal market liberalization and consequently privatization of several companies did not serve the interests of workers and populations, much like the opposite, they only allowed the international big capital to lay hands on another profitable sector in the economy of several countries.
It is not by chance that in the USA the postal service is public.
Thus, this is a struggle which will continue regardless of the time it takes because it is our conviction that we are right.
Francisco Raposo – What can British trade unionists and workers do to help you out?
João Isqueiro – The big help that British trade unionists and workers can give, not only to CTT’s workers but also themselves is to keep fighting for a public postal service and for the revocation of the European directives which liberalize the postal market.
On the other hand, they can and should demand that the mail from the UK to be treated and distributed by CTT’s workers since some of the more recent changes have made some of the mail, namely parcels, to be distributed in Portugal by GLS with which Royal Mail has a partnership. Such alteration forces a parcel to travel first to Germany instead of going directly to Portugal, which besides the increasing of costs and delays it also destroys CTT’s workers jobs.
The workers of CTT thank in advance the solidarity of UK workers in this struggle of all for a more fraternal and just society.