(UKPA) – 48 minutes ago
Thousands of postal workers are manning picket lines across the country at the start of national strikes as a war of words erupted over the increasingly bitter mail dispute.
Up to 42,000 mail centre staff and network drivers have launched a 24-hour strike, while 78,000 delivery and collection workers will walk out on Friday.
The Communication Workers Union is set to announce further strikes after hopes of reaching a last minute deal collapsed, leading to bitter recriminations.
Union leaders launched an angry attack on Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, saying he was working "hand in hand" with the Royal Mail to "undermine" the dispute.
General secretary Billy Hayes accused him of being the "minister without responsibility".
Mr Hayes said the union would be taking legal action against the Royal Mail over its plans to recruit 30,000 agency workers to deal with the effects of the strike as well as the Christmas rush.
Legal opinion had been received and the union would be testing the Royal Mail's move in the High Court.
Other union leaders have urged the Government to take action against the Royal Mail because it was illegal to hire workers to cover for strikers involved in a legitimate dispute.
Mr Hayes accused Lord Mandelson of "walking away" and "washing his hands" of the dispute. Dave Ward, the union's deputy general secretary, said the Royal Mail had no intention of resolving the dispute and seemed intent on "sidelining" the concerns of postal workers.
Lord Mandelson said he deeply regretted the strike decision, adding that industrial action was not in the best interests of the Royal Mail, the work force or "hard pressed" consumers and businesses.