Socialist Worker

Consuming the toothless dogs

Issue No. 1791

Postwatch regularly pops up in the media as 'the voice of the post user'. It boasts particular concers for the interests of those 'in rural areas', 'the disabled' and 'the poor'.

It seems odd then that Postwatch is embracing privatisation of the Post Office. Postwatch has even gone so far as to attack post workers who are members of the postal workers' CWU union for taking action to stop privatisation. Peter Carr, chairman of Postwatch, said last year that the postal regulator's plans 'give us the opportunity to press the case for an early opening of the postal market'.

He also said of strikes, 'It is time that the CWU membership recognised that this type of behaviour is irresponsible.' These outbursts aren't odd when you look at who sits on the ruling Postwatch council. Chairman Peter Carr's biography on the Postwatch website says, 'Until his retirement fire years ago, Peter Carr had spent 35 years as a ['shopkeeper'].' Carr was no ordinary shopkeeper. He was, in fact, the Debenhams group managing director.

He has had a string of other directorships. Then there is Gregor McGregor. He was head of policy and government relations at Railtrack, responsible for preparing it for privatisation.

Other 'consumer champions' at Postwatch are from the City, privatised utilities such as electricity, and other big businesses. Not quite a group of ordinary people standing up for the individual consumer.


Lost in the mail

Post bosses pulled a publicity stunt two weeks ago by refusing to accept lavish pay rises. Don't be fooled. Allan Leighton, the Post Office's interim chairman, has ensured top bosses get a bellyful.

He has appointed David Mills to the board of Post Office Ltd. Mills is a former top manager at HSBC bank. He is due to start next month on £250,000 a year. That is even higher than other board members. Mills's record shows what post office customers can expect. At HSBC he tried to keep charges for cash machines, penalising the poorest customers.


THE Home Office knew about concerns over the lack of sprinklers at the Yarls Wood detention centre that burnt down last month, but did nothing about it. Luton West MP Kelvin Hopkins wrote to then immigration minister Barbara Roche in December 2000 raising the issue.

It took her five months to write back, saying: 'The issue you raised is of considerable importance. As a result of your representations I have asked the Prison Service to review fire safety precautions.' No one at the Home Office now appears able to say what happened to that review.


Straight scandal

CAPITA HAS been involved in a string of PFI disasters. It is one of the companies involved in building Yarls Wood detention centre, half of which was burnt to the ground last month. The company is just about to take over running the television licence service at a cost of up to £500 million over the next ten years.

And it has been chosen by London mayor Ken Livingstone to run his congestion charging scheme. Up to 40 percent of the congestion fees raised will go straight to Capita. Capita's experience with large buildings crowded with people should be a worry for parents in Liverpool.

The Liberal Democrat council plans to hand the running of the education service to Capita.


Insecure markets

STOCKBROKERS are living on the edge. A clinical study found there is misery in the markets. Male stockbrokers between 22 and 32 years are three times more depressed than other men of their age.

The cut and thrust of the market are bad for your health. Competition-driven brokers are emotionally distant from friends and co- workers. They also suffer from fatigue and anxiety.

The unrelenting pressure to make money for clients has led brokers to sleep very little, acquire delusions of grandeur and take excessive risks. These top earners compensate for these hardships by spending excessively and indulging in heavy drug use.


Given a licence to kill again

'IT SEEMS the British courts have confirmed that companies are not responsible for their actions in regard to the safety of their operations.' That was John Prescott's bitter comment on the day the trial against the P&O ferry company involved in the Zeebrugge disaster collapsed in October 1990. Last week was the fifteenth anniversary of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster. Relatives of the victims of that tragedy and others have renewed their calls for a change in the law.

Jack Straw, then home secretary, promised at the Labour Party conference in October 1997 to change the law. After five years in government they are still dragging their heels. They haven't yet introduced tougher laws allowing bosses to be charged with corporate manslaughter.

A Home Office source now reveals they will act according to the bosses' timetable. The CBI will decide 'when, how and in what circumstances.' new laws will be introduced.

Over 31,000 people have been killed at work since 1965. Incredibly there have been only three successful prosecutions. There have been a shocking 2,286 deaths at work since 1997. Some 40 percent of these deaths were categorised by the Health and Safety Executive as 'the result of serious management failures'.


Things they say

'FIRST LET me say that our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the service members who have lost their lives in our ongoing operations in Vietnam.'
US general TOMMY FRANKS on the deaths of seven soldiers in Afghanistan two weeks ago

'WE ARE not going to behave like in the Wild West, where everyone does as he likes.'
EU TRADE COMMISSIONER on retaliating to the US's trade tariffs

'THAT IS true. There has not been a great deal of activity in the chamber.'
Labour MP SHAUN WOODWARD'S office admitting he has not said a single word in parliament since the last election

'CERTAINLY there is a serious threat that the Labour Party would be split down the middle if the government pushed ahead with its support for the US.'
Labour MP for Bury North DAVID CHAYTOR on plans for war against Iraq

'THIS really does smack of 'them and us'. They get a gold-plated benefits package paid for by our taxes and we get indifference.'
PHILIP ROSE, financial adviser, on MPs' new pension plans

'I TURNED into the perfect occupation enforcer. I tore up personal documents of men my father's age. I hit, harassed all in the city. I was no 'aberration'. I was the norm.'
ASSAF ORON, Israeli army sergeant, describing his treatment of Palestinians

'BLAIR WILL bow to the pleas of private contractors by not requiring them to pay their workforce full pensions or offer new recruits the same wages as workers transferred from the public sector.'
CABINET OFFICE PAPERS leaked to the press


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Article information

Inside the System
Sat 16 Mar 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1791
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