Three pillar boxes on each street corner (and each one owned by a different company under crazy plan to sell off the Post Office)
New Labour is poised to drive through Post Office privatisation in just seven weeks time. The government's regulator announced last week that it wants to see the Post Office (Consignia) totally sold off. This is the privatisation from hell, the maddest of the mad. It offers the crazy prospect of competing pillar boxes on street corners. Even Margaret Thatcher shied away from it.
The announcement came as postal workers were waiting for the result of a national strike ballot over pay. It could, and should, spark a huge strike. The Postcomm regulator's plans would see private firms grabbing all the most profitable business within four years. Much of it could be open to them within 50 days. The day after the announcement the Financial Times said, 'Privately ministers admitted they were alarmed at the prospect of a national postal strike coming on top of the rail strikes.'
Billy Hayes, leader of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), responded angrily to the plans. He said, 'According to the government, the regulator's first priority is to protect the universal service. Postcomm is blatantly ignoring this instruction. It is ignoring the law of the land in favour of the dogma of unbridled competition. They seem intent on creating another Railtrack. They are on the mad track. The CWU pledges today they will not succeed.'
Under the plan firms such as Hays, TNT and Deutsche Post would do collections and deliveries for large customers, and within big cities. They would be able to use the present Post Office structures and machinery to sort or distribute the work at a cheap price.
The public sector Post Office would be left with the task of taking letters from, say, Southampton to Inverness. The result would be price increases, a worse service, and the private firms seizing more and more of the market. Pace The National Audit Office released a study only days before the Postcomm announcement.
It warned that as a result of competition from private firms: 'Consignia could be left with insufficient returns to cover its overhead costs and hence to finance its remaining services without across the board price increases that might further erode its position.'
The proposed changes could come at a bewildering pace. If Postcomm's proposals are accepted then bulk business mail will be up for grabs within seven weeks. That would mean the potential for privatisation of nearly half the letters sent in Britain.
It would mean huge job losses as big firms transferred to private operators. At the same time as these proposals come out, Socialist Worker has seen an internal Post Office document about new pilot schemes for deliveries. These will mean a two-tier system. Businesses will get their deliveries at the same time as now. But households will not get mail until as late as 'mid-afternoon'-unless they pay an extra charge.
Such changes will be introduced at a selection of offices throughout Britain sometime between mid-March and early May. The Post Office internal document says, 'This briefing is not being communicated externally. Media briefings are not being made at this stage as talks are ongoing with the CWU.'
Details in the document make it clear that these discussions will not alter the general thrust of the new delivery plan.
'Officials claim that there was unanimous agreement between Mr Blair, Gordon Brown, the chancellor, and Peter Mandelson, then trade secretary, to privatise all the Post Office as long ago as 1998. All three agreed it made little sense for postal services to remain in public hands.'
FINANCIAL TIMES, 31 January
When it will happen
THE POSTCOMM proposals are that, from April this year, private operators will be:
Licensed to provide mail services for firms that produce individual mailings of more than 4,000 items.
Allowed to put together mail from a number of businesses or individuals and then pass it on to Consignia for delivery.
Given licences for specialised and local delivery services.
From April 2004 the limit for largemail licences will be reduced from 4,000 items to 1,000 or 500 items. From 31 March 2006 all restrictions on competition will be abolished.
All you get for 5.30am starts, six days a week
Some 150,000 post workers have been voting on a national strike over pay. Charlie Balch's pay packet shows why. He takes home just £203.57 a week. That is paid on the basis of the following shifts:
Week one: six days of deliveries starting at 5.30am.
Week two: five day shifts of 10am to 6pm.
Week three: five night shifts of 10pm to 6am.
Then it's back to week one again and early starts. This punishing schedule destroys many people's social lives. Post bosses are offering Charlie and his mates just 2 percent extra. That would be £4 a week for him. Many postal workers get even less than he does.
Strike can stop these plans now
The government will have to respond to the PostComm proposals in the next few weeks. Only one thing will stop ministers backing the scheme-fear of the response from postal workers.
The bulk mailings pushed out by big firms, which will be the first part of the mail to be privatised, are the most vulnerable to strike action. Companies will be terrified if they do not get their bills out, or items delivered which have been ordered over the internet.
If New Labour is allowed to get away with privatising the post then it is a signal that nothing is exempt from its zeal for the market. It is time to strike now, before the private firms are really up and running.
Dohertys: success but still no justice
The threat of a strike by thousands of post workers has forced bosses to reinstate a sacked colleague. Tom and Mick Doherty were sacked 18 months ago after alleged involvement in football violence.
Tom works at the NDO Royal Mail office. Mick works for Post Office Counters. Both of them were totally cleared by employment tribunal hearings. The tribunals also ordered their reinstatement-which the employers refused. Nearly 4,000 postal workers across north and north west London held an official strike ballot and voted for strikes.
Royal Mail has now said it will reinstate Tom unless it wins its appeal to a further tribunal. But Counters managers are still refusing to give Mick his job back. Mick is the chair of the North/North West London CWU branch. The CWU branch says, 'Mick is obviously being discriminated against due to being an 'up front' trade union official who was not afraid to speak his mind.'
Tom's reinstatement will be a victory for the postal workers who walked out unofficially when he was sacked. They endured abuse from several national newspapers. The London Evening Standard is still at it. Its report on Friday of last week called Tom a 'football hooligan'.
It raged that 'the decision represents a humiliating reversal for Royal Mail managers', and it concluded, 'Unions have Royal Mail over a barrel.' The fight to get justice for Mick must go on.
The new issue of Post Worker, the rank and file paper, is out now. There are articles on the pay ballot, recent disputes, Northern Ireland, the fight against bullying at work, and more. For orders phone 07904 157 779.