Gordon Brown recommitted the government to the privatisation of Royal Mail this week.
The Communication Workers Union’s (CWU) postal executive were meeting on Tuesday to decide the nature of the campaign to fight the government’s privatisation plans.
Up to 50,000 postal workers jobs were put at risk after the unelected Secretary of State for Business Lord Peter Mandelson announced plans to sell off parts of the Royal Mail just before Christmas.
The Labour government’s slavish devotion to the market means that unless there is a fightback, the service will be destroyed and the workforce’s pay and conditions along with it.
Peter Mandelson said the government is looking for a private firm to take a stake in Royal Mail and that multinational delivery company TNT has expressed an interest. Other companies will be asked for their bids.
Ministers say this is “part-privatisation”. But, as Billy Hayes, the general secretary of the CWU pointed out, “Whether it’s staff shares or minority stakes, any sell-off or joint venture will lead to full blown disastrous privatisation. It always starts off like that and ends up broken-up and downgraded with job losses and loss of service.”
New Labour says it is taking action in response to Richard Hooper’s government review of Royal Mail, which Mandelson presented to the House of Lords on Tuesday.
This states that new private companies can offer the “confidence, experience and capital” needed to carry out vital changes. What they actually offer is a system run for profit, not as a public service.
If this policy goes through it will be disastrous. Up to half of the 71 mail centres could close. Disgracefully the Unite union representing Royal Mail managers gave a “cautious welcome” to the proposals, while saying it opposes “full blown privatisation”.
In truth the government has been gunning for postal workers for a long time over pensions, closures, job cuts, attacks on deliveries and more.
The main reason the government is talking about the pension deficit is to make Royal Mail suitable for private intervention. Royal Mail took
a pension holiday for more than a decade, which is the main cause of the company’s pension woes.
The current state of the pension scheme means no company wants to be involved with it.
Unfortunately the CWU has not mounted a strong enough response. It was a mistake to call off the strike planned by postal workers in five mail centres within days of the announcement.
There has been too much hesitancy and too much reliance on “winning the support” of Labour ministers.
It is now time to implement the long-held union policy that calls for a break with Labour if any form of privatisation is recommended.
There also needs to be a major national campaign to save Royal Mail from Mandelson and the private sector vultures.
Importantly there needs to be a conference to discuss and organise the fightback as a matter of absolute urgency.