Business secretary Lord Mandelson’s plan to privatise Royal Mail has created a storm of protest. This is raging through sections of New Labour that were once cringingly loyal to the leadership.
Delegates to the party’s Scottish conference last week applauded wildly as Dave Watson attacked the proposal as a breach of Labour’s manifesto commitment to keep Royal Mail publicly owned.
Watson is the chair of the Scottish Labour Party.
Welsh MP Siân James this week resigned as a parliamentary private secretary and signed an Early Day Motion against privatisation. Around 150 Labour MPs have now signed this motion.
James is the second member of the government to quit over the issue, and some commentators expect that another 15 could follow her.
The rebellion in Labour has grown as public opposition to the plans has become clear.
Now even the Liberal Democrats, who have been committed to Royal Mail’s privatisation for years, are deserting the cause and refusing to vote with the government.
There was further embarrassment for the government this week after an email from Royal Mail boss Adam Crozier attacking rival firm TNT, a likely bidder for a stake in Royal Mail, was leaked to the Guardian newspaper.
Crozier said that TNT had been lying to Royal Mail customers in Europe, telling them that it had already acquired the state-owned company.
TNT has told its workers in the Netherlands that it will sack 10,000 of them if they do not accept a 5 percent pay cut.
Despite the disarray, Mandelson is determined to proceed with the privatisation.
His political future now depends on getting the sell-off through.
He knows that the government can win the final vote in parliament in a few weeks’ time with the backing of the Tories.
Many activists in the postal workers’ CWU union are aware that that any campaign that concentrates solely on winning Labour MPs will be doomed to failure, and that the union leadership’s strategy is flawed.
“If we’re going to win this, we’re going to need a strategy that involves industrial action,” says Alan Walsh, branch secretary of the union’s Watford branch.
“But I don’t think that postal workers should have to fight this battle alone. I’ve been at rallies where the leaders of other public sector unions have stood alongside the TUC saying, ‘Your fight is our fight.’
“Well, I’d like to see them put their money where their mouth is.
“I want postal workers to strike against privatisation – and I want to be joined by thousands of other public sector workers.
“That’s what workers do in France when they are under attack. We need to need to learn some lessons from across the Channel.”
The need for this kind of response is becoming clear as Royal Mail attempts to prepare the ground for a sell-off.
Postal workers in different parts of the country have told Socialist Worker that the company is attempting to ram through massive cuts between now and the end of the financial year in April.
Labour’s privatisation plan is also putting an enormous strain on the relationship between the CWU and the party that it has loyally supported for generations.
The union has committed to balloting its members on whether to fund the party at the next election, and many branches are now seeking a more fundamental review of the union’s affiliation to Labour.
“Labour says that it is the only game in town, and for a long time we in the CWU have believed them,” says Alan.
“But now many of us are telling our local MPs that if they refuse to vote against privatisation, not only will we cut our donations, but we’ll stand against you in the next election and cut your votes too.”
Northamptonshire CWU branch has called a march and rally in Corby against post privatisation.
The protest takes place on Friday 20 March – assemble 1.15pm at the Civic Centre, George Street, Corby.
Protesters will march to local MP Phil Hope’s surgery.
Northamptonshire CWU says, “Putting the people of Corby before career ambitions and blinkered loyalty to a Labour government is all we ask of Phil Hope.
“Who is he representing when he pledges support for the part-privatisation of Royal Mail? There is no support in Corby.”
A rally after the march will hear speeches from Lord Tony Clarke, CWU vice president Jane Loftus, TUC regional secretary Roger McKenzie, Unite regional secretary Adrian Axtell, CWU regional secretary Lee Barron and others.