Socialist Worker

Royal Mail sell-off fight now at a critical stage

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2143

Around 1,000 postal workers demonstrated in Bilston, in the West Midlands, against the privatisation of Royal Mail last Saturday. Lord Mandelson is staking his political future on pushing the measure through (Pic: Socialist Worker)</

Around 1,000 postal workers demonstrated in Bilston, in the West Midlands, against the privatisation of Royal Mail last Saturday. Lord Mandelson is staking his political future on pushing the measure through (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Around 1,000 angry postal workers joined a lively march in the Bilston constituency of Post Office minister Pat McFadden last Saturday.

A stream of banners against the privatisation of Royal Mail swept through the West Midlands town at a key point in the campaign.

The union has huge public support and privatisation of the post has split the Labour Party down the middle.

But there is little sign that business secretary Lord Mandelson and Gordon Brown will back off – instead they plan to use Tory votes to get their measure through.

Key debates, including whether the postal workers’ CWU union should go for a strike, and will it break from Labour, were reflected at the rally at the end of the march.

Dave Jones, of the union’s Wolverhampton branch, spoke for the whole audience when he said, “It’s a crying shame that the government will bailout banks but there is no money for a public service.

“We need to show ministers that they have picked a fight with the wrong people.”

CWU general secretary Billy Hayes has always opposed attempts to move the union away from Labour.

But, perhaps reflecting his frustration at ministers’ attacks, Hayes said, “We will have to test our members’ views and ask them whether they want to give money to a party whose leadership is doing us down, or to end the relationship.”

Attacking those Labour MPs who are supporting privatisation, Billy asked protesters to remember a speech by Martin Luther King, in which he said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

‘Waste of money'

Phil Page, a local Labour councillor, spoke out against privatisation but tried to persuade those at the rally to get more involved in the Labour Party.

He was met with shouts of “It’s a waste of money”, and “Tell Mandelson to resign”.

Tony Kearns, the CWU senior deputy general secretary, rightly stressed the importance of postal workers coming on the Jobs, Justice and Climate protest against the G20 government ministers’ convention in London on 28 March.

The most significant speech came from Dave Ward, the union’s deputy ­general secretary.

He began with harsh criticism of Labour’s record on the postal industry and then announced that the union’s campaign was set to enter a new phase.

“We are moving from politicians in Westminster and going to the public,” he said.

He went on to address those who loyally back New Labour’s plans for Royal Mail: “When it comes to those MPs who have refused to sign our Early Day Motion, we will need people to stand against them.

“There can be an alternative, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the Labour Party, we can do it ourselves.”

Strike ballot

This desire for a serious political challenge to Labour won wide applause. Ward also flirted with the idea of industrial action, saying that if managers continue to implement job cuts strike action could follow.

Bosses want to implement “savings” in many parts of the country, and there are high-profile issues across London.

It is widely believed that Royal Mail has asked the government whether it should risk a capital-wide strike ballot, or back off until the privatisation plan is further advanced.

Any route to a strike is welcome – but waiting for managers to push the button leaves the initiative with the other side.

If CWU leaders want a strike, then they must organise for it.

There are some good initiatives that can raise the profile of the campaign – such as the day of action across London on 26 March.

But if privatisation is going to be defeated, the union needs to make a complete shift. This call for a different approach was summed up in a leaflet distributed at the demo from Socialist Worker supporter Jane Loftus.

She is CWU vice-president and in a personal capacity issued a call for a strike ballot, suspending the cash given to Labour, and wider public campaigning.

These are the key issues, and postal workers need to pressure their union leaders to start fighting hard enough to force Mandelson out.

Workers at Bristol mail centre are to ballot for strike action after managers announced “savings” cuts.

More than 80 postal workers at Woolwich delivery office in south London have voted for strike action following allegations of bullying by managers.

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Article information

Tue 17 Mar 2009, 18:45 GMT
Issue No. 2143
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