Socialist Worker

Royal Mail privatisation will drag down standards

Dave Sewell looks at the Tory government’s plan to privatise Royal Mail and explains why it is a money-making gimmick that offers no benefits

Issue No. 2353

Post workers have struck to defend the service

Post workers have struck to defend the service (Pic: Tim Sneller)


Tory plans to sell off Royal Mail will make things worse for everyone who uses the postal service as well as everyone who works in it.

This will be the biggest single privatisation since Margaret Thatcher sold British Gas 26 years ago.

Business minister Michael Fallon has repeatedly promised to protect the universal service. This is the guarantee that postal workers can cover all 29 million addresses in Britain every day.

But privatisation will make it impossible to work in practice.

The sale of Royal Mail is planned by next April. But the organisation is already being run down. 

Private companies are creaming off the most profitable parts while Royal Mail pays for the hard work of making sure every letter box in Britain gets its delivery every day.

In any given post bag, about half of the mail was brought to the local sorting office by a private company. These are typically bank statements or utility bills.

Firms can grab big contracts that are easy to sort and transport—the “upstream” part of delivery.

They then leave the “downstream” element—from the delivery office to people’s homes—to Royal Mail.

Now firms are moving in “downstream” as well. Unlike Royal Mail, they have no obligation to cover every home in Britain or to deliver every day. 

 “They’ll be creaming off profits, taking money away from the public interest and into shareholders pockets,” warned Dave Fuller, a postal worker from Oxfordshire. 

“A lot of rural communities are going to be cut off. And God knows how many more offices they’ll close.”

Slashing

Companies can offer to do this work more cheaply than Royal Mail not only by holding lower standards but by slashing workers’ terms.

Also, Royal Mail has got rid of around a third of its workforce in an effort to become viable for privatisation. The aim is a service run on the model of the privatised post in the Netherlands, where full time staff have been replaced by “freelance” workers on “flexible” contracts.

The government is looking forward to raising up to £3 billion from the sale in the short term.

It already grabbed the £25 billion of assets in the Royal Mail pensions plan last year. 

But in return it is committed to take on the costs of the pensions plan in the long run, as it goes into deficit thanks to bosses’ pensions holiday.

They are making a quick buck today, and committing future governments to bearing the costs while privatised fat cats rake in the profits.

Postal workers are leading the campaign against privatisation, through their CWU union. It is due to start a consultative ballot of all 120,000 members in Royal Mail with the possibility of industrial action.

It is calling for members to boycott all deliveries of post for private providers. That would mean up to 26 million items going undelivered every day.

Far from bringing modernisation and efficiency, privatisation has dragged down standards and wages in everything from the rail network to hospital cleaners. 

To stop Royal Mail going the same way we need mass public campaigns—and the most militant actions at workers’ disposal.


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