Tony Blair took some big hits at the election, but that has not halted his mission to be “unremittingly New Labour” in the third term.
One of the attacks coming is that the government is preparing to take giant strides towards privatising the Royal Mail. This is a very powerful symbol of what is on ministers’ agenda.
The Sunday Times and the Financial Times have both reported that Allan Leighton, Royal Mail’s top boss, is asking the government for the go-ahead to start handing out shares in the business to workers.
This would be the most serious breach so far in the concept of a publicly owned Post Office. It comes at the same time as the government-appointed postal services regulator has announced the full “liberalisation” of postal services in January 2006.
One model being floated for Royal Mail is for one third of the shares to be held by the government, one third to be sold on the open market and one third to be for the staff. This is supposedly compatible with the weasel words in the Labour manifesto that said Royal Mail would not be privatised.
Leighton wants the government to use £2 billion to buy part of the Post Office (which it already owns) so he can give it out as shares. The man who will decide if this plan goes ahead is Alan Johnson, former head of the postal workers’ union and now the secretary for productivity, energy and industry.
He wrote in Voice, the CWU union magazine, “An employee share ownership programme is something I was interested in when I was general secretary but it didn’t materialise.”
Mass job losses, the abolition of the second delivery, speed-ups for the workforce and allowing quality standards to deteriorate have returned a big profit. Leighton is expected to announce “sharing in success” bonuses of £800 to £1,000 a worker. This is nothing but a pro-privatisation bribe.
Workers will take the money, which they richly deserve, but it should not stop us seeing the big agenda and confronting the share scheme.
After the election a string of Labour MPs have called for Blair to go quickly. Many union leaders undoubtedly share that feeling — but what are they going to do about it?
They should be campaigning now around the issues that can force Blair from office.
We passed policy last year that linked continuing support for Labour to winning a commitment from the government that there would not be privatisation — including share schemes.
The Labour manifesto also promised a review of the postal services act. That should mean liberalisation is halted now. We need to take on neo-liberalism at home and neo-conservatism abroad immediately.