Business secretary Baron Peter Mandelson this week threw down the gauntlet to the trade union movement by announcing that, in his view, Royal Mail should be “part privatised”.
In return for investment, Mandelson wants the private firms that have helped wreck the economy to help themselves to another vital public service.
Any privatisation of the post will be a disaster.
It would mean a worse service for customers, as the demands for profits close more offices and mail centres.
It will also mean a jobs massacre, as Royal Mail would be driven to slash its workforce and drive down terms and conditions in order to make bigger profits.
And, if Mandelson were to get away with this, it would open the door to attacks on all other public services – no one would be safe.
The government has already encouraged private competition in the post.
When Tony Blair’s government “liberalised” our industry it allowed a myriad of private firms to engage in cut-price competition, forcing Royal Mail to deliver its rival’s mail at a financial loss to itself.
But this latest threat is a qualitative shift in policy – never before has a cabinet minister openly called for privatisation of the Royal Mail.
Earlier this year our CWU union fought successfully at Labour’s Warwick policy forum to get the party to commit itself to a publicly owned postal service.
It appears that this may now have been overturned without any democratic discussion.
Trade unionists should raise a storm over this issue within the Labour Party and demand that Mandelson be sacked from the cabinet.
But it is also vital that the CWU shows its teeth – and fast.
We have already seen our final salary pension scheme unilaterally abolished by the employer because they say it is no longer affordable.
Now thousands of our members are threatened with job losses as a result of mail centre and other office closures.
This week the union announced plans to ballot members in all areas affected by mail centre closures for strike action.
This is a vital first step and we must now put every effort into ensuring healthy yes votes for action.
However, if it becomes clear that Mandelson’s outburst is in fact government policy, then the must be a swift response from the whole union.
Only an national strike and the support of the wider Labour movement could defeat such a plan. The government will try to blackmail us out of such a response.
Everyone knows that Royal Mail has a huge financial hole in its pension fund but we must not accept privatisation as a price for the government finance to fix it.
Our pensions are not like City bonuses. They are our deferred wages – and neither the company nor the government has any right to remove them from us.
We must tell Baron Mandelson that we demand public investment in our service. We want our service provided by workers on decent pay and conditions, not people stuck in part-time McJobs. We want post office closures reversed, and the Post Office banking system revived.
There has never been a time when privatisation and profiteering has been less popular with the public, and if our union were to fight over it we could be sure of enormous support.
The Hooper review of the postal industry is due to present its report within weeks.
If the government uses its recommendations as an excuse to privatise Royal Mail then the CWU must do what it has long said it would under such circumstances – disaffiliate from the Labour Party and launch the biggest fight possible.
Jane Loftus is the CWU national vice-president and chair of the postal executive. She writes in a personal capacity
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