It took about 250 years to create what we
still call The Post Office. No thanks to the Rupert Murdochs of the 17th
century, of course. It's just one example of how the state laid the basis for
rising capitalism. The King's very own Royal Posts was opened up to the public
to send mail.
A century or so later, like a lot else,
this basic bit of social infrastructure is under threat from New Labour's free
market dogma. The 4 million people who signed Britain's biggest ever petition in
defence of their local post office last year, would agree.
The Department of Trade and Industry's
so-called "consultation", announced in December, means 2,500 local
post offices will close by the end of 2009. For starters.
Not that New Labour should take all the
blame. Under the Tories 3,500 post offices closed, so their current protests
are entirely hypocritical. All the main political parties agree that the run
down of the post office network is inevitable given changing technology and
Huge amounts of subsidy, like £2bn since
1999, are quoted to "prove" the government case for closures.
The opposition, headed by the National
Federation of Sub-Postmasters, who are basically self-employed franchisees,
bases its case mainly on the grounds of harm to rural communities, the poor,
the elderly and disabled. There is undoubtedly a social and economic importance
beyond the bottom line.
The National Pensioners Convention, for
instance, is absolutely right to oppose the closure programme and the way the
government has imposed policies like direct payment of pensions and benefits.
Let alone pensions, there are lots of
people who would still prefer to get their wages in cash. But we are forced
into the banks – if they'll be so kind as to open you an account these days –
at a price. The truth is that there's nothing inevitable about the way
technology or consumer behaviour changes under capitalism. They are shaped by the
Sure, a lot of us can get a cheap ticket to
the sun these days. But can we afford to stay beyond our purchased holiday? No
way. Back to work. Wage slavery rules.
And as the biggest single economic actor,
state policy plays an important role too, indeed crucially, in relation to The
Post Office. Instead of developing the largest retail chain in Europe (with 24m
customers) as a provider of public services and major retail player,
governments failed to invest, allowed it to run down, franchised and closed
The Post Office has been endlessly
"reorganised" since 1986, to this end. First the Tories split it into
three: Royal Mail Letters, Royal Mail Parcels and Post Office Counters (which
then became a limited company owned by the Royal Mail Group).
From 1989 nearly 1500 Crown Offices were
turned into agency offices, leaving only 500 in city and town centres still in
public ownership. In 1990 the Girobank, which with the huge post office network
could have been a major player in high street banking, was sold.
In 2001 the Post Office became a Public
Limited Company. Then there was the Consignia "re-branding" debacle.
At every point the post office network has been sabotaged.
£1 billion was spent developing the Horizon
Automatic computer system linking 19,000 branches, in conjunction with the
Benefits Agency. Then in 2003 the government decided to pay pensions and
benefits directly into bank accounts, seriously undermining the competitive
advantage the new system provided. And depriving sub postmasters of up to 75%
of their income.
As a sop to public opposition to
"direct payment" the Post Office Card Account was set up. It is worth
£1bn to PO income between 2003-10. Though the
Department of Trade and Industry has now committed to continuing it after 2010
it will be subject to competitive tendering, another step to privatisation.
Other blows to the Post Office were the BBC
decision to take the TV licensing contract away from the Post Office. The
government plans to open 70 new Passport Offices nationally but it has stopped
the Post Office from bidding for the contract.
Because of government failure to give them
a certain future and legal constraints on their activities, post offices have
little commercial value as businesses. £60K will be paid to sub-postmasters to
give up their business to further encourage closures.
The real aim is to destroy a major public
asset in the interests of big business. After 350 years this is what capitalism
The trade union and labour movement must
put itself at the head of this campaign and build for the battle in defence of
Re-nationalise all the privatised
Replace Blair and Brown by a fighting
For workers' control and management of a
socialist planned economy!
Privatising the Mail
-A £12 million contract has just been taken
from the Royal Mail by the government.
-The Department of Work and Pensions has
shifted delivery of 82m pension statements and other letters to private company
UK Mail. Further blows have just been announced that BT and British Gas, two of
the biggest contracts, have gone the same way.
-The European Union Postal Services
Directive gave legal force to liberalisation from 1st January 2006.
-But the juicy target for private companies
will be business services not your ordinary everyday letter.
-In fact, to add insult to injury, these
companies won't actually deliver business letters.
-They collect them from the customer, sort
them – and then take them to Royal Mail for delivery!
-You see, the private sector is so much more