The government has thrown its weight behind
the Hooper Report and decided to sell 30% of its stake in Royal Mail. Mandelson
(him again!) has swung them behind the privatising ideologues.
Apart from anything else, the policy is
staggeringly irrelevant to the real and urgent problems facing Britain. It is
as if New Labour, forced to put its neo-Thatcherite policies on hold by the
economic crisis, have taken the opportunity to prove to big business that they
are as soft a touch as ever in doing their bidding. Ironically the announcement
came on the same day as Ofgem announced an enquiry into the way the privatised
power companies carved up the energy market and how they screw the consumers.
The background to all this is that Royal
Mail has been making shed loads of profit for us as a publicly owned company
for years. The trouble was that the Treasury has been using the Post office as
a milch cow all that time, siphoning off all the money. Then the government
complains that the firm hasn’t invested. No wonder!
Mandelson’s answer is to bring in the
private sector. As the big six energy companies have forcibly reminded us,
these characters are only in it for what they can loot. They won’t put in.
They’ll just take out. TNT made a packet providing the scab lorries used to
break the Fleet Street printers strike in 1986-87. Last year they made a total
hash by losing discs with details of 25 million child benefit claimants they
were paid to deliver. Now they’ve been rewarded by being promised a slice of
the Royal Mail. No silly nonsense about competitive tendering. TNT are already set
up as by Mandelson as the preferred bidder.
Quite naturally the main trade union
representing the workers, the CWU, is relieved that the government has declared
the pension fund safe. But it’s a liberty that New Labour have only guaranteed pension
rights – with a possible £8bn deficit looming – in order to fatten up Royal
Mail for privatisation. It would never do for the private sector to have to
shoulder any of the losses, would it?
The government’s handling of the Royal Mail
has been a disaster. It is true that it has begun to make a loss and that
investment has fallen behind. But the Post Office is bleeding to death from a
thousand cuts and long years of government neglect. Thousands of sub-Post
Offices have been closed, despite 4 million people signing a petition against
closure. This has torn the heart out of many local communities. It is shredding
a web of local offices which would have put the Post Office in an excellent
position to barge the failed commercial banks out of the way with and replace
them with a people’s bank using branch offices. After all, there are still more
POs than branches of all the commercial banks in Britain.
The government’s plan is daft. But they are
in a weak position, and they know it. As soon as the announcement was made, Jim
McGovern resigned in disgust as PPS. Over a hundred Labour MPs are said to be
against the plan. Will they show the gumption to oppose Brown and Mandelson? Labour
did, after all, pledge to the electorate that Royal Mail would remain in public
hands in the 2005 election. Public ownership was also a commitment in the
‘Warwick II’ negotiations with the trade unions over the summer.
The Communication Workers’ Union has yet to
declare its hand. Postal workers must be worried sick. Privatisation always
means worse pay and conditions for the work force as well as a deteriorating
service for the public. How else can the privateers make money?
Well, they’re not making money at our
expense! Royal Mail has functioned as a public service for 350 years. The
entire working class has a stake in it. Let’s unite to throw out the plan and
keep the service public.