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From The Socialist newspaper, 15 March 2002

Fight Privatisation

Organise A One-Day Public Sector Strike

Stop the break-up and privatisation of the Post Office

CWU Demo Challenges New Labour's Plans

THE COMMUNICATION Workers' Union (CWU) decision to call a national demo against post office privatisation is an important event for the whole trade union movement. It is the first time since New Labour was elected in 1997 that any national union has organised a march against a specific government policy.

The demo is a direct challenge to New Labour by one of its most powerful affiliates. Through calling it the CWU leadership have opened up the possibility of national action against Labour's privatisation and pro-big business policies. These policies now affect every aspect of life and the pay and working conditions of millions of workers.

The post office regulator, Gerald Corbett, has announced that the letter delivery market will be opened up to the private sector starting this April. From March 2006 the whole market, worth 14 billion a year, will be available to the private sector profiteers.

The new head of Consignia, Allan Leighton, has called this 'death by a thousand cuts'. But he has proposed 1.2 billion cuts and 30,000 job losses.

For the last 24 years the post office has declared a surplus. In 1999/2000 this was 493 million. There has been some loss of letter trade because of the developing economic recession and the growth of electronic mail but this has been offset by the increase in junk mail. The current losses are partially due to this and factors like the 281 million purchase of the German parcel service.

The threat of strike action forced Leighton to retreat, saying the job losses were press speculation but it is clear that the bosses are very nervous about the preparedness of post office workers to take industrial action.

Last year alone there were 355, mainly unofficial, strikes by post workers, often in response to a bullying managerial culture.

Added to this explosive mixture has been the defeat of the right-wing of the CWU with the election of Billy Hayes as general secretary. He has been targeted by the tabloids as one of the new layer of 'hard left' general secretaries.

Whether he is 'hard left' or not (and he isn't) the perception amongst the rank and file is that there is a change at the top of the union. This is an opportunity to demand that the union gives a more militant lead in its dealings with the post office bosses.

Postal workers are well aware that privatisation will lead to the break-up of the post office with the consequent attacks upon their living standards and conditions. They only have to look at the experience of Sweden.

Since the Swedish market was "liberalised" in 1994, 2,000 out of the 5,000 post office counters have closed. Thousands of post workers have lost their jobs, the cost of postage has gone up 100% and there are now 40 private companies competing for the business.

Blair Rebuffs Union Leaders

THERE IS now tremendous pressure on the trade union leaders to resist privatisation. Their attitude up to now has been "as long as our members' terms and conditions are protected, then it doesn't really matter who they work for".

This philosophy has driven union leaders like Dave Prentis of UNISON to seek deals with the Labour ministers. But every time he shouts "I have a deal" New Labour spit in his face.

Last year, at the Labour Party conference, he told his union executive that Blair had agreed that NHS workers, even if their jobs were contracted out to the private sector, could still be NHS employees.

Public sector workers are protected by the TUPE transfer regulations from having their wages reduced when they transfer to the private sector. But they often find themselves working alongside new recruits on lower wages. The danger is that eventually the lower wages become the norm for that work.

Now Blair is reportedly about to break this promise under pressure from the CBI, by bringing in a code of practice rather than statutory guarantees. The bosses want the freedom to drive down the wages and conditions of ex-public sector workers.

This rebuff confirms to trade union activists that there is little point in trying to reason with New Labour. The pro-big business Labour government is intent on its privatisation programme and only militant industrial action can change this.

A change in mood of trade unionists and their attitude to Labour is now palpable in union branches and workplaces. This is accompanied by a rise in strikes and leadership changes with a new more Left leadership coming to power.

The big unions like the TGWU and the GMB will soon be having leadership elections, which will put all candidates' policies under the spot light.

New Labour is being exposed as not representing the working class and this year's union conferences will reflect this. There is more room than for some time in the unions for alternative, radical and socialist ideas. But it is not just ideas that are needed. Just as important is the need for strategy and tactics to take the struggle forward.

THE SOCIALIST Party is campaigning around the demand for a 24-hour public sector strike against privatisation.

This would be a real warning shot across the bows of the Labour government, saying to them if they continue with the privatisation drive, the unions will mobilise against them on the picket line and on the streets.

An even more dramatic effect of such a strike would be on the confidence of those taking part. It would demonstrate who wields the real power in society. Workers would see that that the defence of our conditions and living standards lies in our own hands and not in the negotiating ability of our leaders.

Many local anti-privatisation struggles are taking place, often with the Socialist Party playing a leading role. But these struggles desperately need to be pulled together in a coherent way.

The demonstration against post office privatisation can mark a major change in direction. If reasoned argument against privatisation is getting nowhere, then the necessity of direct trade union action becomes clear.

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In The Socialist 15 March 2002:

Organise A One-Day Public Sector Strike

ISR day of action

Lewisham: Battling Socialist Councillors Build Up Local Support

New Labour And The Union Link: Feeding The Hand That Bites Us!

Middle East Conflict: Horror Without End?

US Prepares Invasion Of Iraq


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