Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/395/4491
It is privatisation and it is as we know it
THE GOVERNMENT appears to be supporting plans by Royal Mail to give 51% shares to the workforce, described by some as a John Lewis-style partial privatisation. Alan Johnson, who is trade and industry secretary but also a former postal worker and general secretary of the Communications Workers Union (CWU), says that these plans would not break Labour's commitment to keep the company publicly owned.
By a Royal Mail worker and CWU member
But it is clear that this is privatisation by the back door. Even the Tory spokesman, David Willetts, the shadow trade and industry secretary, said: "Call me old fashioned, but what happened to the idea that you fought the election on a manifesto and then stuck to it?" The Labour government is lying to the postal workers and to their union, the CWU. It should be another nail in the coffin of union support for the Labour Party.
The CWU has threatened to disaffiliate from the Labour Party but given what's at stake, this is completely inadequate. The only language Tony Blair understands, as the pensions issue before the general election showed, is the language of action.
The CWU must mobilise its members now before it's too late. Privatisation will mean massive job losses, falling wages and worsening conditions. You only have to look at other parts of the public sector to see the effects of privatisation.
Pretending to hide behind the veil of 'employee ownership' or 'workers' shares' will not fool anybody. The Post Office bosses have cut 30,000 jobs as a prelude to this plan. They hope that the postal workers have been softened up enough to accept it.
Alan Johnson and Allen Leighton think they can get postal workers' support by giving out shares. But given the low pay of most postal workers, it wouldn't be too long before the shares end up in the hands of big investors. This is despite the fact that Leighton and Co claim that it would be like the John Lewis partnership.
John Lewis staff this year got an annual bonus worth about seven week's pay. This was because of a 24% rise in annual profits last year. £106 million was shared amongst 63,000 workers. But in the first five weeks of the new financial year, sales were down 1% in the non-food sector.
So any drop in Royal Mail profits, over which postal workers would have no control, would hit pay packets hard, even if payments are dressed up as 'bonuses'.
More likely postal workers would end up like United Airline (UA) workers in the USA - without any pensions. The US courts have allowed the company to welch on its pensions obligations to its 120,000-strong workforce and UA unions have vowed to strike to fight this.
What will happen to Royal Mail when the business is under attack from the end of this year, when the letter delivery monopoly ends? The parasitic private sector is waiting to grab the most profitable parts of letter delivery for themselves. This will undoubtedly lead to a crisis in the new 'worker-owned' Royal Mail, which will be made much worse once the economy moves into recession.
Only by keeping the Post Office in the public sector, with a monopoly of letter delivery (to maintain the principle of universal delivery to anywhere in the country at a uniform price) can a decent service be maintained.
If society and the working class as a whole are to have any chance of keeping a decent publicly owned Post Office then this privatisation has to be stopped dead in its tracks. It is up to the union leaders to lead, and that means preparing the members to take action in defence of jobs and services and against privatisation.
In The Socialist 2 June 2005: