The Socialist 3 March 2009 |
Join the Socialist
Stop Labour's mail sell-off
Even Thatcher opposed the privatisation of the Royal Mail, the state-owned postal service. Yet now the Labour government is determined to push through part-privatisation, selling off a third of the business.
This 'modernisation' plan, if implemented, would threaten mail workers' pay levels and jobs. It would also open the door to full privatisation at a later date. Universal, all-UK delivery at a single price would also be in doubt.
This threat is being aggressively pushed by Lord Mandelson, friend of big business and a zealous free-marketeer, and backed by Gordon Brown. The move blatantly contradicts Labour's 2005 election manifesto. There were "no plans to privatise" Royal Mail services. Labour had the "ambition" of "a publicly owned Royal Mail, fully restored to health."
The privatisation plan is being pursued in spite of the catastrophic failure of 'private enterprise' and market forces, which has forced the government to nationalise or partially nationalise major banks.
It is being pushed in spite of overwhelming opposition, both from postal workers and the public. The Communications Workers Union (CWU), supported by eight big unions, totally opposes privatisation. A recent opinion poll showed that nine out of ten people oppose privatisation.
In parliament, over 140 Labour MPs oppose the part-privatisation plan. Not surprisingly, however, the plan is enthusiastically supported by most Tories and Liberal Democrats.
Claims that the Royal Mail is inefficient while private mail companies are super-efficient have been blown apart by the CWU and Peter Hain, a former Labour minister, now a disgruntled back-bencher.
The Royal Mail, Hain says, was subjected to "a ludicrous and unfair system of promoting competition" that "enabled private competitors to cream off the money-making mail like pre-sorted business letters and inter-city traffic, while dumping costly post for outlying areas back on to the Royal Mail."
Yet Royal Mail was still able to make a profit while the private Dutch company, TNT, which was allowed to cherry pick the most profitable business, still managed to make a loss last year! Now TNT is being lined up as the Labour government's favoured "strategic partner" to take over a third of the business.
Mandelson has accused the CWU of using "scare tactics". But he unscrupulously released a letter from the trustees of the royal mail pension fund warning - in reality, threatening - that pensions could be halved unless the sell-off goes through.
But the £9 billion deficit is the result of a 13-year pension holiday (when the government suspended its contributions to the pension fund), begun under the Tory government and continued under Labour.
Now the government is proposing to take over the pension fund - on condition that a third of the business is sold off to a big-business partner such as TNT. If allowed, this would be another scandalous case of privatising profits while nationalising losses.
Instead, the government should eliminate all private companies from the postal service. It should make good the pension deficit and put in the investment necessary for an effective postal service, with good pay and conditions for postal workers. The nationalised industry should be run on socialist lines, with democratic management by workers' representatives, involving both workers in the industry and the wider working class.
Break the link with Labour
The CWU is rightly opposed to part-privatisation. But urging the government "to take responsible action and respond to justified concerns of UK citizens" and lobbying ministers is not enough. The CWU, calling on support from other unions, should organise a massive campaign, including strike action.
The strike action of the engineering construction workers, which began at Lindsey, shows the way. Mandelson, Brown and company will not be stopped by appeals, only by determined action.
But why are the CWU and other unions still handing huge amounts of the members' cash to the Labour Party? Under Blair and Brown, the Labour government has consistently implemented business-friendly, anti-trade union policies.
Yet since 2001 trade unions have donated £72 million to the Labour party. They now provide over 90% of Labour's funds. The CWU itself gives about £1 million a year to Labour. Last December, they handed over £53,000 - just a few days before the publication of the Hooper report, which set out the plan for part-privatisation.
At its last conference, the CWU agreed to ballot its members on whether to fund Labour in the next general election if the government does not rule out privatisation by March 2009. Well, the time is up. The government is clearly determined to push it through, regardless of unions' views and overwhelming public opposition. The CWU leadership should immediately suspend all contributions to Labour pending a debate and decision by CWU conference.
Break the link with Labour now! The CWU should disaffiliate from the Labour Party. This is long overdue for the CWU and other unions. The CWU should join forces with other unions, community campaigns and socialists in a campaign to build a new workers' party that will give a voice to working people and organise in defence of workers' interests.
- No to any sell-off
- No more "savings"
- For a non profit-making public service
- A 35-hour week
- Restore the final salary pension
- No to any pay freeze, for an above-inflation pay rise
- Stop funding the Labour Party, we need a new mass workers' party