Royal Mail: this should be one privatisation too many!

16 September 2013

Last Wednesday, in a speech to the City, Business secretary Vince Cable outlined the government's timetable for the privatisation of Royal Mail. By November, he said, at least 51% of the shares would be sold. To entice "investors", half of the postal service's "profits" would be distributed as dividends - that's £200m produced by the postal workers' sweat combined with high stamp prices! As a bribe, postal workers are "offered" 10% of the shares for free (around £1,500 per head) - but they would only be able to sell them after 3 years - by which time their value may have plummeted.

Not only is this a direct threat to the 6-day-a-week, one-price-goes-anywhere, universal postal service - despite the government's so-called "guarantee" that it will be preserved, until 2022 (and then what?). It is also an immediate threat to the jobs and conditions of 160,000 Royal Mail workers who've already paid dearly over the past years for the "efficiency" drive by successive governments - both Labour and ConDems - to make Royal Mail "attractive" to the profit sharks.

A provocation against all of us

This is a deliberate provocation, especially after the 96% vote against privatisation registered by postal workers in a ballot organised by the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) last June. And it isn't just a provocation against postal workers, but also against the rest of the working class and the general public who have opposed privatisation in every poll, by a 3 to 1 majority.

In fact it warranted a proportionate response the very next day - large-scale walkouts across the country, expressing the opposition of the workforce. The June ballot gave the union a clear mandate for this and they would have met with widespread sympathy.

But the CWU leaders didn't see it that way. Instead of mobilising activists to organise stoppages there and then, on that day, they went ahead with a national reps meeting in Birmingham, where they invited Royal Mail CEO Moya Green to "explain" the "wonders" of mail privatisation! Apparently she was duly jeered. But this didn't and couldn't help postal workers respond to the ConDems' announcement!

In fact, this Birmingham meeting wasn't even about fighting privatisation, but about a ballot over the 3-year pay deal offered by Royal Mail, due to be counted by 3 October, meaning possible action only by 10 October. The CWU demands longer-term guarantees over terms and conditions post-privatisation, which would end up tying postal workers' hands far more than the hands of Royal Mail. But what the CWU leadership hopes, above all else, is that its "partnership" with Royal Mail top management, whoever they may be in the future, will remain intact!

The need to organise ourselves

This makes CWU general secretary Billy Hayes' condemnation of the Royal Mail privatisation, both in the papers and on Sunday TV, totally hollow. Especially since all he has to offer is a TUC motion to Labour Party conference, demanding that a future Labour government renationalises the Royal Mail! As if that will make a difference! And has he forgotten Peter Mandelson's efforts to privatise Royal Mail under the last Labour government?

To all intents and purposes, this means that beyond their rhetoric, union leaders have given up fighting the postal privatisation, leaving the 160,000 Royal Mail workers to their own devices. And this, when ministers are already parading their share offer in front of workers and the stock market sharks, boasting that their privatisation is a done deal and that it will go ahead no matter what!

But then haven't union leaders given up fighting already over so many issues which are vital for the working class? Whether it be the on-going casualisation of jobs across the economy, with the introduction of multi-tiered workforces in so many companies, the rise of "zero-hours" contracts, the degradation of real wages and working conditions?

But there is another way, regardless of the lectures we are given by union leaders about the "law". At Royal Mail, for instance, many postal jobs were saved in the past, precisely because workers staged "illegal" walk-outs against heavy-handed management. And why shouldn't they do it again? Surely the best way to stop privatisation would be to show now, to whichever "investor" who wants to risk money on Royal Mail, that postal workers' sweat is not for sale and that it might even burn investors' greedy hands!

What is true at Royal Mail is true in every other industry. Our best bet against the bosses' attacks will always be to take matters into our own hands and use our collective strength, legally, or not!