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Post Office privatisation will be disguised as workers' ownership

In spite of Labour's manifesto commitments the government plans to privatise the Post Office. Lobbying Labour MPs, who have shown in the past that they will settle for cosmetic changes to avoid defeating the government in Parliament, won't stop this. Post Office workers have the organised strength to mount the campaign of industrial action needed to defeat Labour's plans.

The election was hardly over before the government began to brief journalists that it was considering privatising the Post Office. This is a complete reversal of what appeared in the Labour manifesto that stated there were “no plans to privatise” and that Labour wanted a “publicly owned Royal Mail”. Not that we should be alarmed, because Labour leaks are making it clear that should it go ahead it will not be a nasty Thatcherite privatisation but rather a nice New Labour affair under which the workers themselves will take control of the Post Office.

All nonsense, of course, for the idea being floated amounts to little more than a sugar-coated management buy-out under which Post Office Chairman, Allen Leighton, and his fellow executives will borrow the money to buy 51% of the Post Office from the government and then hand out a few token shares to each worker. Once in control, Leighton and co. will set about slashing jobs and destroying working conditions as the Post Office becomes a money making machine for the new owners. And if anybody doubts the pure greed of Post Office directors look at chief executive Adam Crozier, for example, who got a £3m pay and incentive package in May – nice work if you can get it.

CWU to lobby Labour MPs

The Post Office union, the CWU, in response to the leaked proposals, talked about mounting a campaign aimed at mobilising opposition amongst the public and Labour MPs. The union has already written to all Labour MPs making clear their opposition to any attempt at privatisation. Central to the CWU strategy is the idea that, with Labour's reduced majority, they'll get the support of enough Labour MPs to defeat any privatisation proposal in the House of Commons. This is putting a great deal of faith in Labour MPs, not known for their backbone. Given that the privatisation proposals are being dressed up in the language of “mutualism” and “employee ownership”, the virtual certainty is that, faced with a Labour defeat in the Commons, and no doubt after winning some “vital” concessions, enough Labour MPs will back the government, just as they did over Iraq and tuition fees. Quite frankly, for the CWU to be putting its faith in Labour MPs is the equivalent of the turkey pinning all its hopes on Christmas being cancelled.

Post Office privatisation is not just about making Leighton a multimillionaire. Privatisation has never just been about making the rich richer. It has also been a means of undermining working class organisation. The government knows that if it wants to extend deregulation by opening up mail delivery in Britain fully to competition it must break the virtual monopoly of the Post Office. And to do that it knows it must defeat union organisation in the Post Office. The privatisation proposal being mooted by Labour, based on bogus employee ownership, is an attempt at breaking the postal monopoly while trying to avoid strike action by postal workers.

Labour's privatisation proposals, should they go ahead, will not be defeated in the Commons, but in the workplace. Despite setbacks in recent years, the Post Office is one of the few remaining industries in Britain that retains a reasonable workplace based union organisation. That organisational strength can be used to mount a campaign aimed at taking strike action to defeat privatisation. Workplace meetings can not only be used to expose media and management lies and win support for strike action, but they are also the means by which workers can retain control of their own struggles and ensure no behind the scenes back-sliding by union leaders.

Post Office privatisation is not just about making Leighton a multi-millionaire. Privatisation has never just been about making the rich richer. It has also been a means of undermining working class organisation. The government knows that if it wants to extend deregulation by opening up mail delivery in Britain fully to competition it must break the virtual monopoly of the Post Office. And to break that monopoly it knows it must defeat union organisation within the Post Office. The privatisation proposal being muted by Labour, based on bogus employee ownership, are an attempt at breaking the postal monopoly while trying to avoid strike action by postal workers.

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