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Royal Mail privatised: postal workers should vote Yes and prepare to fight

By a CWU postal rep

The Coalition have put two fingers up to Royal Mail workers and the great majority of the population who oppose privatisation. They have gone straight for a sell-off, and of all the days they could have picked to announce it, they chose the day the result of the CWU postal union’s ballot for strike action comes out.

Unfortunately this propaganda stunt has bite. The sell-off has started, with a series of pre-arranged sales to investors to kick it off. There is a 12-day period for applications for shares up to 8 October. Full-scale selling on the stock market begins on 15 October, an “unusually tight turnaround” as The Guardian put it, and a deliberate poke in the eye for those who deliver and rely on the mail day in day out.

Rumours suggest that all the shares issued so far are being snapped up. If true then no wonder, given Royal Mail bosses’ promises of up to 50 per cent dividends next year. Sky News has reported that the Singapore government’s investment fund has bought some, attracted by “Royal Mail’s promise of a robust dividend policy”.

So much for the lie that privatisation would raise funds for investment: this is about taking profits out and putting them in the pockets of the rich, not into machinery and new technology.

It is also aimed at busting the CWU, one of the few remaining industrial unions with a history of rank and file militancy. Ultimately, the drive for profit will undermine the Universal Service Obligation, Royal Mail’s commitment to deliver to every home in Britain six days a week.

A strike we must win

As we explain below, we shouldn’t be in this predicament. We’ve had plenty of opportunities over the past six years to see off the privatisation threat, but our leaders have blown them all.

But we are where we are; we still need to fight with all our might for our future even while – and after – Royal Mail is privatised. The bigger the turnout in the ballot and the larger the “Yes” vote, the stronger our position. A “No” vote won’t just restore the status quo, it will give Royal Mail managers and the new owners the green light to impose cuts, attack union militants and members, and push the union back.

Royal Mail says their three-year pay deal is a good one compared to other workers, but the wage “rise” on offer is below inflation and comes from cutting our pensions in future years. That’s the pathetic bribe for getting postal workers to accept the wholesale destruction of our jobs and conditions. No thanks!

Let’s get the “Yes” vote out and push for a strike. We don’t need to wait for “negotiations” – we’ve negotiated for months with precious little result and, besides, Royal Mail will only use the time to organise scabbing operations.

Secondly the more we escalate the strike, the more concessions we can squeeze out. Like the Hovis bakers have shown, striking for a week at a time and continuing even after any initial concessions can win far more than one-day strikes. Ultimately an all-out strike will be needed to achieve the leadership’s goal of an all-inclusive ten-year deal.

An appeal for solidarity and an all-out strike, coordinated with other striking unions like the teachers and firefighters and alongside CWU members currently on dispute with Crown Post Offices, could wrestle the Tory-led coalition to the ground. The 50,000 trade unionists and activists who marched on 29 September at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester would respond to such an appeal.

The government is getting weaker as the election approaches and the Coalition parties pull apart; it could, if given a good, strong push, fall. But we need to give it that shove, otherwise it will limp along and keep on attacking the working class all the way to May 2015, like John Major’s government, which privatised the railways nearly with its dying breath. Alternatively, the fall of a government in the face of mass workers’ action could make it extremely difficult for any new government to resist calls to renationalise the post.

Rank and file

Every step in a fighting strategy requires rank and file initiative and ultimately control to see it fully achieved.

We don’t have a rank and file network to fight privatisation now. However, one can be built “in the breach” if activists, reps and the fighting wing of the union get organised. It is likely that a hard-hitting strike would see wildcat walkouts – for instance against victimisation, as happened in 2007. A grassroots network could spread these and stop the leadership from swapping strikes for talks at the crucial stage – again as happened in 2007.

The anger is there to fuel such a response to bullying from managers. If we can harness it, we can turn demoralisation at the sell-off into determination to rebuild our union and save jobs, pay and conditions.

 

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