Postal workers were hit last week with the announcement by Royal Mail that it is stepping up its closure plan for half of the country’s 64 mail centres with the loss of thousands of jobs.
Two of London’s three mail centres, at Nine Elms in south London and the East London centre, are to close with the loss of 750 postal workers’ jobs, a further one thousand managerial jobs will also be axed nationally, bringing the total number of jobs going to 3,500 over the past few months.
On the same day as this, the new Royal Mail announced that an employee share scheme introduced in 2007, and which was expected to pay out £1,400 to each Royal mail worker in September, will now pay out absolutely nothing.
In effect they are saying that Royal Mail are bust and its shares are worth precisely zero.
The £1.1 billion invested by the company in new technology designed to increase productivity and drive down operating costs has failed to produce the savings required.
Such is the crisis in Royal Mail finances that the postal workers union (CWU) and the trade press were awash last week with rumours that they could not even meet the weekly pay bill.
This news will be greeted with delight by the Tory-led coalition as they push the privatisation bill for Royal Mail through the House of Lords, which is expected to become law in May or June.
Their argument has always been that the Mail service is too expensive and can only be ‘saved’ through flogging it off to the private sector.
Bankrupting it will remove any parliamentary opposition to privatisation, so they believe.
The position of the leadership of the CWU to this crisis is to simply cry ‘foul’.
Billy Hayes, CWU General Secretary, has complained bitterly that the union’s executive entered into a sell-out agreement to end the wave of strikes that broke out two years ago, an agreement which the union has honoured but which Royal Mail has broken.
This agreement committed the union to collaborate with management on the introduction of speed-ups and increased productivity as the means to prevent privatisation.
Collaboration between unions and employers has never saved a single job, let alone prevented privatisation.
All it does is signal weakness and a determination to avoid a fight.
This weakness in the leadership is now right to the fore.
Their entire campaign against privatisation consists of appealing for pressure to be put on LibDem MPs to vote against the Bill and to try and convince their members that the Labour Party offers some hope.
Hayes was over the moon last Friday when Ed Miliband said at a public meeting that he was ‘against privatisation’, conveniently forgetting that it was the Labour government that first tried to sell off 30% of the Royal Mail.
What is crystal clear, is that the leadership of Hayes and his deputy, Dave Ward, is completely incapable of leading any campaign against the privatisation of the Royal Mail and the destruction of thousands of postal workers’ jobs.
The privatisation of the Royal Mail is set to become a huge battle ground between workers and this government in the months ahead.
The issue for CWU members is to demand that the union join with the other public sector unions and organise joint strike action in defence of jobs and against the destruction of services.
Those leaders who oppose this must be removed and replaced by those willing to lead this fight.
This has to be as part of the campaign for a general strike to bring down this coalition government and replace it – not with a Labour government equally committed to privatisation – but with a workers government.