NEXT week the postal workers union, CWU, is holding its delegate conference under conditions where the coalition government is planning the wholesale privatisation of the service in the autumn.
This week it was announced that, so desperate is the government to achieve the sale of what remains one of the largest public sector employers, it is prepared to float Royal Mail on the stock exchange for a knock-down price of less than £2.5 billion, a huge £1.5 billion less than the business is valued at.
Privatisation will inevitably lead to massive cuts amongst the 130,000-strong postal workforce alongside continued attacks on their pay and conditions, while for the general public it will mean an end to the ‘universal service obligation’ (USO), which obliges Royal Mail to deliver letters anywhere in the country for one price, at the same time as driving up the cost of stamps to excessive levels in order to provide the profits demanded by the private shareholders.
The privatisation of Royal Mail has long been an ambition of successive governments.
Thatcher attempted it in the 1980s but was unable to push it through.
In 1990, Labour business secretary Peter Mandelson also tried and failed in the teeth of opposition from the union and the public.
Now this discredited and bankrupt coalition is trying to privatise an industry that has never been in private hands.
Postal workers therefore will be amazed that, far from being central to next week’s CWU conference, the entire issue of privatisation and the fight against it is being fudged with talk about nebulous campaigns around persuading the government to maintain the USO after privatisation, or of convincing the Labour Party to pledge itself to re-nationalising Royal Mail should it be elected in 2015.
References to the CWU considering motions calling for strike action appear to refer not to a campaign of strike action against the government and privatisation but to a decision on whether or not to ballot the membership on boycotting the delivery of competitors’ mail – something that they are obliged to do under government regulations.
Whilst this is an important issue for postal workers, it pales into insignificance compared to the threat of privatisation.
In the drive to achieve maximum profits under privatisation, the CWU itself will be in the firing line as the bosses seek to curb the historic militancy of postal workers by smashing up branches and attacking those branch leaders who fight for their members’ rights.
None of this can be stopped by appeals for campaigns ‘to keep the post public’ that rely on appeals to the government to see that there is no ‘economic’ or ‘moral’ justification for privatisation.
For Cameron and Osborne the economic justification is the requirement of a bankrupt capitalist system to sell off every single part of the public sector and those that it cannot find a buyer for, simply close down.
The only morality that the capitalist class recognises is the morality of making profit at any cost, of driving up exploitation of the working class to levels not seen since before the building of trade unions.
The only way for postal workers to defend the service is to demand that the leaders of the CWU stop avoiding the issue of strike action to bring down this government and attempting to divert the union along the lines of useless appeals to the Labour Party, which is in full agreement with the Tories on selling off postal services.
This means flooding next week’s conference with emergency motions instructing the CWU national executive to immediately start organising all its members for an all-out strike against privatisation and to demand that the TUC, at its general council meeting next week, issue the call for a general strike to bring down this government and advance to a workers government.