UP to a thousand postal workers rallied at Westminster Hall on Wednesday to hear CWU union leaders and MPs call for a campaign against the privatisation of Royal Mail.
The Postal Services Bill, which is going through Parliament, would see wholesale closures of Post Offices around the country, the union warns.
At the moment, Royal Mail subsidises the Post Office by £150 million per year, for central services such as property management and legal services.
Ministers have rejected calls for the Bill to guarantee the size of the network, and to ensure every community is near to a post office
Dave Ward, CWU Deputy General Secretary, told the rally: ‘If we connect our campaign to the community we will win.
‘When I hear Vince Cable and David Cameron say: “We are about maintaining a universal service” but then ditch the government’s responsibility to the Post Office, it’s not acceptable.
‘It is not acceptable to the public and should not be acceptable to any politician.
The CWU’s ‘Keep the Post Public’ coalition statement explains that the Bill to privatise Royal Mail will break the 350 year old historic link with the Post Office and put the future of the network in jeopardy.
‘No other country in the world has separated its postal network from its mail business’ Ward added.
‘The government did not deliver on Post Bank so how is the Post Office safe in their hands. This government won’t guarantee anything, the network is not safe in their hands.’
Ward continued: ‘We have to make people understand that the regulations they have brought in are crippling the industry.
‘All the lucrative bits have been creamed off, then they say we are a basket case.
‘Our pensions are not safe in their hands. Their motive is to get their hands on £26 million.
‘We are going to defend our members’ terms and conditions.
‘We didn’t make the modernisation agreement and put some of our members in difficult circumstances to have the government walk all over it.
‘As well as the 71 key marginals, we have to target every single MP.
‘We can’t afford to put all our eggs in one basket.
‘We have to raise the profile of this campaign with members of the public and we’ve got to get out there quickly.
‘The third part of our campaign is to raise the anti industrially. We have not gone through everything we have so far for the government to take it all away.
‘In the New Year, if we want to defend our jobs, and we have to take industrial action again, we are up for it.’
Richard Ascough, a GMB Secretary from Southwark, brought fraternal greetings and said: ‘We must build the “mother of all coalitions” to fight the cuts and show there is an alternative.’
Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskie sent apologies for not attending the rally because he was at a meeting at British Airways regarding a third ballot for strike action against BA. However, Steve Turner, Unite National Officer for Transport, brought solidarity greetings from the Executive Council and said: ‘Postal services are a lifeline for so many people and are vitally needed.
‘This coalition is mounting an ideological attack on public services and more broadly on organised labour.
‘Thirty years ago they did the same thing. They attacked the best organised sections like the miners. Soon they will want to ban working class people from fighting back by banning strikes in public services and possible the wider area.’
Referring to the student movement, Turner said: ‘Lessons should be learned about uniting the community .
‘They are flogging off our public assets that we enjoy ownership of, like the Post Office and the NHS.
They will asset-strip, and take the profits and ship them out of the country and into tax havens.
‘The bankers are sitting pretty on huge bonuses while working class people are seeing their living standards cut.
‘There is a need for a coordinated fight. It’s about time people started to rise up. If we don’t rise up as a community, it will be easier for them to take on the unions.’
At the same time as the CWU rally, a National Day of Protest Against Welfare and Housing Benefit Cuts held a demonstration outside Downing Street against the huge cuts to Welfare and Housing Benefits being introduced by the government.
Eileen Short, Chair of Defend Council Housing, said: ‘This protest has been organised by tenants, trade unions and community groups because we are facing a housing emergency.
‘We are building a card board city to make it clear that if these government attacks on benefits go ahead, and rents go up to 80 per cent of market rents, then all of us will be in “cardboard city”.
‘Tenants have fought for many years for decent housing and we are not going to give up our rights at the whim of a government who have already broken their promises.
‘These cuts will see Housing Benefit for people on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) cut by 10 per cent after 12 months.
‘Council and housing association rents will rise to 80 per cent of market rents.
‘Single people under 35 will not be able to claim for a one bedroom flat.
‘Families will be able to claim Housing Benefit for a maximum of four bedrooms.
‘A recent survey carried out by Haringey Housing Action Group showed that nearly all landlords would evict tenants if Housing Benefit dropped by more than £20 per week.
‘Two million people are already on the council housing waiting lists, and one million children live in overcrowded housing.’
Kelvin Hopkins, MP for Luton North, said: ‘These cuts are a crime against the people of our town. The government will squeeze people out of London and they will go to places like Luton.
‘Our housing queue will grow. We have lots of people living in boxes. We have asked the government to forbid the sale of council houses, but we are forced to continue selling. It is an attack on the poor and an attack on families.
‘After WWII council housing was the only way children from working class families got decent housing. Now they are being sold for £450,000 each when at least one third of the population will never have a decent home unless they have a council house.’
Austin Mitchell, MP for Great Grimsby, said: ‘If the shared room rate is raised from 25 to 35 it will be a blow.’
Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the CWU, said: ‘Privatisation is proceeding full speed all the way through, leaving us at the mercy of the European Directive not to protect the Post Office or the number of outlets.
‘People will have to travel miles to leave their post. The Bill does not specify a minimum number of outlets, leaving it to the government’s high street friends to take on the postal services.
‘It’s about solidarity, not just trade union disputes, but social solidarity.
‘We know all parties are against the Bill. Not one opinion poll has supported privatisation.
‘We have every chance of defeating the Bill or at least taking the worst out of it. There is ample opportunity, but at the moment they are not listening.’
After describing how he was kettled along with students, having come out of a meeting with Tory MPs, Hayes said: ‘Our campaign won’t end in January, or when the Bill gets royal assent. Our campaign centres will do whatever they have to do, whether taking members out on strike or talking to Tory MPs, to win this fight.’