The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) held a 500-strong ‘Keep Royal Mail Public’ national rally before a bigger lobby of MPs on Tuesday against the government’s part-privatisation Bill being introduced in parliament tomorrow.
Opening speaker CWU general secretary Billy Hayes told the rally: ‘Today is about people’s democracy against a political elite.’
He added that Labour Party policy agreed at conference was to keep Royal Mail public ‘then we got Hooper’.
Hayes said: ‘With Peter Mandelson, six years of policy was wiped away in one minute. What he is doing is straightforward political cowardice.
‘We are for modernisation. Privatisation, that’s what we are not about. Not twenty, ten or five per cent privatisation – 100 per cent in the public sector,’ he concluded to applause.
Former Labour postmaster-general Tony Benn said: ‘This is a battle we’ve got to win, we have tremendous support from the public.
‘This is not about modernisation, it’s about privatisation.
‘The market has let us down, look at the banks.
‘To breach your trust with the trade unions is a very dangerous thing.
‘Every Labour MP said “vote for me and I’ll keep the Post Office public”.
‘If they use the whips they’ll damage the government.
‘We’ve got to win this one.’
Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley told the rally: ‘These spivs and speculators that have brought the country to ruin mustn’t get their hands on the Post Office.
‘Oppose it, oppose it. The free market has had its day.’
Referring to a warning on Tuesday that if the privatisation doesn’t go through, the Royal Mail pension fund will go bust, he added: ‘The leaked pensions letter is an attempt by Mandelson to blackmail MPs into submission.
‘They should not be allowed to do that.
‘We want more public ownership, not less; more intervention, not less.
‘If they can find £1.3trillion to bail out spivs and bankers, they can find the money to modernise the Post Office.
‘They’ve got to honour the manifesto pledge that your leadership fought for.
‘We’ve go to keep the Post Office in the public sector and you have the 100 per cent support of my union.’
North Ayrshire and Arran CWU-supported Labour MP Katy Clarke said: ‘We have to take a stand against our government.
‘We have a manifesto commitment to keep Royal Mail public.
‘Royal Mail management have been trying for privatisation year after year.
‘We know privatisation of the railways was an absolute disaster.’
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny warned: ‘Without the dedication of people in the postal service, many people would be cut off.
‘That’s what will happen under privatisation.’
He urged: ‘MPs who support the EDM (Early Day Motion opposing privatisation), you stick with it.
‘On behalf of the trade unions, you stick with us and we’ll stick with you.’
He concluded: ‘This is not just an industrial issue, you are fighting for the very fabric of the country.’
CWU deputy general secretary Dave Ward told the rally: ‘This is just the start of the battle.
‘Privatisation by instalment is privatisation by any name.
‘These people have betrayed their own party, they have betrayed the country.
‘We met McFadden the post minister last week.
‘We are going to make sure if he carries this through he’s not going to be in any government.’
Ward added angrily: ‘This government leaked a letter from the chairman of the pensions trust to try to intimidate us – that’s the lowest move of any government.
He threatened that the union will disaffiliate from the Labour Party over Royal Mail privatisation.
Ward added: ‘We do not accept the position the government is doing us a favour to bail out the pensions. Royal Mail took a pensions holiday for years.’
He concluded to applause: ‘This has to be a public campaign but if it means at some point that to defeat this, and some say it will be illegal, if it means our members taking strike action, we will do that.’
Civil servants union PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘Every time we’ve had an industrial dispute at government offices, the CWU has refused to cross picket lines.
‘Every union should give the same support to you.’
He warned: ‘It’s not about winning the argument. Since Labour has been in power there’s been more privatisation than under the Tories.
‘As they are preparing to privatise Royal Mail, we are fighting the privatisation of the Benefits Service.
‘Winning the argument often is not enough, we have to work out what we are going to do about it.
‘This stuff about the pensions is the lowest of the low.
‘If £1.3bn can be found to bail out the banks, let the state bail out pensions.’
He said to applause: ‘If industrial action is something you have to contemplate, we will give every support, including ourselves considering industrial action.’
Former Labour health minister Frank Dobson MP said: ‘Privatisation is a three stage rocket: write-off, sell-off and rip-off.’
He added: ‘The only way to keep things going is to keep them as they are.
‘The Post Office should stay in the public sector.
‘There are very few institutions in this country that are treasured by everybody.
‘One is the NHS, the other is Royal Mail.’
He warned: ‘In last Labour rebellion, the government got through the Iraq war with the support of the Tories.
‘They could get this through with the Tories because the Tories agree with it.’
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber told the rally: ‘We are calling on MPs to stand up for a publicly-run, publicly-owned post service.
‘The market has taken us to the edge of the economic abyss.
‘You would have thought that people would be aware that the free market doesn’t have all the answers.
‘The public support the Post Office. Nine out of ten want to see a publicly-owned Post Office.
‘We know that once the universal service is dependent on profit, that service is going to disappear from many parts of the country.
‘The idea of holding the pensions promise hostage to some form of private ownership is wrong and must be opposed every step of the way.’
EDM 428 proposer Morecambe MP Geraldine Smith said: ‘Royal Mail managed to make a profit for years and years.
‘Governments got millions of pounds from Royal Mail, they should have invested the money.
‘If you’ve got bad management, you sack the management, you don’t sell the business.’
She noted: ‘The CWU have been flexible. 40,000 jobs have gone in the past four years.
We’ve got to go out there and campaign throughout the country, I’m sure people are with us on this.’
She received a standing ovation, as did Hayes and Harlington MP John McDonnell when he called on unions to defy the anti-union laws and strike if the part-privatisation becomes law.
Other speakers bringing their support included rail union leaders Bob Crow, Alan Donnelly and Gerry Doherty, UNISON leader Dave Prentis, UCATT leader Alan Ritchie and Mick Shaw (FBU).