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Year 2009 No. 14, February 25, 2009 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Workers and Politics

No to Post Office Privatisation! Workers’ Pensions Should Be Secured!

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Workers and politics:
No to Post Office Privatisation! Workers’ Pensions Should Be Secured!

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———Workers and Politics ———

No to Post Office Privatisation! Workers’ Pensions Should Be Secured!

Workers yesterday demonstrated in London against the proposed partial privatisation of the Post Office. This proposal is scheduled to be put before the House of Lords on Thursday by the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson. The workers are insisting, alongside the general public, that this must not be allowed to pass. The class-conscious workers point to the evidence that privatisation has been an exacerbating factor in deepening the economic crisis and depression, and that the demand of the working class and people is that social services must never be a source of profit for the owners of capital.

There was angry condemnation of the government's plans at the postal workers’ rally “Keep the Post Public” at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. Government ministers claim that 30% of Royal Mail must be privatised to pay for modernisation. But this is contrary to the facts. The unions are pointing out that the Royal Mail made a profit of £255m in the last nine months of 2008 and can thrive in its current form.

The government and the financiers have caused a deficit in the pension fund and their representatives on the board of Trustees are supporting privatisation. In a letter published by the government, Jane Newell, the chair of trustees of Royal Mail's pension scheme, warns that the deficit is likely to rise well in excess of its current £5.9bn should the sale not happen. But the Communication Workers Union said that the publication of the letter was an effort to "scare" MPs into voting with the government. Its leader Billy Hayes said that it was a "scandal" that the chairman of the pension trustees was "interfering" in politics.

He said, "The government is saying they want a foreign company to run the post office, which is ridiculous. We could be faced with a situation where the Royal Bank of Scotland is nationalised and the Royal Mail is privatised."

Workers are being threatened that the deficit could cut postal workers' pensions by half if privatisation is not carried out. Dutch postal operator and multinational TNT is the only firm, so far, to have publicly expressed interest in buying a chunk of Royal Mail.

It is said that 125 Labour MPs oppose privatisation of the Post Office, fearing full privatisation and job losses, and argue Labour made an election pledge to keep the Royal Mail in public hands. They are supposed to be organising a rebellion over the vote. So far 145 MPs have signed a Commons’ motion opposing the move, 125 of them Labour. All of the main political parties are supporting privatisation, diametrically opposed to the will of the people. The Liberals and Conservatives only argue that the neo-liberal policy of privatisation does not go far enough.

At the rally there was angry criticism of government policy, many calling for the union to sever its links with the Labour Party and claims that workers were being "blackmailed" by linking the pension deficit issue to the part-privatisation.

The government has proposed taking over responsibility for the pension scheme as part of the proposed sell-off package. The government, though, has a responsibility towards the pension scheme, which it has allowed to fall victim to the capitalist crisis. It should fully fund the deficit and the capitalists should never have been allowed to get their hands on the workers’ pension scheme at all. The capitalists have never been shy of raiding such schemes for their own ends, a policy which has led to massive deficits and the closure of many such schemes, including the virtual elimination of final-salary schemes.

The government is claiming that the Royal Mail needs new investment in technology to survive. It wants the private sector to cherry pick the lucrative side of the Post Office and dispense with the rest. Privatisation will inevitably re-raise the issues of Post Office closures around the country, and the threat to postal deliveries in rural areas. The service will be diminished and instead of the important social programme being enhanced by investment, would be wound down in many areas and where it remains would be turned into another bank. The message from the Prime Minister’s office sounds hollow as it recants its familiar mantra that “the plan is not a sell-off but a partnership". This is a reiteration of Labour's manifesto commitment to keep the Royal Mail in “public ownership” and that the government was committed to ensuring a publicly owned Royal Mail and maintaining the "universal service" obligation to deliver to every UK home.

The government is attempting to sow confusion and disinformation about the reality of the Post Office and create hysteria through emphasising the danger to the Pension Fund. It shows clearly that the workers’ opposition needs to become properly informed about the situation in the Post Office. The workers inside the Post Office are firmly upholding their dignity by demonstrating in London. They are also raising the issue of the public good.

The political programme to stop paying the rich and invest in social programmes is becoming more important as every day passes and the crisis and depression are bringing issues sharply to the fore. The workers by their actions are demonstrating the necessity of their coming to the centre stage and demanding that their marginalisation be ended as they become more political. The proposed privatisation of Royal Mail in the context of the economic and financial crisis as a whole is underlining the need for the workers to organise themselves as an effective political force which has the power to block the economic and political programme of the monopolies. Worker politicians need to be able to take their full part in the decision-making process.

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