Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Behind the Royal Mail sell-off

As postal workers gather outside Parliament today to lobby the government over plans for a partial sell-off of the Royal Mail, as a prelude to mass redundancies, any lingering doubts they might have had about where New Labour’s priorities lie should be dispelled by reports of yet another bail-out of the banks.

The extra £500 billion in liabilities taxpayers are said to be facing to prop up RBS and Lloyds will take the state’s commitment to the insolvent banking system to a staggering £1.3 trillion (£1,300,000 million if it makes the total any easier to understand). That’s equivalent to the value of the British economy’s output for a whole year. 

Meanwhile, on the back of a paltry – by comparison - £5,900 million deficit in the Royal Mail’s pension fund, New Labour is planning to sell off part of the company to a transnational corporation. New investment will be undertaken at the price of “modernisation” of this nominally public service, resulting in large-scale job losses and price increases. The break-up of post office services is an indication of what is to come. 

That, at least, is the plan and it is entirely consistent with New Labour’s role in life. This is to use the capitalist state to create opportunities for global companies operating in Britain to extract maximum profits from working people. With the capitalist economy in freefall, new opportunities for profit-taking are most welcome by business and part-privatisation does just that. 

It is no use the Communication Workers Union leaders pussy-footing around in a futile bid to try and isolate business secretary Lord Mandelson, who is introducing the legislation in the House of Lords on Thursday. Prime minister Brown and the rest of the cabinet are equally behind the sell-off because they are unreservedly committed not just to the preservation of but also to the enhancement of corporate and financial interests. 

Yet the transfer of wealth from taxpayers to banks will not avert the slide into slump that is now taking place at a rapid pace on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, Citibank and AIG insurance are once more on the point of collapse. Wall Street has fallen back to 1997 levels. A new shock to the system is being prepared that will produce social outrage and upheaval in country after country. The massive anti-government demonstration in Dublin at the weekend – equivalent to a march in London of 1.5 million – is a sign of what’s coming up the line. 

That’s why Brown’s bovver boys – aka the Metropolitan Police – are letting it be known that they are preparing for a "summer of rage". Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan police's public order branch, said. "Obviously the downturn in the economy, unemployment, repossessions, changes that [public mood]. Suddenly there is the opportunity for people to mass protest. It means that where we would possibly look at certain events and say, 'yes there'll be a lot of people there, there'll be a lot of banner waving, but generally it will be peaceful', [now] we have to make sure these elements [“extremists”] don't come out and hijack that event and turn that into disorder." 

There are also reports that a secret police intelligence unit has been set up to spy on political groups, to mount surveillance and run informers on “domestic extremists”.  The unit is being set up by the unaccountable and secretive Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and will be based at Scotland Yard. Acpo was instrumental in co-ordinating the attacks on miners during their 1984-5 strike. 

Postal workers should challenge their leaders to start from these realities and mount a real, militant campaign against the Royal Mail sell-off. They would find ready allies throughout the country if they were involved in action to defeat and bring down New Labour to defend their jobs and pensions.  Any other course is sure to reinforce the government’s determination to pursue its role as the agency of big business. 

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor


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