Saturday, 11 December 2010

Bloggers! Your Posties Need You!

Thanks to my previous involvement with the Burslem 12 I know a little bit about Royal Mail. In one of the more shameful episodes of New Labour's history, a profitable public-owned company was subject to ideologically-motivated marketisation under the guise of "modernisation". Private couriers like DHL and UPS were *given access* to the Royal Mail infrastructure (a bit like Tesco letting Asda use its distribution network); workers pay, pensions and conditions attacked; and managers oversaw a culture of incompetence and bullying. Late deliveries, galloping postal costs, soured industrial relations - all of these were consequences of softening up Royal Mail ready for privatisation. And they're bound to get worse: the Tories and LibDems are hellbent on selling it off.

This is what the Communication Workers' Union
has to say:
The UK postal service is under threat for the third time in a decade, and the nation is facing the prospect of losing a cherished public institution. Join us in our campaign to keep the post public.

Throughout its long history, Royal Mail has provided a vital public service to isolated rural and urban communities alike across the length and breadth of the country, providing a unique one-price-goes-anywhere daily service. We are convinced that privatisation will lead to widespread closure of Post Offices, jeopardise the uniform tariff and universal service for letters and lead to a deterioration of services, particularly for small businesses, domestic customers, vulnerable groups and communities.

Privatising the Royal Mail is deeply unpopular:

- A YouGov poll in August 2010 showed that only 15 per cent of the public agree with privatising Royal Mail while 60 per cent believe the Royal Mail should remain a wholly publicly-owned organisation

- An ICM poll last year found that 78 per cent of the public believed selling Royal Mail would be a bad deal for the taxpayer and 82 per cent of believed prices will go up

Royal Mail is a successful company in a strong position:

1. Royal Mail made £321 million profit in 2009 and £404 million in 2010, a rise of 26 per cent

2. The modernisation of Royal Mail is fully funded. There is no need for external financial investment from private backers

3. The recently agreed Business Transformation Agreement 2010 provides an outline for the modernisation of Royal Mail in a highly competitive market and already has the full support of both staff and management

4. Royal Mail is experiencing a period of prolonged stability for the first time in a decade. The upheaval of a sell-off would undo the good work that has already been done, and undermine any further successful implementation of the agreement

Improved model

In order to help Royal Mail keep its competitive edge in a constantly evolving market, the CWU proposes that the company should follow a business-centric model. In its recommendations, the CWU proposes that business leaders with experience of the private sector would be employed to expand the knowledge and expertise within the company.

In addition, the CWU recommends that regional business boards be created to give local employees a grassroots voice in national decision-making.

The focus of the Keep the Post Public campaign is to maximise pressure on the coalition to get them to understand the public are opposed to privatisation, and to persuade the Government to think again.

CWU is supporting the formation of local, broad-based campaign committees in partnership with residents and members of other organisations.

For further information on our campaign, please contact the CWU at

Also, keep checking the campaign
events, diary and media pages for up-to-date information. Follow us on twitter and facebook.
The CWU has a rolling series of campaigning events from Monday on. You can find out more about them here.

Bloggers are also encouraged to blog for Keeping the Post Public. Details
here. If you write in solidarity with the CWU they will add you to their roll of honour. So what are you waiting for?


Neil80 said...

It's the same deal as it was with Rover..

It's presented as a 'structural' issue and the public are told there is no other choice apart from closure/ privitisation..

But, the reality is it's a case of poor management, or deliberate vandalism.

The facts are in both cases different; cars are still manufactured in the UK by foreign multinational firms - who have no 'emotional' ties to the UK - so their choiuce of location is purely business based.

As for Royal Mail was doing very, very well right up into the 90s, what's changed since then? Don't blame the internet for less mail being sent when we're buying more online than ever.

Phil said...

Indeed, as you can see from the CWU snippet Royal Mail is still *massively profitable*.

If the Tories and LibDems had any sort of nous about them, you would think keeping on a state-owned company like Royal Mail would be useful as an income stream. After all we're forever being told how cash strapped UK plc is. And yet they're willing to sell it off - on the cheap no doubt - for a one off stimulus.

Incredible, but unsurprising.

Boffy said...

I'm not convinced this is true in the longer term. Mail as such is in decline, because of E-Mail, and direct electronic communications, payments etc. between firms and between firms and consumers. That process can only increase. Yes, more things are being bought online, but that means more parcel delivery, not more mail as such, and the economics and logistics of parcel delivery are different from those of the Mail.

The real problem is that the Post Office, which included Telecoms was broken up. For the Post Office to survive as a long term profitable business it needs to be an integrated business that includes Mail, Telecommunications and Parcel Delivery. That was as Mail declines it can continue to be cross subsidised from within the business from Parcels and Telecoms.

So, in part you can see why the Liberal-Tories want to sell off what is currently a profitable business, because they are not going to renationalise and reintegrate Telecoms into it, and the Parcel Monopoly has already gone. Besides, which this is an ideological driven Government, more concerned about pushing through its ideology than whether its immediate actions are beneficial to the economy or not. As the Commons Select Committee dug out recently, for instance, its likely that when the sell the Bank shares, which do not appear on the Government Books, they will pull in billions of pounds. Yet, this is not taken into consideration in relation to how this money could be used to reduce the deficit substantially. In fact, as David Laws has said according to Joey Jones of Sky News, even during the Coalition negotiations, the Liberals beleived that even the £6 billion of Cuts were a big mistake, and he admitted that the deficit had been "hyped up", that it was not a big deal.

But, this is the problem with relying on the Capitalist State. Whether its on Student Fees, Pensions, Public Sector wages or whatever, the State can choose its time to reverse previous promises and commitments, and workers are then left fighting a rearguard action. Even if you win at one point, the State can simply wait a while until it sees its opportunity and strike again, until workers are eventually worn down. That's why its better for workers to build their own independent alternatives.

Just look at the 40% job growth at the Mondragon Co-ops for example, and their movement into high-tech industries. Look at the attacks on our pensions compared with the average pension for workers at Mondragon of around £13,000 a year, and yet it still has income twice what it pays out in Benefits.

Phil said...

It would be interesting to see what sector(s) of the business Royal Mail profit is coming from.

I'd like to see the company develop as a cooperative. But at the moment, there is a stark choice. The imperfect status quo vs privatisation, and I'd go with the former every time.

Boffy said...


Absolutely agree we need to stress the opposition to privatisation, and to make the points about it still being profitable and so on. Cable has spoken about the potential for PO workers being able to set up a Co-op, but we know that will be highly restricted, probably more like a Partnership of the John Lewis variety than a real workers co-op, and they would hem it in in the same way that their proposals for the Big Society do with the proposals for Co-ops and Voluntary organisations to take over varioius lcoal functions i.e. they would want to keep control of the purse strings and sub-contract work, thereby extracting all the Surplus Value themselves.

But, the Phone Co-op shows that its possible to establish effective Co-ops in what is an increasingly important area. What we really need is to link up workers in BT with those in the PO towards developing a workers alternative. As I wrote a year ago the last time the PO was under threat, we need to be looking to a strategy of Occupations of Post Offices, and sorting offices.

All this seems to be asking a bit much at the minute because a lot of these tactics have not been used for 30 years, but the Vestas and Visteon Occupations shows that it can quickly be re-learned, and the University Occupations show the idea can quickly spread. Its sharp because it immediately challenges both Capitalist property relations, and Capital itself. I'd really like to see the University Occupations following the French example and opening the Universities up to everyone with mass free lectures and so on. The same is true with the Post Office, an occupation that continued to function as say UCS did, would mean that immediately the question of ownership would be posed, as well as in the short term meaning people were still in their jobs, but to succeed it would need to be spread. That's why its important to discuss the need to include Parcels and telecoms as immediately associated industries and activities.

Boffy said...

I just heard a good one from Andrew Neill on The Daily Politics. Asked to define the Big Society he replied, "Its like The Big Issue, except nobody buys it!"

CWU said...

Thanks for blogging about the Keep the Post Public campaign.
We have linked back to you from the CWU website.
We will link to other bloggers who support the campaign.
Details -