Post – transformation for privatisation? by a London postal worker
The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government has announced its intention to privatise Royal Mail (but not the Post Office Network). This should not come as a surprise since, when Peter Mandelson was making his own unsuccessful attempt to privatise, both parties declared their support – although only the Liberal Democrats put it in their manifesto. Although all the details are not clear, it seems they want to sell off half Royal Mail, keep 25% for the Government and – as a sop – give 25% to the workforce, in the hope that this will undermine opposition.
This comes hard on the heels of the vote by postal workers to agree the deal arising from last year’s strikes, called Business Transformation 2010 and beyond. There were many reasons to oppose this agreement, but what overrode them all was fatalism. The national CWU leadership presented the agreement as necessary to save the postal industry and admitted that they had no “Plan B” – other than that rejection would mean more strikes (with no clear objective). Many postal workers felt it was a bad deal but didn’t feel able to oppose it – partly because no real alternative was being put forward, but mainly because they had no confidence that rejection would lead to a better result given the union leadership had spent four months (!) negotiating this one. Some branches recommended rejection to their members, but no national opposition was built. In the circumstances it was surprising that the agreement was only accepted by a two to one majority. Less surprising was that there was only a 55% turnout – a reflection of the demoralisation and disillusionment coming out of the strikes and their outcome.
The crux of the deal is that Royal Mail are now able to proceed – pretty much in the way they wanted in the first place – with cutting the workforce through increasing workload and mechanisation. A paper commitment to consultation (not negotiation or agreement) with the union will do little to hold them back, especially when they have the support of the national union.