Unions challenge govt on Royal Mail

By Alex Stevenson

A rally is being held in Westminster opposing the government’s plans to part-privatise Royal Mail.

The Communication Workers Union, (CWU) hosting the event at Central Hall opposite Westminster Abbey, is seeking to prevent the government pushing its proposals to sell off 30 per cent of the postal services provider.

Business secretary Peter Mandelson is expected to launch a bill to this effect on Thursday, a move attracting criticism from those speaking at the rally.

“When he publishes the bill. it may be time to publish our own timetable of when to disaffiliate from the Labour party,” threatened Dave Ward, the CWU’s deputy general secretary (postal).

“People like [Lord] Mandelson and [Gordon] Brown don’t stand up for British workers, for British postal workers. It if means our members have to take strike action to defeat this, we will be doing it. No fear.”

The CWU’s Midlands regional secretary Lee Barron told politics.co.uk outside the lecture hall where the rally was taking place he believed the government was only backing the sale because of its commitment to the private sector.

“There’s no reason for it other than the belief the private sector will run the Royal Mail better,” he said.

“We doubt that – because any profit that is made will go into the pockets of the private sector.”

Other unions have supported the CWU. Unite joint general secretary Derek Simpson condemned the “spivs and the speculators” in business and said if the government could find money to bail-out the financial sector, it could “find the money to modernise this important public service”.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, agreed, telling the prime minister: “You’re doing this in the name of the free market dogma that got us into so much c**p in the first place.”

And Neal Lawson, of left-wing pressure group Compass, warned the government was determined to “break the industrial and political strength of this trade union.”

The rally comes amid fierce opposition from over 120 Labour MPs, who have signed an early day motion tabled by Geraldine Smith which states that part-privatisation would “risk fracturing one of Britain’s greatest public services”.

Observers say the government faces a real possibility of defeat if it refuses to bow to opposition within the parliamentary Labour party.

But with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat parties saying they support the move to sell off up to a third of Royal Mail to a foreign firm, this is not guaranteed.

The government announced its support for the move after the Hooper review supported attracting new investment through a sale.

Since then the public have indicated their opposition to part-privatisation. A poll of 1,000 people carried out for the CWU found nine out of ten against the government selling a percentage of Royal Mail to a foreign company.

Such opposition is likely to be reinforced by worser-than-expected news about Royal Mail’s pensions deficit.

Yesterday evening BBC News cited a letter sent from one of its trustees stating its pensions deficit was significantly greater than the £5.9 million figure in the Hooper review.

Union leaders at the rally dismissed the pensions call as a deliberate ploy by the government to confuse the issue and generate sympathy for a part-privatisation to take place.