Royal Mail sell-off could cost New Labour a fortune

I think it’s a given that privatising Royal Mail will be a disaster for its workers and customers.

Now it’s clear that it will cost New Labour financial and political support from the Communication Workers Union – who last disaffiliated from Labour in 1927 after the general strike!

No doubt, other unions would be minded to follow the CWU like those in dispute with employers – and the government! – over social dumping in the construction industry.

Leaked plans reveal that Royal Mail’s millionaire bosses want to sack 10% of the workforce.

The Morning Star comments:

Wrecking Royal Mail
(Friday 06 February 2009)

WHOEVER invented the word “modernisation” has some serious explaining to do.

For starters, isn’t progress supposed to make things better? If so, why does modernisation, an idea so beloved of new Labour drones and incompetent businessmen, always seem to involve taking something that works and smashing it to pieces?

Royal Mail is far from the only example of such modernisation – tried taking a train recently? – but it’s one of the worst.

A public service that was among the finest in the world has been reduced to a pale shadow of its former self by a stream of “modernising” cuts. Two reliable and punctual deliveries a day have become one deeply unreliable delivery. Some 2,500 post offices are closing and thousands more could follow, with devastating effects on communities across Britain.

Staff are being burdened with ridiculous workloads as a result of 50,000 job losses in recent years.

And now Royal Mail bosses are planning another round of cutbacks, aiming to slash 10 per cent off costs despite the firm’s soaring profits.

The Communication Workers Union, whose members are working flat out to maintain standards at Royal Mail, calls the cuts “panic measures that will hit the quality of service.”

The union is right, but the cuts are not just about boosting profits in the current crisis.

They are part of plans to fatten up Royal Mail for private-sector consumption, doling out the profitable slices to big business while leaving the taxpayer to subsidise the loss-making parts such as the post office network.

This has long been a goal of new Labour and the privatisation-obsessed regulator Postcomm, starting when postal services were opened to private competition in 2006 – a measure which has benefited only big business at the expense of smaller firms and the public.

Lord Mandelson’s plan to privatise part of Royal Mail is a shove that will send the postal service tumbling down a very slippery slope.

Along that slope lies more and more cost-cutting and more and more “modernisation,” until Royal Mail lies in ruins at the bottom.

It’s an extreme threat that needs extreme measures to counter. So the CWU is right to take a bold stance in defence of this vital service by threatening to break its links with Labour if privatisation is pushed through. This is not a step that any union would take lightly. But what else is it to do, after so many betrayals by what is supposed to be the party of working people?

New Labour has allowed, even encouraged Royal Mail bosses to slash jobs and standards left, right and centre. It raised no objection when Postcomm ordered the “liberalisation” of mail delivery far quicker than required by the EU postal directive.

Now, ministers are backtracking on their 2005 manifesto commitment and defying their party’s own official policy by inviting the private sector to cash in on Royal Mail at everyone else’s expense.

New Labour has proved time and time again that it will not listen to the public, will not listen to its own members, will not listen to the unions which founded the party and which provide so much of its financial and campaigning muscle.

It will not listen to the overwhelming evidence that privatisation has been an utter failure across the public services and will be a disaster for Royal Mail.

We hope the CWU’s threat to disaffiliate is the shock therapy ministers need to jolt them back into reality.

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Productivity or profitability – why are UK construction workers excluded from new projects?

I’ve just seen Pat McFadden, the New Labour employment minister, argue that “productivity” might be a reason why UK-based engineering construction contractors can’t win new contracts.

This is bollocks, frankly.

The EU Posting of Workers Directive, following decisions made by the European Court of (in)Justice, allows foreign firms that win contracts to import workers on the minimum wage, undercutting the going rate. Even if a similar rate is paid, the employers can claw this money back by deductions for accommodation and transport.

Construction workers based in the UK are being excluded not because they are lazy and lack skills – but because they would have to be paid the going rate. It’s known as “social dumping” and it’s all about squeezing profits out of workers.

The dispute at Lindsay oil refinery has been won – by both the strikers there and those across the UK who walked out in solidarity, defying the anti-union laws – but the practice continues in the sector. And so, protests continue at Staythorpe power station, and at other sites where UK workers are excluded for applying for new jobs.

As the Morning Star reports, the Lindsay strikers have been pledging their support:

Lindsey workers join Staythorpe strikers
(Friday 06 February 2009)
by PAUL HASTE Industrial Reporter

CONSTRUCTION workers on strike at Staythorpe power station near Nottingham were joined on Friday by hundreds of flying pickets from the Lindsey oil refinery.

The 300 Staythorpe workers walked out on unofficial strike last Monday after months of protests against construction firm Alstom’s decision to contract out work to non-union companies.

Alstom is building a gas-fired power station that engineering union Unite estimates needs 850 workers to complete. The union accused the huge corporation, which raked in more than £462 million in profits last year, of trying to undercut employees’ wages by bringing in two subcontractors.

Unite branch secretary David Smeeton explained that the subcontractors “planned to bring in 800 foreign workers and refuse to even consider local workers for the job.

“Yet there are hundreds of local people who could work. We built the last two power stations here,” he said.

The flying pickets from Lindsey, in nearby Lincolnshire, had walked out on unofficial strike in their own dispute over a contractor’s unfair hiring practices last week.

The 400 workers are set to return to work on Monday after winning the creation of more than 100 new jobs at the oil refinery, but many of them descended on Staythorpe on Friday, braving freezing weather conditions to show solidarity with the power station workers.

Joining the solidarity picket, Unite shop steward Kenny Ward, who was one of the leading protestors in the Lindsey dispute, pointed out that “these problems at Staythorpe and at Lindsey are caused by judges and bosses, not foreign workers.”

He added that the government’s acceptance of European laws that allow employers to use workers from one country to undercut the wages of workers in another was a “disgrace.

“If the Labour Party doesn’t want to fight for workers anymore, then workers will have to fight for themselves,” he stressed.

“Our wildcat strike at the refinery and the solidarity that workers all over Britain gave us has shown that it is possible to fight back,” he insisted.

Lindsey strike committee member Tony Ryan added that the Staythorpe workers could count on the same solidarity that had helped win the fight for the refinery workers.

“This will continue. This is only the start of the fight for us lads,” he declared.