Another public service reform is possible!

Not the catchiest of slogans, that. But, you get the picture, hopefully.

Following on from her 2003 book, Reclaiming the State, which was about reforming the public sector through greater involvement by workers and the general public, Hillary Wainwright has a new book published by the socialist pressure group Compass and Unison, the trade union….

Public service reform … but not as we know it!

How do you save money, improve services, involve the unions and strengthen democratic control at the same time? In Newcastle, they have come up with an alternative to privatisation that achieves all these objectives, as Hilary Wainwright reports

The need for convincing alternatives to market-led politics is urgent, especially as the government continues to defer to the financial markets rather than challenge them. Lord Mandelson’s determination to part privatise Royal Mail is the most high profile rebuff to what should be a common sense moratorium on handing anything more to private business.

There are many unsung alternatives that people are creating as they refuse the idea that market-driven policies are the only way. Take the Royal Mail itself. Go behind the union-bashing and you’ll find that the Communication Workers Union and the management of Parcel Force, a subsidiary of Royal Mail, are constructing a model of industrial democracy that has turned this public organisation around from near collapse, showing that a democratically managed public sector company can provide better value for money than most of the private companies with which it now has to compete.

What if we systematised and drew broader lessons from such practical experiments?

A laboratory of public service change
I was fortunate enough last year to be able to study, from the inside, a self-consciously public process of public service reform. I squatted in an empty office in Newcastle’s civic centre for several months interviewing the staff, management and trade union activists responsible for a five-year programme of modernisation of the council’s IT and related services, and with it improvements and savings in the systems of collecting council tax, delivering benefits and making its services accessible to the public. What gave the process its special character was people’s pride in transforming these basic services as public servants, following a hard-fought struggle against their privatisation led by the city council branch of Unison.

‘It wasn’t about resistance to change,’ explains Tony Carr, who was the full-time Unison rep for the staff involved in these services. ‘It was about controlling your own destiny and not having someone come in and manage us through change.’

Such an explicit effort at publicly-led reform created an ideal laboratory to test and elaborate the hypothesis that democratisation rather than privatisation is the most effective and appropriate way to modernise and improve public services. In testing this, my intention was also to explore exactly what are the specific mechanisms of change driven by democratic public service goals rather than by profit maximisation.

Keeping it public: a strategic campaign
This explicitly and determinedly public-driven programme of internal reform was the outcome of a struggle between 2000 and 2002 to keep these strategic services public. At stake for a private company was a £250-million, 11-year contract. For the staff and the union, it was 650 jobs and the quality of strategic services on which other council departments depended and that could be a base for public-public partnerships in the region.

The strategy of the Newcastle city council branch of Unison to keep these services public had five essential elements, all of which laid down foundation stones for the democracy of the transformation process itself:

1. First, building on a tradition of participatory organisation, the priority was to involve members in every step of the campaign: from mass meetings and the election of reps when market testing was first announced, through industrial action against privatisation, to the reps directly scrutinising the private bid and contributing to the ‘in-house’ bid.

2. The second element in the strategy was to intervene in the procurement process and campaign for an effective in-house bid. ‘We had to recognise that even though we were against the whole concept of market testing, if we actually wanted to win an in-house bid we had to intervene at that level from the beginning,’ says Kenny Bell, then convenor of the Unison branch.

3. Third, campaigning meant reaching out to the public, building popular support for a general opposition to privatisation. ‘Our City Is Not For Sale,’ declared the banner leading several demonstrations of trade unions, community organisations and dissident Labour councillors.

4. Fourth, although the union filled a political vacuum in standing up against privatisation, Unison no more wanted to take the final decisions about who should deliver services than it wanted management to do so. The aim was not to substitute the union for council officers but to make the council genuinely ‘democracy’- led.

The pressure on the elected politicians eventually paid off, with the council passing a resolution insisting that alternatives to privatisation must be found.

5. Campaigning was little use unless it was grounded in strategic research. Key to the success of the Unison branch was the work of the Centre for Public Services, which in the course of 30 years of collaboration with trade unions and community organisations has honed a participatory method of work that shares skills and intellectual self-confidence. The CPS’s work had an impact on members’ consciousness as well as on trade union strategy. For Unison shop steward and housing benefits worker Lisa Marshall, collaboration with the CPS on investigating the bid of the private sector rival was a turning point: ‘As we looked over their bid, we found a lot that we knew could be done better. From then on I felt confident about what we were trying to do keeping it in-house.’

This leads into the final component of Unison branch thinking: the leadership treated their members as skilled people who cared about their work. Josie Bird chairs the branch: ‘We recognise that our members want to provide a service. It’s not a romantic idea that they live to work. No, they work to live – but it does matter that it’s a public service that they work for.’

The campaign was successful. The in-house bid drawn up by management in agreement with the unions was clearly better public value for public money.

In 2002, the then Labour-run council (since 2004 it has been Lib Dem) gave it the go ahead and borrowed £20 million to invest in it on the basis that savings would eventually more than pay back that investment. Jobs would go but without compulsory redundancies and with exceptional resources for training and redeployment.

Why union strength is vital to democratic reform
The union campaign laid the basis for real staff engagement in the process of change. The union was involved at every stage, from selecting new managers to discussing every significant change. ‘It’s our job to keep the management accountable, not so much to the staff but to the change’ was Kenny Bell’s description of the unions’ role.

‘The union keeps us honest.’ Ray Ward, the senior manager who led the changes, echoes the point from the management’s point of view. It’s a collaboration but the union has retained its power to act independently and to escalate a conflict if necessary. And the management knows this. The union wouldn’t be trusted by its members if it could not. The result is an experiment in industrial democracy with real benefits in terms of quality of services and the best allocation of public money.

By 2008, net savings of £28.5 million had been achieved, projected forward over an 11-year period. Every area of service has improved significantly, from the speed and accuracy of benefit payments to the high levels of satisfaction with the new call centre and the ‘one stop shops’ for all council services for which community groups have campaigned for years.

The role of the union in these achievements requires emphasis because although there is now widespread talk of the ‘empowerment’ of public service workers, there is scant recognition of the necessity of a well-organised and democratic trade union to achieve it.

A break with traditional managerial elitism
But it takes two to tango for change. And the nature of the City Service management team was important too. (City Service is the name of the new department that brought all the reformed services together.)

‘It’s the people, stupid’ has been the slogan of City Service. People’s capability and commitment are assets to be realised, not costs to be cut. This focus on people, on encouraging them, believing in them, has been systemic to the transformation. Management is about ‘coaching not commanding’. Initiative and responsibility has been pushed away from the centre, layers of supervision have been eliminated and replaced by support. The dynamism of the department lies in working across its different sections through project groups involving all those with a relevant angle on a problem to come together to resolve it.

All in all, City Service transformed the centre of its organisation from a traditional model of local government management into a hub from which management supports numerous, largely autonomous projects and activities. A new kind of public sector organisation has emerged, with a leadership role that is more about facilitation and developing a shared direction than it is about exercising control.

The kind of people who made up this leadership is revealing. Ray Ward for example, first chose to work for local government, aged 16, because it was ‘a good place to sleep’ after nightly gigs in a rock group! In 2003, many years later, with much experience as a senior manager but not forgetting his own early experiences, his goal was to reorganise Newcastle’s management systems to enable council staff to exercise their creativity in their day jobs, in the service of the public.

He recruited Kath Moore, who had transformed Newcastle’s school meals system through involving the cooks and kitchen staff. She saw one of her missions as to release the staff expertise buried beneath the hierarchies and procedural fetishism that is too common in local government – as in much of the public sector. City Service management’s ability genuinely to engage the staff in designing the changes, not simply accepting them, was a special key to their success.

A common vision
A precondition of this success of a decentralised system of management in an organisation facing huge challenges has been a clear common vision of high quality publicly-delivered public services. Every aspect of the transformation programme was geared to and judged by that goal. This shared goal provided a basis for motivation and common purpose, a mutually accepted reference point that avoided drift and helped to overcome conflict. It enabled the management and union leadership constantly to move the process forward.

The shared vision also served to dust off and bring to the fore a public service ethic that normally lies dormant or reduced to a matter of formal rhetoric. There was an active thinking through of what this meant in practice so that it became a practical force for change.

The political economy of democracy
There was a financial foundation to this revitalised public service culture. The goal was to maximise public benefit rather than to maximise profits. Again the determinedly public-led nature of the transformation process threw the distinction into sharp relief in every key relationship.

Consider relationships of scrutiny and democracy. Ray Ward sums up the difference: ‘The private company can say that as long as we are adding shareholder value, share prices are looking good, profits are looking good, we’re okay. We can’t do that. The level of scrutiny is much higher, quite rightly because it is public funds.’ If it is to be more than an empty or self-serving bureaucratic formula, the goal of ‘maximising public benefit’ rests on the importance of democracy as a live force, driving the efforts of everyone in a public organisation.

Until now, the focus on strengthening local democratic control over public money has focused on strengthening citizens’ participation. The Newcastle experience takes our thinking about democratisation further by opening up and democratising the normally hidden, taken-for-granted internal processes of managing public resources. As long as the internal organisations of the public sector are top-down, fragmented and semi-oblivious to the real potential of their staff, all the participatory democracy in the world can be soaked up and defused or blocked by hierarchical structures and bureaucratic procedure. The process of internal democratisation, therefore, is a matter of economic as well as political importance, creating the conditions for a public sector business model that lays the basis for a political economy of democracy.

When we get into the detail of such a new political economy, an important practical implication of maximising public benefit is minimising, if not eliminating, the amount of money spent on institutional relationships that are not intrinsic to the delivery of a service. This is one of the costs of outsourcing and privatisation.

Time and time again I asked Newcastle staff what it would have meant if this relationship (whether at the highest level between the council’s treasurer and City Service managers, or in the daily provision of a frontline service such as the call centre) had been with a private company instead of ‘in-house’. Repeatedly the answer came that it would have meant all sorts of extra charges – for making changes to respond to needs or problems not foreseen in the original contract with the private company –and a lot of time diverted to negotiating these charges and changes.

City Service did have a relationship with the private sector but it was only where the public sector did not have the capacity to do something itself – for example, with the procurement of the IT hardware needed for the modernisation programme. Here the relationship was very much on terms set by the public sector, including a ‘guaranteed maximum price’ contract to ensure there was no unpredicted overspend. Another aspect of the relationship being on public sector terms was the rigorous transfer of knowledge from the private company to public sector staff who worked with it. So often it is the other way round, with knowledge being privatised and re-presented as a profit-driven tender the next time round. Countering the depression

The service reforms in Newcastle’s illustrate in a modest but practical way how the public sector can have its own criteria and mechanisms for efficiency, quite distinct from goals of profit. This story provides evidence that, with a clear shared vision, an egalitarian and professional management, a strong union and workplace democracy, the public sector generally has the capacity to make itself a highly effective steward of public money. In particular it can realise its special asset of skilled staff committed to serve their fellow citizens. This is exactly the asset that Lord Mandelson’s plans will squander.

But this story is not relevant simply to the case against privatisation; it is also fundamental to an alternative economic strategy to counter the fast-moving economic descent into a depression. Publicly-led public service reform on the basis of the kind of principles exemplified in Newcastle lays the basis for creating new and useful jobs in the public sector throughout the UK – in building council housing, caring services, youth services, environmental services, ICT, strengthening the social economy and so on – it is not as though there is a lack of things that need doing!

Depressions lead to social devastation. One foundation stone of a new, more humane political economy should be the expansion of democratically reformed public sector.

For more detail on the Newcastle experience, see Public Service Reform … But Not As We Know It, published by Unison and Compass. Available from Red Pepper at a special price of £5 or free when you subscribe for £20.

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Millionaire Mandelson picks Tory banker to oversee Royal Mail sell-off

Solomon Hughes reports in the Morning Star:

PETER Mandelson has picked a new post boss. His choice of Donald Brydon as new chairman of Royal Mail shows that, when in doubt, Labour reaches for a banker.

Brydon will get £200,000 a year for his two days a week at Royal Mail. This might seem like a lot to you or me, but he has become used to big money from his long banking career.

Brydon started off with a 14-year stint at Barclays, followed by a job as chief executive of Axa Investment. He still sits on Axa’s board, although he stepped down as CEO in 2002.

He has always been an outspoken banker, but unfortunately spent a lot of time getting it wrong in a loud voice.

In 2003, leading investor Warren Buffet was predicting that complex financial derivatives were “financial weapons of mass destruction.” Buffet is not a radical – he is one of the world’s richest men, equally happy helping Arnold Schwarzenegger or Barack Obama.

But when Brydon heard Buffet’s warnings, he felt the urge to speak out. He seems to have been particularly worried that criticism of the financial system had come from within, from a businessman like Buffet.

Brydon chose to respond at a joint conference of British and US bankers. “We all need to be on guard lest regulations stifle initiatives in the retail application of derivatives,” he warned.

With his help, the meeting turned out to be something of an anti-Buffet rally, with other speakers denouncing Buffet as “frustrated.” As it turned out, Buffet was right and Brydon was wrong.

Brydon also felt the need to stand with then US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan against the critics of derivatives.

In 2003, Brydon claimed that, “as investor confidence has been rocked so the importance of risk mitigation instruments such as derivatives has increased.”

But derivatives actually added to the instability of the system – had they been properly regulated in 2003, we might not be in the mess we are in now.

Brydon’s worries that derivatives might be reined in stemmed from his general broad dislike of regulation.

He was also head of the Financial Services Authority “practitioner panel,” a group of bankers brought in to advise Britain’s financial regulator.

Unfortunately, their voices were heard all too well. The FSA remained deferential to the bankers and failed to stop the financial recklessness that caused the current crisis.

Brydon used his place on the panel as a pulpit from which to attack the “regulatory burden” and argue for the “need to remain vigilant that, in developing regulation, a point of no return is avoided where innovation, flexibility and competition are threatened.”

His own firm Axa showed why tighter regulation should have been imposed. In 2003, Axa Investment boss Brydon argued for less FSA regulation. In 2004, the FSA hit sister firm Axa Sun Life with a record £500,000 fine for misleading customers.

Mandelson described Brydon as “a proven business leader and successful chairman.”

Brydon’s experience certainly extends beyond banking. Unfortunately, he seems to have brought a banker’s mind to his industrial jobs.

He became chairman of high-tech medical firm Amersham and sold the company to US giant GE. He then became chairman of engineering firm Smiths Industries and promptly sold off its aerospace arm, again to GE.

The Independent was driven to say: “The former fund manager seems to be developing something of a knack for selling British publicly quoted assets at supercharged prices to overseas concerns.”

Subpostmasters and posties will not be reassured by a new boss who loves to flog things off.

Like many new Labour appointments, Brydon is also a longstanding Tory. As a student, he was president of the Edinburgh University Conservatives, befriending fellow Tories such as Malcolm Rifkind.

In 2001, he signed a letter to the press describing Ken Clarke as “the best hope to lead the Conservative Party back to government and create the social and economic climate necessary for business to flourish.”

Obviously this is handy, because Ken Clarke is likely to be his boss after the next election.

Unless of course the plans to sell-off our postal service, and other unpopular ideas, are dumped along with slimeballs like Mandelson.

What more evidence do you need? Does this sound like a Labour man to you… the man is a millionaire who helps out his fellow millionaires – to hell with the rest of us. Get this:

The Business Secretary has refused to reveal detailed information about his financial affairs despite the possibility that they could directly influence his ministerial decisions.

Instead, he has declared only that his “financial interests have been transferred into a blind trust”. The contents of the blind trust – which may include shares, properties and other investments – remain secret.

The existence of Lord Mandelson’s blind trust came after the Cabinet Office released a list of minister’s financial interests. The interests are those declared by ministers to Whitehall officials.

It is the first time that the list has been released and only interests “which are, or could reasonably be perceived to be, directly relevant to Ministers’ public duties” have been publicly disclosed.

The Business Secretary is one of five Government ministers to have set up blind trusts. The others are Ben Bradshaw, a health minister; Lord Myners, the City minister; Lord Davies, the trade minister; and Lord Darzi, a health minister.

A further nine ministers, including five members of the Cabinet, also disclosed that their spouses or close relatives are “consultants”. Few details about who they work for are revealed, raising questions about potential conflicts of interests.

Blind trusts have traditionally been set up to allow ministers to put their financial interests at arm’s length. Trustees are appointed to manage the trust and ministers are not supposed to have any role in deciding whether and when investments are bought and sold.

However, the arrangements have been criticised in the past. Tony Blair set up a blind trust after becoming Prime Minister. However, it later emerged that Mr Blair’s wife, Cherie, had directed the trustees to use the trust to buy two flats in Bristol.

Lord Sainsbury, the former science minister, also set up a trust to hold his multi-billion pound stake in Sainsbury’s supermarkets. The shares were not sold while he was a minister.

Officials have conceded that ministers will be aware of the investments held in the trust and that such an arrangement may present a “conflict of interest”.

Last night, it emerged that Gordon Brown revised the ministerial code to remove specific guidance to ministers on blind trusts. The official code of conduct previously warned that ministers with trusts may have to step aside from decisions related to their financial affairs.

The previous code stated: “It should also be remembered that even with a trust the minister could be assumed to know the contents of the portfolio for at least a period after its creation, so the protection a trust offers against a conflict of interest is not complete…In some cases, it may not be possible to devise such a mechanism to avoid actual or perceived conflict of interest.”

All references to blind trusts have been removed from the revised code of conduct drawn up by Mr Brown after becoming Prime Minister.

Westminster insiders have expressed surprise that the Business Secretary, a career politician, is wealthy enough to justify establishing a trust.

Accountants believe that Lord Mandelson must have assets worth at least £500,000 and probably more than £1 million to make it worthwhile setting up a complicated trust. Annual fees must be paid to accountants and lawyers running the trusts.

Mike Warburton, an accountant who runs trusts at Grant Thornton, said: “I suspect the trust is going to be in excess of £1 million or why bother. The concept of a blind trust has always struck me as a bit dubious as you are only going to appoint a trustee who is someone you know pretty well and trust.”

John Lewis Partnership – socialism in action

As capitalist-owned enterprises lay off workers and cut wages, the worker-owned store John Lewis – consistently voted one of the best for customer service by consumers – pays out a 13% bonus to staff. Why? Because they own the business – they won’t be asking themselves to take a pay cut!

I’m not saying that John Lewis is some kind of paradise in a sea of exploitation – it isn’t, but clearly, workers owning the enterprises in which they work is no impediment to building successful businesses (sales are up!) and responding to consumer demand (Waitrose are brining out a budget range, for example) whilst at the same time “sharing the proceeds of growth”, to coin a phrase.*

From Wednesday’s Guardian:

The annual bonus paid to John Lewis’s 70,000 staff has shrunk by almost a third after profits at the partnership were hit by the recession.

But staff still cheered the news that they will receive a bonus of nearly seven weeks’ pay, down from 10 weeks’ pay a year ago.

Because John Lewis is owned by its staff, every one of them – from the boardroom to the shop floor – receives the same percentage payout. This year it is equal to 13% of basic salary for staff at the Waitrose supermarket chain and John Lewis department stores.

At the John Lewis store on Oxford Street this morning, more than 1,000 shop staff hung over the balconies to learn what their annual bonus would be.

In the well of the atrium, Noel Saunders, managing director of the store, worked the crowd like a game show host, hinting the highest partners could expect was a 12% payout.

At 9.28am, as partners counted down from 10, his assistant Paul Thomas – who has worked in the floor coverings department for 20 years and was selected for scoring excellent results from mystery shoppers – fumbled with the envelope before pulling out a giant card bearing the figure 13%.

As customers peered through the doors, partners erupted, celebrating the bonus payment after a tough year on the shop floor.

The total bonus payout for 2008 is £125.5m, down from £180m for 2007.

“The key difference is this is a genuine bonus based on profit-sharing,” said Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis. “The word ‘bonus’ has become discredited in the economy, but for us it is something to celebrate. Our partners have worked harder than ever to achieve these results.”

The feel-good atmosphere pervaded all six floors with no grumbles from partners that the bonus fell short of last year’s bumper payout.

“Last year, 20% was a fantastic result, but in the current climate we are really happy to get a bonus as we see people around us losing their jobs,” said Charlotte Deane, who will use her bonus to catch up with her sister, who is travelling in California. “However much it is, it is a bonus, not a benefit, and I feel lucky to get it.”

Most staff canvassed expect to use the extra cash on a holiday. Indira Vakeria said she was planning a trip to India to visit her parents. “We are really pleased with 13%,” she said.

The company reported that its profits fell by 26% in 2008 to £279.6m. Chairman Charlie Mayfield warned that 2009 would be “another very difficult trading year”.

“Trading conditions worsened markedly during the year as the problems in the financial sector reduced consumer confidence to a low level,” he said.

The partnership conceded it would no longer be able to hit its target of opening 10 stores in 10 years. It has already opened four, including branches in Liverpool and Cambridge, but beyond its new Cardiff store this autumn, and a shop at the Olympic site in Stratford slated for 2011, it said its aggressive growth plan would be “delayed”.

The company said it remained optimistic that two stores across the Irish Sea, one in Lisburn in Northern Ireland and one in Dublin, would open as planned but warned that other projects, including stores in Crawley and Portsmouth, might be held up. Retail schemes around the country are being mothballed as property developers grapple with funding shortfalls and collapsing asset values. Mayfield said the retailer was “working actively with developers to maintain our rate of growth” and remained committed to the expansion plan.

It is just over a year since John Lewis first admitted that its sales were being hit by the high street downturn. By the autumn, when the UK economy was contracting, the company was reporting double-digit falls in weekly sales.

* Please, don’t misunderstand me, I doubt that the Tories – expected to win the next UK election – will fulfill their promise of “sharing the proceeds” by forcing Tesco to become a cooperative. This is something the unions need to take up with New Labour, though…

Liam Byrne backs coops… or sneaky privatisation?

Read the following and consider two questions:

1. Do we need to expand cooperative ownership into the private sector or the public sector?

2. If Mandelson is involved in a social enterprise summit, and Byrne is talking about a role for social enterprise in “accelerating public service reform” (privatisation), can we assume that the government could be looking to rebrand unpopular policies (the Royal Mail sell-off, for example) using the pretense of cooperative values?

Social thinking can pull UK out of recession
March 11 2009
The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Liam Byrne, said that social enterprise had a key role to play in helping the country out of recession.

“There will be a debate about the type of economy, society and country that will emerge from this recession,” he said. “I predict that social enterprise will become more, not less, influential because people are asking: ‘How on earth did we end up here?’

“A demand for answers will follow,” he told delegates at Birmingham’s International Convention Centre. “One answer will be that markets will need more morals like yours. We need business for the public benefit not the personal bonus. This country will look more for ethos with its enterprise – not just cut and thrust but care and trust.”

Mr Byrne said that social enterprise was an integral part of the Government’s New Opportunities white paper, which outlined how new jobs could be secured for Britain in the decades ahead.

He added that the Business Secretary Lord Mandelson would soon be chairing a social enterprise summit to ensure that that the sector plays a bigger role in the new British economy.

“If we want to re-balance Britain’s economy in the years to come, then the role of social enterprise has to expand. We will bring together the brightest minds and the most progressive thinkers – and even some politicians – to join us in this task.”

He said there would also be a bigger role for social enterprise in the delivery of public services: “In the last ten years we have rebuilt institutions in our communities — new schools, colleges, universities, health centres, surgeries and youth centres.

“In the next ten years we have to hand over the reins to local people, and we’ll need your help. When we publish our plans for accelerating public service reform, I will set out clearly how I want to see the role of social enterprise expand.”

In terms of new jobs, Mr Byrne said that he wanted to see 25,000 more people working in social enterprise in the months ahead.

He said that the “soft power” of social enterprise would grow when “investment in British youngsters is seen as more valuable than short-term bets on America’s sub-prime debt”.

Govt response to recession’s mental health crisis is all talk

No, really. Talking therapy.

As the UK economy slides further into recession, the prospect of millions out of work is putting pressure on individuals and families. Health secretary Alan Johnson and the minister for work and pensions James Purnell have announced more funding for mental health services to assist those made redundant by the economic crisis.

But what help is “cognitive-behavioral therapy”? Is it just a way of pacifying people who will be angry and upset that their hopes of prosperity are being ruined by the chaos of the capitalist system?

CBT encourages people to think about what they can do as individuals to improve their situation. Obviously, New Labour types like Johnson and Purnell would not naturally be promoting a therapy that encouraged people to look at how they can collectively overcome social problems – nor acting to prevent a mental health crisis by intervening in the economy to defend workers – but surely the failure of market fundamentalism to deliver “an end to boom and bust” should encourage politicians to think outside the box…

The Mental Health Foundation is calling on the government to treat the mental health epidemic caused by the recession as a public health issue:

The growing gap between rich and poor has caused a “social recession,” leading to low educational achievement, increased violence and poor community cohesion […]

The Foundation warns that “perpetual stress” and depression linked to public concern over excessive earnings has led to widespread social and health problems.

Radical shift

The charity’s report, Mental Health, Resilience and Inequalities, calls for a “radical shift” in understanding mental health as a public health issue, citing research from around the world that shows that affluent but unequal societies can have many problems.

It also recommends assessing all future public policy for its impact on people’s mental health.

Social problems

The report’s author, Dr Lynne Friedli, said individual and collective mental health and well-being depended on reducing the gap between rich and poor.

“A large divide leads to a mentally unhealthy society, and many associated social problems. In the UK in particular, we’ve failed to acknowledge this link, preferring instead to blame the health and social conditions of those living on or near the poverty line on their own lifestyle choices. This in turn further stigmatises poverty, making disadvantage even harder to overcome,” she added.

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said living with inequality had “very real effects on the mind and body,” adding: “Given the huge social costs of poor mental health, it’s vital we begin to treat it as a public health priority.”

Mandelson moans at mass opposition to mail sell-off

Apparently it’s making the sale that much harder that so many people don’t want Royal Mail to be sold. Good. It’s not for sale, it belongs to the people.

Socialist Worker outlines the opposition:

Anger grows at postal sell-off
by Yuri Prasad

Business secretary Lord Mandelson’s plan to privatise Royal Mail has created a storm of protest. This is raging through sections of New Labour that were once cringingly loyal to the leadership.

Delegates to the party’s Scottish conference last week applauded wildly as Dave Watson attacked the proposal as a breach of Labour’s manifesto commitment to keep Royal Mail publicly owned.

Watson is the chair of the Scottish Labour Party.

Welsh MP Siân James this week resigned as a parliamentary private secretary and signed an Early Day Motion against privatisation. Around 150 Labour MPs have now signed this motion.

James is the second member of the government to quit over the issue, and some commentators expect that another 15 could follow her.

The rebellion in Labour has grown as public opposition to the plans has become clear.

Now even the Liberal Democrats, who have been committed to Royal Mail’s privatisation for years, are deserting the cause and refusing to vote with the government.

There was further embarrassment for the government this week after an email from Royal Mail boss Adam Crozier attacking rival firm TNT, a likely bidder for a stake in Royal Mail, was leaked to the Guardian newspaper.

Crozier said that TNT had been lying to Royal Mail customers in Europe, telling them that it had already acquired the state-owned company.

Disarray

TNT has told its workers in the Netherlands that it will sack 10,000 of them if they do not accept a 5 percent pay cut.

Despite the disarray, Mandelson is determined to proceed with the privatisation.

His political future now depends on getting the sell-off through.

He knows that the government can win the final vote in parliament in a few weeks’ time with the backing of the Tories.

Many activists in the postal workers’ CWU union are aware that that any campaign that concentrates solely on winning Labour MPs will be doomed to failure, and that the union leadership’s strategy is flawed.

“If we’re going to win this, we’re going to need a strategy that involves industrial action,” says Alan Walsh, branch secretary of the union’s Watford branch.

“But I don’t think that postal workers should have to fight this battle alone. I’ve been at rallies where the leaders of other public sector unions have stood alongside the TUC saying, ‘Your fight is our fight.’

“Well, I’d like to see them put their money where their mouth is.

“I want postal workers to strike against privatisation – and I want to be joined by thousands of other public sector workers.

“That’s what workers do in France when they are under attack. We need to need to learn some lessons from across the Channel.”

Massive

The need for this kind of response is becoming clear as Royal Mail attempts to prepare the ground for a sell-off.

Postal workers in different parts of the country have told Socialist Worker that the company is attempting to ram through massive cuts between now and the end of the financial year in April.

Labour’s privatisation plan is also putting an enormous strain on the relationship between the CWU and the party that it has loyally supported for generations.

The union has committed to balloting its members on whether to fund the party at the next election, and many branches are now seeking a more fundamental review of the union’s affiliation to Labour.

“Labour says that it is the only game in town, and for a long time we in the CWU have believed them,” says Alan.

“But now many of us are telling our local MPs that if they refuse to vote against privatisation, not only will we cut our donations, but we’ll stand against you in the next election and cut your votes too.”

Northamptonshire CWU branch has called a march and rally in Corby against post privatisation.

The protest takes place on Friday 20 March – assemble 1.15pm at the Civic Centre, George Street, Corby.

Protesters will march to local MP Phil Hope’s surgery.

Northamptonshire CWU says, “Putting the people of Corby before career ambitions and blinkered loyalty to a Labour government is all we ask of Phil Hope.

“Who is he representing when he pledges support for the part-privatisation of Royal Mail? There is no support in Corby.”

A rally after the march will hear speeches from Lord Tony Clarke, CWU vice president Jane Loftus, TUC regional secretary Roger McKenzie, Unite regional secretary Adrian Axtell, CWU regional secretary Lee Barron and others.

Unite-Amicus election: Jerry Hicks gets a quarter of the votes

Beating the New Labour-backed Kevin Coyne, Hicks proves that arguments about the danger of “splitting the votes” aren’t always worth listening to – in this case, the “moderate” (pro-capitalist) candidate was in third place.

Though Derek Simpson has been re-elected, it is with a radical socialist as his main competitor. Coyne didn’t exactly play it as a right-winger, it has to be said. A message has been sent to the union leadership – members want accountability and assertiveness for their money…

From the Observer:

Derek Simpson was re-elected as joint leader of Unite, the UK’s biggest trade union yesterday. Simpson beat three rivals for the post of joint general secretary of the Amicus section. He won 60,000 votes, followed by Jerry Hicks with 40,000, Kevin Coyne with 31,000 and Paul Reuter with 28,000.

Simpson, 64, will now remain in post until December next year, working alongside Tony Woodley, head of the TGWU section. Last night Simpson said he was “very pleased” with the result, adding: “This is a vindication of the policies I have been pursuing on behalf of our members, in very difficult times.”

Simpson’s opponents claimed during the campaign that he was too close to Gordon Brown and that the super-union needed a leader who would stand up more strongly for members’ interests.

Unite has given more than £13m to the Labour Party since Gordon Brown became prime minister.