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Postal Workers March Against Privatisation
UP TO 3,000 postal workers joined a demonstration through central London on 16 March.
This followed the announcement by the postal regulator that the letter delivery service would be opened up to private companies. The demonstration was significant as the first national trade union demonstration against New Labour's policies.
The fact that union activists came from all over the country, including Scotland, to the march and rally shows how future demonstrations could be much bigger with an enthusiastic drive through the branches of the Communication Workers' Union (CWU).
The many, often unofficial, walkouts over the last few months shows postal workers' anger over bullying management, poor pay and now threats to jobs from privatisation.
At the rally, Mick Rix of the train drivers' union, ASLEF received warm applause for attacking Blair's links with the right-wing government of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi.
Guest speaker and former Labour MP, Tony Benn, attacked the pro-business programme of the Labour government which was alienating working class support. He exclaimed that "The public are now to the Left of the Labour government."
This was hardly a revelation. The Socialist Party has consistently argued that New Labour has become another capitalist party and that the task of socialists is to help construct a new workers' party. However, Benn remains firmly wedded to Labour and instead advocated the forlorn hope that the unions could act to transform Labour into a working-class party.
Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, ridiculed the privatisation of the Post Office which would "make Railtrack look like a model of efficiency". He claimed that the current problems in the Post Office are due to a "failure to invest by the government".
Hayes was scathing toward Tony Blair and John Prescott who had previously said 'no privatisation' and demanded the government sack the Post Office regulator.
And although content at the support given by CWU-sponsored Labour MPs for retaining public ownership of the Post Office, he warned New Labour that privatisation would risk the union's funding of Labour. And that in future "we'll deploy it [the political fund] where it counts".
His strategy to fight privatisation fell short of industrial action and linking-up with other public-sector workers in a one-day general strike. Instead he preferred a broad campaign with support from the Scottish Parliament, the Wales and the Northern Ireland Assemblies.
He wanted support from political parties including capitalist parties such as the Liberals, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party. But he also welcomed the support of Left parties and organisations including the Socialist Party.
"THE ATTITUDE of local management is the main problem as far as most postal workers are concerned now.
But my reaction to these latest proposals is, what's most important, providing a service or making money? Already they're talking about whacking the first class stamp up to 33p as a direct result of the regulator, who's supposed to be there to protect the customers."
CWU rep, Dartford
In The Socialist 22 March 2002: