In the midst of a worldwide market-capitalism fiasco and a situation of nationalizations, one would think that the trend to keep on privatizing public institutions would be on permanent hold. Time and again in Britain and Europe, it has been demonstrated that privatized services such as railways, energy utilities and telephone companies have led to short term profits and long-term decline in service and customer availability. It is astonishing then, that Peter Mandelson, New Labour architect and a man with more comebacks than the average ageing pop star, has accepted the findings of the Hooper Report, recommending the injection of private money into the Post Office. This means: the thin end of the privatization wedge.
Private companies have so fragmented and destroyed Britain’s rail services that even right-wing political parties and news commentators have made calls to “re-nationalise” them. The plethora of ticketing options, failure of the regional controllers to match up their services and numerous increases in signal failures leading to drawn out maintenance and crashes has shown that this public service fails completely under privatisation. During the Labour Party years in opposition there were howls of disapproval at the dismantling of public services, not least from (ex-socialist turned Friedmanite) Gordon Brown. Their 1997 victory was a ‘if-you-can’t-beat-’em, join-em’ victory. It’s just that many Labour voters actually didn’t think a Labour government would veer so far to the economic right.
The Hooper Report (available here) sets out an assessment of Royal Mail’s performance in the market. It reports that the postal service has suffered a mild decline as a response to digital mail, but also acknowledges that Royal Mail delivers 99% of British post, that package and other like mail remains healthy, and that people value the service as a public service. The rest of the report is spent bemoaning the fact that it has a large and generous pensions scheme, that workers have too much freedom, and a collection of graphs that show it isn’t as profitable as TNT and other European post handlers, which, of course, is the real issue.
The Dutch handler took over the Dutch Royal Mail service around three years ago and has since gone on a rampage of whittling down its workforce to one consisting of many casual and temporary postal workers and closing down not only local, but central post offices. The large central post office in Utrecht, a marvellous art deco building in the heart of the city, is earmarked for closure, despite the fact that it is in daily use and no other large post office remains in the central city. Hardly anyone, apart from the Dutch Socialist Party, has bothered to raise a complaint above a murmer about this.
Despite what TNT may want to claim, the Dutch postal service has become a highly marketised company, with little to no job security and absolutely no efficiency increases in the actual delivery service. The profits have been made from restructuring labour (i.e. sacking people), closing post offices and raising postal costs. In general, the state of Dutch mail is spread between many companies. Recently (as reported here) one of these companies didn’t even bother to check that it was handling over a million articles of fraudulent mail, and sacked one of its employees for blowing the whistle.
The British government is extremely fond of lying to the British public about how fantastic other European, and particularly Dutch, public services are, knowing full well that less than 1% of people will actually bother to find out how true these claims are. One example is health: where more patients are make it onto hospital wards. How is it achieved? By having mixed wards as standard policy. Or where health insurance costs (enforced by law) have risen out of the range of many people, leaving millions under-insured. The Dutch government tells similar lies to its own citizens about the wonders of various other European neighbours
Why would a government accepting a report that points to overwhelming public support for a unified and reasonably-priced service, even consider the approach of a company like TNT? The answers are not difficult to fathom. They want to highlight profit as the dominant factor; they want to offload a lot of labour unrest and bargaining power to a quarter they know will dismantle and demoralize it into oblivion; they want to carry on the already planned European directive to marketize the whole of the public services in every EU member country; a plan that has made it impossible to run public services without private capital hammering on the door. There is no doubt that TNT would make massive savings: through job slashing, reducing benefits, and closing outlets. In short: TNT (or any similar company) will destroy Britain’s postal service, as it is already doing in the Netherlands. Its name has ironic significance.
Anyone who even marginally values the post office as a public service will oppose this.