Five years ago I told a British union man that Dutch postal firm TNT would find a way of getting its hands onto the British post office—he told me it would never happen. Presently he is still right, but for how long? I remember that the Dutch Post Office was quickly shunted off into the hands of TNT without so much as a whimper from the people who should have been concerned. That has led to the closing down of numerous central post offices, a drastic whittling down of the workforce and a delivery service that seems to arrive according to the weather (see this previous post).
Peter Mandelson as New Labour’s official capitalist lackey, is absolutely determined to privatise the Post Office, which is why he is completely blanking the calls against it. The New Labour method is to order 101 inquiries, reports and thinking-sessions, to draft green and white papers, in a show of democracy, when the decisions are more or less already taken. The same process was carried on in the Netherlands, dragging on and on until the general public, bored to the back teeth of long-term dreary reports about funding and lists of conjured-up statistics showing how much better it would be in the hands of a company like TNT, finally moved on to the next issue. Having only a small hard core of opposition with which to condend, the Dutch postal service finally went private and many postmen immediately turned into students working 3 and 4 hour shifts inbetween study, and on temporary contracts.
No-one with a normally-functioning brain could credibly claim that TNT’s acquisition of the core postal service has done anything to improve it. Everyone knows that the post offices run on a skeleton staff , where of the five -to-ten counters present, only two-to-three of them are manned; and that postmen are subjected to the modern equivalent of the time-and-motion study. All privatisation has done has free up another previously governmental responsibility.
Mandelson repeatedly talks about a ‘part-privatisation’, as though that is some sort of useful compromise. How could it ever be useful for the taxpayer to have to partially fund a privately-run organisation through the public purse? New Labour, despite their commitment to Friedmanite economics, still dither over privatisation because it has such a negative image, and because they spent 18 years in opposition crowing about its evil legacy. Even Thatcher, who was far more determined to create a trickle-down world, dithered with the rail service and it ended up part-privatised, and in a situation where companies ran them into the ground and government paid them every time they failed. The fantasy-land Adam Smithites and all their associated cronies keep quacking the same refrain: that if they were privatised and given a real free-hand, private companies would run them more efficiently and provide a better public service. Evidently these people have never properly understood why America’s private health insurance system (and increasingly those in Europe) prices people out.
Almost everything else in Britain, except the NHS (and that is on its way) is now privatised. New Labour spends more money legislating and trying to mitigate the damage wrought by greedy privatised energy companies than it ever would have done had the energy companies remained state-owned. Privatisation has not prevented these companies from overcharging everyone and conning old-age pensioners into switching providers for a short-term price cut and a long-term price raise. Why should anyone believe that the Post Office will be different?
Strike action, solid and widely supported by everyone who cares about a postal service run for the public, rather than shareholders, managers and chairmen, is the only way to prevent this from happening. People may well complain about mail not arriving during a strike, but what will they say when there is no strike and TNT still delivers the mail after six o’ clock in the evening or not at all, which is what happened to my mail regularly when I lived in Amsterdam.