The government has promised that the privatisation of Royal Mail will take place “within weeks”.
Shares in the privatised company will be offered to Royal Mail workers for a minimum spend of £500 (which can top up a free share bundle every worker will receive, with the total shares going to staff amounting to 10% of the business).
The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which organises Royal Mail staff, began balloting its members for strikes on 20 September, with the results due on 3 October. The ballot focuses on a number of ongoing industrial issues, including pay and pensions. In an attempt to avert a strike, Royal Mail has made some concessions on its proposed pension reforms, and have agreed to allow promotional increases to pensionable pay (and increments) to be counted as final salary pensionable pay until March 2018 (as opposed to April 2014 as they had previously proposed).
However, CWU officials say members are “certain” to vote for strikes, which could begin on 10 October. They will be the first national postal workers’ strikes since 2009.
Strikes could throw a spanner in the works of privatisation. Potential buyers may be stalled or put off altogether by sustained strikes, and the movement Royal Mail has already made on pensions shows that the threat of strikes can force concessions from bosses.
Local disputes like Bridgwater, which succeeded in beating back a bullying management through sustained and escalating strikes, coordinated through mass meetings, show how the national dispute could be organised. Strike funds will be essential to sustain action.
CWU also needs a political strategy. Currently, its political campaign against privatisation has little public life. CWU officials have talked about playing on rural middle-class fears about post office privatisation and cuts, and have floated the idea of an alliance with Ukip and countryside Tories.
So far, Labour has pointedly refused to commit to renationalising Royal Mail if privatisation goes ahead and Labour wins the 2015 election. Shadow Business Secretary Chukka Umunna has claimed it would be “irresponsible” to make such a commitment.
CWU will force a vote on renationalisation at Labour Party conference on 25 September, and expects to win a majority. A concerted effort by CWU and other unions to pass policy at every level of the Labour Party, and to take direct action against Labour MPs who refuse to back public ownership, could frighten and shame Labour into action.
In the meantime, we should gear up to support a postal workers’ strike, including by fundraising.