Pete Firmin, a CWU activist in London, spoke to Solidarity about the battle against privatisation of Royal Mail.
Legislation to part-privatise the post was introduced into the House of Lords by the Government on 25 February, and is likely to reach the House of Commons in the next two or three months.
There were several hundred on the CWU demonstration against privatisation in Wolverhampton on 14 March, and it was quite lively towards the end. But, given the way it was organised, you could hardly call it a national demonstration.
There are no moves inside the CWU for a national demonstration as far as I know. There is local activity — like the London day of action on 26 March, leafletting stations and so on — but, for example, there are no moves that I’m aware of to make something special of the CWU presence on the “Put People First” demonstration on 28 March.
Compass [a soft-Blairite Labour Party lobby group] has been given the franchise for the political campaign against privatisation. It’s crazy in my view. The rationale we’re given is that this keeps the campaign out of the hands of New Labour. Make sense of that if you can.
The national union campaign has put all its eggs in the basket of lobbying MPs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is limited.
The Tories say they will vote for the part-privatisation. Thus, however big a rebellion we get among Labour MPs, the part-privatisation will still go through Parliament. The discussion should be about how we use the political campaign in order to build towards strike action to stop the privatisation, but at present it is not.
Certainly it is not being discussed at national level. At branch level, there is discussion about a more active campaign — as for example with 26 March — but not really about any radically different campaign, though there may be some strike action soon over the current round of job losses.
CWU conference is in June. I’m fairly sure that there will be motions calling on the union to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. The existing union policy has been misreported, including by the CWU leadership. The policy commits the union, if the Government does not back off on privatisation, to ballot the membership on whether to support Labour at the next General Election — not on affiliation as such.
I don’t know of other motions going forward to the conference from branches on the privatisation fight.
The campaign is altogether slower, more sluggish, and later than it should be. It’s like sleepwalking into nothing. On the part of the leadership of the postal section of the CWU, the underlying thought seems to be that having private capital in the post is not so bad if it serves to secure the pension fund.
CWU general secretary Billy Hayes is totally opposed to privatisation, but does not seem to know how to fight it. For example, at the Labour Party National Policy Forum in Bristol on 28 February, the CWU had quite a good demonstration outside, but inside made no challenge to the chair’s ruling that Royal Mail privatisation should not be discussed.
That there is not sufficient pressure from the rank and file to make the leadership shape up better is, I think, in part due to demoralisation — among activists, and also a wider section of members — after the settlement in our 2007 dispute, and after we’ve seen the union do nothing on the pensions issue all through 2008. In addition, the local London leadership, which used to be a bastion of more critical thinking, is now fully lined up behind the national leadership of the postal section.