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Reaching out to the Greens

(This article first appeared in Green World – the Green Party membership magazine)

I was privileged to speak at a meeting at this year’s Green Party Conference.  We have our differences – I am a long standing member of the Labour Party, and the Communication Workers Union is affiliated to the Labour Party.  But on a range of questions we have worked together in the past – and in opposition to the Coalition Government, we will surely work together in the future.

Perhaps the biggest area of agreement will be in our opposition to the proposals to cut public spending by between 25 to 40%.  The CWU rejects the idea that the deficit in public finances is the decisive economic problem that we face.

The international recession is above all a collapse in private investment.  Since the first quarter of 2008 to the fourth quarter of 2009, the OECD countries experienced a fall in GDP worth just over a trillion dollars.  96% of this fall was decline in fixed investment.

In the UK, personal consumption fell more heavily than in most OECD countries, but 56% of the fall in UK GDP was in fixed investment.  As a result of this fall, tax revenues to the Treasury collapsed while welfare payments rose due to the rise in unemployment.  So the deficit is a result of the crash in private sector activity.  It has only been Government spending that has saved the economy from a complete slump.

The Coalition Government’s proposed cuts go in exactly the opposite direction, and threaten to tip the economy back into recession, or into an extended period of stagnation.

Therefore, the CWU rejects the manufactured consensus that cuts are necessary.

We believe the priority is to expand the economy out of recession.  Creating new jobs and the increase in tax revenues which flow from increased activities will reduce the deficit in a relatively painless manner.

In line with the TUC, the CWU believes it is vital to actively campaign against the cuts.  We also support the approach adopted at the TUC Congress, which is to strive for a coalition between the trade unions and the wider community, damaged by the cuts.

For our own part, we have launched a campaign to Keep the Post Public.  Over the past twenty years, every opinion poll has demonstrated a large majority of the public against the privatisation of Royal Mail.

Even the Coalition Governments own supporters are opposed.  In a You Gov Poll carried out on the 1 October, only 36% of Tory voters supported privatisation of Royal Mail compared to 42% who opposed it.  27% of Lib Dem voters support it, compared to 56% who opposed it.

In the past two years, the CWU has with great difficulty negotiated a comprehensive agreement with Royal Mail management which is leading to the industry being modernised.  This is despite the usual vile media campaign claiming that the Union is unable to agree on the modernisation of the industry.

This new agreement is allowing for the most up to date machinery to be deployed across the industry, with the full involvement of the Union.  This is a fully funded programme which Royal Mail is achieving through a commercial loan from Government, which it is repaying.

Royal Mail has survived the recession better than its privatised rivals like Deutshe Post and the TNT.  Royal Mail has increased its profits whilst these companies have registered losses.  TNT has even told the Dutch Government that it may only be able to provide delivery on three days a week.

Privatisation is dogma for the Tories and Liberals, so regardless of the facts and evidence, they intend to bring the first reading of the Privatisation Bill before the House of Commons in October.

This Bill will start the break-up of Royal Mail.  Post Office Limited – which is composed of the local Post Office Branches – will remain in the public sector.  As this is a loss making section with a Government subsidy of £150m a year, this is not a surprise.  But private investors will not want to continue linking Royal Mail to a loss making public service.  They will seek alternative retail networks, and there will be a massive programme of Post Office closures.

We are also certain that private investors will seek to reduce and worsen the scope of the Universal Service currently provided by Royal Mail.  Already we have learned from the leaked letter sent by Vince Cable to George Osborne, that there is the prospect of a reduction in minimum service guarantees.  Immediately the six day delivery would go – but the ‘one price goes anywhere’ principle (the uniform tariff) is likely to follow.  Neither of these are protected in EU Law.

It will be domestic customers, small businesses and rural communities which feel the pinch of a privatised industry.  Prices will rise whilst services deteriorate.  For such reasons, we will campaign hard against the Coalition Government’s proposals.

We are asking our local CWU Branches to work with local Green Parties and others to put pressure on the Government.  We have identified 71 key marginals where the Coalition Parties have less than 10% majorities.  So here we only need to persuade 5 in every 100 Coalition supporters in these constituencies to seriously challenge the Government.

As I write these lines, I am preparing for a public meeting in Brighton with a range of speakers, including Caroline Lucas MP.  Brighton contains two of the key marginals, in Hove and in Kemptown.  This is the type of battle ground where the future of Royal Mail is going to be decided.

I am confident that the Green Party members in Brighton will play a big role in turning the heat up upon Simon Kirby MP and Mike Weatherley MP.

As trade unions, we have our own distinct battles to wage.  But we know we can’t win these alone.  Certainly maintaining Royal Mail as a successful public service depends upon the support of many people outside the labour movement.

I hope every local Branch of the Green Party will be in touch with their local CWU Branch and work around this campaign.  If we don’t fight we will lose, and together we can win.

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