The 500-year-old Royal Mail is a powerful engine of civilisation, yet this most cherished national treasure is under attack from profiteers, writes TERRY PULLINGER
TODAY giants will be walking the earth — those giants are the armies of British postal workers who, come snow, rain, heat or gale go to incredible lengths to ensure the mail gets through to the 29 million address in this country six days a week.
Possibly one of the great powerful engines of our civilisation, yet arguably one of the least recognised and celebrated inventions of our social history, is the “universal service obligation,” a guaranteed delivery to every address in this country six days a week at a uniform price for all.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has declared December 14 National Postal Workers’ Day — it’s possibly the busiest day of the year and we are encouraging people to just give a thought to and celebrate their postie.
But the union is also running its People’s Post campaign because we believe this wonderful and most cherished national treasure is under attack from profiteers.
One of the recurring themes in a society effectively redesigned by years of an extreme free-market ideology so prevalent in this country today is the increasing absence of care.
The “pillars of security” as defined by William Beveridge — the welfare state and its philosophy of care — are being dismantled and in their wake we are left with an increasingly unequal society.
If these inequalities are not addressed they will be the scarecrows of fools. If they are addressed then it will be a beacon for wise people — we need wise people now.
There are of course many examples of these regressive steps in our evolution as a society, be it the health services, the emergency services or housing and transport, all of them are worthy of their own specific debate.
But today we wish to shine the light on yet another marvellous national institution which will be another victim of extreme dispassionate ideology unless we all wake up — that institution is Royal Mail.
Next year the Royal Mail will celebrate its 500-year anniversary, 500 years of connecting every single address in this country at a uniform price, 500 years of treating everybody to an excellent service without discrimination.
Still to this day, even with the social media explosion, Royal Mail is the only provider that absolutely connects every single address in this country six days a week for less than the price of a cup of tea.
Be you a millionaire or bankrupt, employed or unemployed, young or old, living in a city, town or village, everyone is guaranteed the six-day-a-week delivery promise at the same price for all.
The universal service obligation postal promise does not discriminate — there is only one race for Royal Mail and that’s the human race, which makes it all the more perverse that faceless people of a lesser ideological caring nature (the free market) are seeking to introduce practices that will ultimately destroy yet another vital national institution.
This not some romantically deluded rant, we are not talking about a public service which is dragging down the nation’s finances.
Royal Mail is profitable and is the sixth-biggest contributor to the nation’s economy — an £11.1 billion contribution, employing one in every 180 people in the UK, providing decent employment for more than 160,000 people, who delivered 16.2bn letters and 1.5bn parcels last year.
Of course Royal Mail is moving with the times, redesigning its operations, embracing new technologies and responding to the changing demands of the home shopping revolution, but there are still billions of letters being posted and the guaranteed six-day delivery and a standard price is still relevant.
Royal Mail operations require a huge human and logistical effort. It is a massive organisation but this elephant can dance and it is proving it.
But much of its contribution is unrecognised — it contributed £7.6m to charities, funded 36 prostate cancer nurses, delivered 3.6m items for the blind and visually impaired for free, it works in partnership with the British Forces Post Office delivering postal service for free to service personnel and responding to the current victims of flooding by providing holding arrangements and free redirection services.
Equally the history of Royal Mail is full of examples where postal workers have provided services way beyond their call of duty, looking out for the elderly or infirm, responding to emergency situations, looking out for our communities delivering care as well as letters and parcels.
Royal Mail should never have been privatised, it should never have been separated from the Post Office.
Ownership responsibility has been discharged so casually and the public voice has been lost in a business that has a massive public service obligation.
These actions have totally disrespected this wonderful institution, a more natural monopoly you will not find, like the railways, health, education and energy etc, public service defies the free-market ideology.
A famous economist once said: “Running the Royal Mail for commercial reasons would not be the actions of a sane person.”
Privatisation of Royal Mail was a logic born out of dogma and raised on deceit, politicians and the regulator have got this wrong. Even their grotesque attempt to force competition into the final mile delivery system demonstrated that they were wrong. Their experiment clearly confirmed that the universal service obligation is a natural monopoly for the good of society, yet their arrogance will not allow them to admit they are wrong. Instead, in the absence of a competitor to champion their course, they shamelessly distort their free-market principles and seek to place restrictions on Royal Mail which will suppress its modernisation and growth and drive even more decent jobs out of existence.
The apparent political shift in this country at the moment will hopefully challenge the free-market ideology and the intellectual arrogance which has made the political debate so narrow, pushing care out of our society.
We all have our campaigns and causes, but we are seeking your support in our continuing efforts to protect the People’s Post.
Royal Mail is an awesome vehicle of human ingenuity and interaction, keeping every person in this country connected regardless of circumstance. Our postal service is the envy of the world — don’t let it be destroyed by the faceless, unaccountable, uncaring elite who believe the free market and profit, and its consequential collateral damage of lost care, destroy Royal Mail.
Please support the People’s Post.
Terry Pullinger is deputy general secretary (postal) of the CWU. Sign the People’s Post petition at www.supportthepeoplespost.co.uk.