From managed decline at the Post Office to a short-term obsession with profits everywhere else, a revitalised left must engage working people and force through a fundamental change to our economy, writes DAVE WARD
I KNEW our campaign to save the Post Office had the government on the back foot when it announced a public consultation on the future of the service at the start of the month.
Days of targeted strike action at crown post offices, including a dramatic mock-up funeral for this 500-year-old service — complete with a horse-drawn hearse in London and Halloween-themed demonstrations elsewhere on October 31 — have attracted huge support.
The task for us now is to turn this into a big public campaign behind our agenda: ending the managed decline of the network and growing revenue by turning the Post Office into a Post Bank.
The public do not support the continual cuts being implemented by government and the Post Office, and MPs from all parties have voiced concern.
But we all know about government consultations and how they can be exercises in PR rather than genuine engagement. We cannot let this be used as a smokescreen to enable them to keep running a great institution into the ground.
It is notable that the big pledges the government put forward in 2010 are nowhere to be seen.
The Tory-Lib Dem coalition said it would transform the Post Office into “a genuine front office for government” and grow its financial services. These are now conspicuously absent from the consultation document. So the government has questions of it’s own to answer.
The truth is that the crisis in the Post Office is entirely one of the government’s own making.
The coalition separated it from Royal Mail in order to pave the way for the latter’s privatisation — but without any plan for the future of the Post Office at all.
So now we have a profitable Royal Mail (sold off at way below its value) paying £220 million a year in dividends while the Post Office is shedding 2,000 jobs, attacking our members’ pensions and closing down flagship branches.
As I’ve said before this is typical of the “British disease” — a fundamental problem with how we run businesses, and what we class as success, across our economy as a whole.
There’s a single-minded focus on short-term cost-cutting and hitting numbers on the bottom line, rather than growing and developing enterprises, looking to the future or delivering services with a wider value.
This is the take-the-money-and-run capitalism of Philip Green and Mike Ashley, not the care and regard we ought to expect for a cherished national institution.
The result is a hollowed-out society where the economic losers outnumber those with a stake in the future. And who now doubts that we’re seeing the consequences of that?
The media talk about Donald Trump and Brexit as if they were seismic shocks, but they won’t have surprised anyone who has been paying attention.
It’s been clear for years that the endless claptrap about competition, the erosion of trade union rights, the housing crisis and the race to the bottom on employment standards are not sustainable.
But those of us on the left have got to be honest — we haven’t engaged with working people’s concerns or had a strong enough message on these for a very long time.
We have to be talking about what’s affecting everyone: what’s going on in the world of work. We have to deliver a new deal for workers. We have to change the balance of forces in the workplace.
If we look back to the New Labour years, we made a lot of progress on social issues, but we didn’t shift the economic argument.
If anything, they signed up to all the key positions of the neoliberal right. What we’re seeing now is a rejection of that.
So we need to show we have the answers to the bread and butter issues: the things that really matter to people, which means their wages, the cost of housing, their pensions to give them a secure old age without the constant fear of poverty.
We need to create a narrative around that change to the economic model. At the moment it feels like the right are campaigning in primary colours while the left is campaigning in statistics.
At the same time, the government’s floundering. When the Tories steal a left-wing sounding policy, the media talk about tanks on Labour’s lawn. But as John McDonnell has pointed out they only do that when we’re winning the argument.
Theresa May began her leadership with that rhetoric. She pledged a country that works for everyone and offered us workers on company boards.
Well, she’s backtracked on that — which isn’t a massive surprise. But we aren’t going to let May slink away from her broken promises. We’ll hold up every policy of hers to that “party of working people,” “country that works for everyone” standard and see how far short she’s falling.
Whatever position the Tories finally reach on this, the truth is that the issues are much bigger than just who’s on the board. We need a fundamental change in how businesses are run — and at all levels we need working people to have a say through the decisions that affect them.
While we need a people’s postal service and a people’s railway, “nationalise everything” isn’t a realistic economic policy for these times. But we need to draw on the skills of our workers to become decision-makers in the workplace — and ultimately that’s going to be down to an idea even the Tories should have heard of: it’s called trade unionism.
Dave Ward is general secretary of the Communication Workers Union.
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