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Easy pattern to predict/Never forget

Labour on Royal Mail privatisation/Shrewsbury 24

Chuka Umunna accuses the Tories and Liberal Democrats of planning to flog off Royal Mail on the cheap - as though the scandal is the price tag.

Of course the government is selling our mail service at a discount to its pals in the City. It's what it does.

Highlighting the value of Royal Mail real estate in the centre of many of our cities reveals nothing new about the Royal Mail sell-off or privatisation in general.

After regional water boards were privatised in 1989, the new owners engaged in a frenzy of selling land assets for property speculation, channelling the proceeds into shareholder dividends.

The entire idea behind privatisation, whatever the rhetoric of private investment, efficiency and improved customer service from the conservative snake-oil salesmen, is about transforming publicly owned assets into private wealth.

Royal Mail privatisation will follow the same pattern of disposing of sorting offices in prime sites, relocating them out of town and pocketing the proceeds.

Profits will dictate the industry's direction not service to the public.

That's why pledges about daily deliveries and a single price for letters and packages delivered anywhere in Britain are not worth the paper they're written on.

New owners will justify abandonment of their undertakings on the duty of a private company to deliver value for shareholders and the government of the day will bow the knee.

Labour claims to oppose selling off Royal Mail, just as it took issue with the wave of Tory privatisations during the 1980s and '90s before not only acquiescing to this epidemic of grand larceny but pushing through private-is-best schemes of its own.

Umunna's comments indicate that the Labour leadership wants to make political capital over a sell-off opposed by 70 per cent of voters without committing itself to do anything about it.

Labour could have stopped this robbery of the people in its tracks by letting it be known that it would return Royal Mail to public ownership as a priority and offering no more for private shares than the price paid for them.

Corporate investors - or, more accurately, speculators - will not commit their funds to risky operations, which would make this privatisation stunt unsustainable.

It would be the right thing to do, to borrow the jargon, but would also give many voters the necessary encouragement to vote Labour.

Given the sharp divisions over this issue, including within the ruling parties, a clear lead from Labour could even yet destabilise the coalition and bring a general election closer.


Never forget

October 2 marked the 40th anniversary of the notorious political fit-up against trade unionists in the construction industry, when dozens of building workers were put on trial for conspiracy.

The real crime of the men known as the Shrewsbury pickets was to take effective national strike action for pay against building trade employers.

The real conspirators were the construction bosses, Tory ministers in Ted Heath's government, police top brass and sections of the judiciary.

Their intention was to crush trade unionism through conspiracy charges to which it was virtually impossible to construct a defence.

No-one should hold their breath that David Cameron will respond positively to Len McCluskey's letter asking him to "right the wrong" inflicted on Des Warren and his comrades.

But the movement should never forget this ruling class injustice and remain committed to eventually pardoning these heroes of labour.


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