When the workers in Royal Mail in the Six Counties and Britain walked off the job last week as part of a two-day strike, they were subject to the usual slander and vilification from the ignorant and those deliberately trying to misinform.
There were ominous comparisons with the ill-fated miners’ strike of the mid-1980s and allegations that the striking workers were driving the last nail into the coffin of the postal service that provides for both Britain and occupied Ireland.
What those journalists, establishment media outlets and politicians didn’t mention was that it is actually the British government that has been trying to make a corpse of its own postal service ever since the rise of ‘New Labour’ to power in 1997. Since their entry into Downing Street and Whitehall, Blair, Brown & Co have been following the course carefully plotted by Margaret Thatcher of attempting to destroy every state institution that provides a service to working people. As the mining industry was to Thatcher, the Royal Mail is new Labour’s industrial cause célèbre.
That is the real comparison between the miners’ strike of 1984 and today’s action by postal staff; that of hard-pressed workers fighting to protect what is a perfectly viable industry from the chop by neo-liberal politicians.
In the last financial year, Royal Mail made profits of £321 million (€349 million), which is double that of the year before. This fact has been obscured by Peter Mandelson, Gordon Brown’s chief henchman and arch neo-liberal, who was defeated in his recent attempts to openly privatise the Royal Mail and now talks of ‘modernisation’ in the hope that postal staff can be portrayed as backward, resistant to change and, ultimately, selfish.
What the striking postal workers in Belfast, Derry and elsewhere are really fighting for is the right to be consulted about changes to their working lives, the maintenance of pay and conditions and the protection of a public service that is both cheaper and more efficient than its private competitors. The privatisation of the postal service in the Six Counties and Britain, on which working class people rely for an infinite amount of everyday needs, would mark the further cementing of the corporate state, where those who get a quality service are those who can afford to pay for it.
Compare the modest demands and public-spirited attitude of postal workers with the attitude of the bankers and business people responsible for the economic crisis we are currently living through.
It has been revealed over the last number of weeks that bankers are get to bonuses worth billions of pounds this year.
For example, Goldman Sachs is to pay its 5,500 staff in Britain an average bonus of £500,000 (€544,000) before the end of the year, the highest rewards in the firm’s 140-year history. JP Morgan employees, meanwhile, are looking forward to a pay and bonus bonanza of £300,000 (€326,000).
Responding to the inevitable fury over the bonus revelations, ‘Lord Griffiths’, the vice chair of Goldman Sachs and a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, remarked that people should “tolerate inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all”.
The wrong headedness and sheer arrogance of such a statement was matched by that of Angela Knight, the chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, who, writing in an opinion piece, demanded that working people “move on” from the issue of bankers’ pay and behaviour.
As always, it is one rule for the rich, who can grovel for a few months and then pick up their bloated pay packets as normal, and another for the poor, who face vilification for taking action to defend a public service.
Royal Mail staff are back on strike from Thursday to Saturday of this week. Despite the inevitable inconvenience, they deserve the support of every working person. Their fight is our fight.
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