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Magical Thinking

October 24, 2013 1 comment

From the LRB blog.

One of my neighbours came over to say hello the day the Royal Mail was privatised.

‘I expect you’re looking forward to getting your hands on all that money you’ve just made,’ he said. The shares allocated to me as a member of staff had gone up by almost 40 per cent in a day. The government had brought forward the date of the IPO in order to beat a strike ballot by the Communication Workers’ Union. Most of us, like most people, were against the privatisation. It felt like my neighbour was congratulating me on taking a bribe.

I lost my temper, and told him what I really thought about the privatisation. I pointed out the contradictions: that the state has spent billions of pounds of public money to subsidise the bargain basement sell-off; that the pension fund was nationalised to sweeten the deal; that the loss-making Post Office was decoupled from its more successful partner and retained in public hands; that pricing restrictions were lifted in anticipation of privatisation, allowing the company to increase its profits.

None of this has got anything to do with the free market. This is direct government intervention to create a rigged market. If the price restrictions had been lifted ten years ago, the entire argument for privatisation would have disappeared overnight.

My neighbour said that governments shouldn’t be involved in the business of running companies. He said that privatisation would allow the company access to future investment. He said that previous privatisations had been a great success, and cited British Telecom and British Airways as examples. He said that taxpayers were fed up with subsidising the Royal Mail.

The argument went on for a while. Every time I was about to get in my car he’d say something that I had to contradict. I finally lost patience and drove away when he talked about the investors who were going to help the company become a big success: ‘They are wealth creators. They build the factories so that we can have jobs.’

You hear that phrase ‘wealth creators’ a lot. It is a commonly used justification for the privatisation agenda, the idea that these individuals generate wealth by their investment. They are the ‘wealth creators’, and we are the beneficiaries of that wealth. It’s a form of magical thinking, like the pharaohs believing that their rituals were responsible for the flooding of the Nile, a post hoc fallacy: because they have invested in the company and increased their wealth, their investment somehow ‘created’ the wealth. The actual wealth creation, the work that my colleagues and I do, in this version of reality, is an accidental by-product of the process, a privilege I am allowed by the goodwill of these magically endowed individuals.

Moya Greene, the chief executive of Royal Mail, has already told us to expect job losses. Very soon I expect to be begging for the privilege of working longer hours for less money.

– See more at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2013/10/24/roy-mayall/magical-thinking/#sthash.c9opEVX8.dpuf

Privatisation of the Royal Mail

October 13, 2013 Leave a comment

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As I’m sure you are all aware, the Royal Mail was privatised on Friday 11th October 2013.

It was sold for £3.3 billion. Within a day the share price had risen by 38%, meaning that the company was seriously undervalued and some people made a quick profit.

Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communications Workers Union, said, ‘If you sold your house and the buyer sold it on the next day for 38% profit, you’d ask “what was the estate agent doing?”’

Actually it is even worse than this. If you remember, the government took on the company’s pension liability two years ago. That was at a cost to the exchequer of over £10 billion.

So in this case the government has spent three times the value of the property, in order to sell it at a significant loss, in order for the new buyer to then sell it on for a profit.

Meanwhile, the company has spent the last two years modernising the business. Postal workers have been provided with new vans, new trolleys, new walk-sequencing machines, new GPS devices, new bags, new shelving units, new uniforms, and a range of other equipment. Delivery offices have been closed all over the country and consolidated into larger units. Costs have been cut and door-to-door (junk mail) incorporated into the work load. New working methods have been introduced, and every round in the country has been extensively restructured.

All of this has been done at the taxpayers expense, of course.

The regulator has lifted pricing restrictions, which means that the company is now making a healthy profit. So, you have to ask, why couldn’t the regulator lift the restrictions earlier, in which case the company could have been earning a healthy profit for the taxpayer for years?

70% of the company has been sold to large investors: to banks, hedge funds, pension funds and sovereign wealth funds, including the one belonging to the Kuwaiti Royal Family. In other words, the British public have taken a significant loss so that this fabulously wealthy family can extract even more wealth for themselves.

The Kuwaiti Royal Family are the absolute rulers of a medieval feudal state. Not ‘wealth creators’. Wealth extractors. That means that postal workers in the future are going to be the servants of a feudal Lord. Serfs, in other words. Who says there’s no such thing as progress?

Moya Greene, the current CEO, has also said there will be further job losses, which can only mean that postal workers will be expected to work harder. She took £1.47 million in pay and bonuses last year. No doubt she will be given substantial share options too, now that the company is in private hands.

So what will this mean for you? Let’s make the comparison with previous privatisations.

Water charges have risen by 245% since the water boards were privatised. Subsidies to the rail industry have more than doubled, while fares have increased above the rate of inflation and standards have declined. And in the same week that the Royal Mail was floated on the stock exchange, the energy company SSE put up its prices by 8.2%. More price rises are expected to follow.

Our public utilities are now almost exclusively owned by foreign corporations.

Did you know that the origin of the word ‘idiot’ is from the Greek word meaning ‘private’? Or, to put it another way, the sale of Royal Mail has brought even more idiocy into our public life.

Categories: The Post Tags: , ,

Dogs v. Posties

September 5, 2011 1 comment

Snarling dog, from the CWU website

There used to be a vicious old Boxer dog on my round. He lived at the end of a long drive with a gate. There was a post box outside where I used to leave the mail. Occasionally the owners forgot to close the gate and left the dog out. It would spot me as I was parking my bike, and begin padding in my direction, head down, growling, until it got close enough to launch itself at me.

There’s not much you can do at this point. I’d have my post bag at the ready to swing at the dog’s head. One smack in the jaw was usually enough. I’d complain to my manager, who would contact the owners, who would agree to keep the dog under control, which was fine until the next time it happened. There was a warning about the dog in the office, but that didn’t stop the owners forgetting to close the gate.

Dog attacks on postal workers increase significantly during the summer. Children, off school, run in and out of the house, leaving the door open. The Communications Workers Union estimates that there are around 5000 dog attacks on postal workers every year. Sometimes it’s little more than a nip or a scrape, but Keith Davies nearly lost an arm when he was attacked by two Rottweilers in Trumpington in 2008. The owner couldn’t be prosecuted because the attack took place on a private road. Most attacks on postal workers take place on private property as we have to enter people’s property to deliver the mail. The CWU launched a campaign in 2008 to change the law, but so far it hasn’t been successful.

Some dogs lie in wait behind the door to grab the mail as it comes through the letter box. Postal workers have lost fingers this way. A few months ago we were issued with a tool to deal with this problem. It’s like a child’s ruler, about six inches long and one inch across, made of red plastic, with a slot in the end. You put the letters in the slot, then shove the thing through the letter box.

The Royal Mail has been promoting it heavily for the past few weeks. Hardly a day goes by when we’re not called to the front of the office and given a warning about dogs behind doors and offered one of these tools. I’ve yet to see a single postie accept one. They’re clumsy and awkward to use. It takes a certain amount of concentrated manoeuvring to fit the letters into the slot, and then to wrangle the whole lot through the letter box. It is only really of any use if you happen to know there’s a dog on the other side of the door. But then, if you know there’s a dog on the other side of the door, there’s a much simpler solution: don’t stick your fingers through the letter box in the first place.

– See more at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2011/08/31/roy-mayall/dogs-v-posties/#sthash.wXlsRjD4.dpuf

I understand why some people will vote for the BNP

May 5, 2010 1 comment

“Politician’s wear their anti-racist credentials in the same way that Nick Griffin is wearing a Remembrance Day poppy in the picture above.”

I understand why some people vote for the BNP. Saying that doesn’t mean that I will vote for the BNP, or that I support the BNP, or that I am recommending the BNP; it simply means that I have a certain sympathy with people who are so far excluded from the political process that they feel they need to vote for an extreme party in order to make an extreme statement.

People are angry. They are justifiably angry. According to theSunday Times Rich List 2010, the wealth of the richest 1,000 multi-millionaires has increased by 29.9% in the last year. This is at a time when the rest of us are being asked to tighten our belts, to accept wage cuts and austerities and a reduction in our public services.

People can see this. They know that the system is stacked against them. They recognise the political system for what it is: a mechanism for the redistribution of wealth, from the poor, to the rich.

Anti-racism is a diversion. Everyone in the political establishment is anti-racist. Gordon Brown is anti-racist. David Cameron is anti-racist. Nick Clegg is anti-racist. Politician’s wear their anti-racist credentials in the same way that Nick Griffin is wearing a Remembrance Day poppy in the picture above. Being anti-racist is just a radical rosette which any politician can pin to his lapel to make it look like he is a concerned and caring person.

It has become so much a part of the political brand as a whole, that any politician who deviates from the message by just a few ill-considered words is hounded down. What this sets up is a form of self-censorship. Is the average Tory squire any less racist than he used to be? Of course not. He just doesn’t say it in public any more.

Billy Hayes, the general secretary of the Communications Workers Union – and a strong supporter of the Labour Party – is a spokesman for Unite Against Fascism, and has made a number of statements against the BNP. This is all very radical and left-wing and it shows how deeply committed he is to a progressive political agenda.

But Billy Hayes has just negotiated an agreement with the Royal Mail which sees postal workers having to take a reduction in wages and a worsening of our conditions. Maybe this is also part of his anti-racist agenda. We are all going to be shafted equally, regardless of our ethnic background.

The issue isn’t race, it is class. It always was. All working people are suffering under the strains of the neo-liberal attack which politicians have encouraged in the last 30 years; the deregulation of the banking sector to allow the kleptocratsin the City of London to steal our pension funds and our savings; the break-up and sale of our public services at knock-down prices; the export of our jobs to low-wage colonies abroad.

The myth of the asylum seeker being given priority for housing wouldn’t have such a potent appeal if it wasn’t set against the background of poor quality housing and ever lengthening waiting lists. Immigration wouldn’t be an issue if, at the same time, our living standards weren’t being driven down, if we weren’t suffering cuts to our public services and an attack upon the future we always hoped for our children.

The BNP is a vile and morally corrupt political party which has set out to exploit this situation for its own ends, but we don’t defeat it by marching up and down and shouting. The BNP thrives on confrontation. It uses violent opposition to it as justification for its own existence. Allow Nick Griffin to speak and you show him for what he is, a sinister clown with a hate-filled political agenda. Silence him and you encourage the age-old reactionary tendency of the British working class to shove a rocket up the arse of the political establishment and then to stand back and watch the reaction.

Never underestimate the bloody-mindedness of the British working class.

More Roy Mayall

More on the General Election 2010

Royal Mail’s plan for junk deliveries

April 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Postal workers at sorting frames. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Postal workers will soon be under pressure to deliver junk mail to every household.

From the Guardian.

Read more here.

Union deal lets postal workers down

April 15, 2010 1 comment

Up to 35,000 delivery workers will be worse off if the deal between Royal Mail and the CWU goes through. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Rex Features

If the agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU is accepted it will be another weapon in the armoury of bad-natured managers..

From the Guardian.

Read more here.

You Can Take the Time from Your Break

April 7, 2010 3 comments

That’s the Royal Mail for you: cheapskate and penny pinching on every level. The company we work for can’t even afford to allow us to take a little time to ask some of the questions and to get some of the answers that will help us to make an informed decision about our future.

From the London Review of Books.

Read more here.

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