Thursday, 25 July 2013



Post-post-postal service? Contextualising the Closures

By Malcolm Deans

The running down of the state-owned postal service with an eye to its privatisation is not unique to New Zealand as governments elsewhere are attempting to impose cost cutting and privatisation on their unwilling workforces. In the UK at the moment the Communication Workers Union is engaged in a running battle with the ConDem governmentto stop the privatisation of the Royal Mail. The government has appointed Goldman Sachs and UBS to handle the sale and the banks reportedly stand to make £30 for their trouble. In preparation for privatisation the price of stapms was deregulated in 2012 and there was an immediate 30% increase to the cost of a first class stamp. Price increases, loss of service in rural areas, closure of post offices, will be the inevitable consequences of privatisation. The CWU is currently fighting to maintain the pensions of its postal worker members. They have been offered a pay increase but the increase is tied to raiding the pension scheme to subsidise privatisation. [The sale of the 479-year-old Royal Mail was in fact announced while we were going to press, POINT Ed.]

In the USA the government has manufactured a financial crisis in order to implement massive cuts to the Postal Service, cuts that will weaken the service  and serve as an alibi for privatisation. A law was passed in 2006 mandating the postal service pre-fund the retirement health benefits of its workforce for the next 75 years, before some of its workers are even born! The USPS must send US$5 billion annually, 10% of its entire revenue, to this fund. Unsurprisingly this has pushed the service close to bankruptcy. When this happens it isn't hard to see what whill be demanded next. Cuts to delivery days, mail sorting centres, post office hours, and postal routes are being imposed by the Postmaster General, creating a vicious circle of deteriorating service and declining use. Declining mail volumes due to the internet are cited by management but the Postal Service was financially healthy before the pre-funding of benefits was imosed and the US is seeing a boom in parcel delivery.

Canada is also experienceing a stealth privatisation programme with post offices being transferred to private ownership and the deregulation of the international letter market. There is considerable pressure from the right political parties and ideologues to privatise Canada Post in its entirety.

In all these countries there is massive opposition to the privatisation agenda. All three have union-backed campaigns to prevent closures, service cuts, and full blown privatisation. In the US, the Community and Postal Workers Coalition is a grassroots attempt to unite union workers from all four postal unions with communities affected by the cuts. There are many fights around the country against the closure of postal facilities going on and postal workers have engaged in hunger strikes in the capital to influence lawmakers. In the UK, the CWU is running the Save Our Royal Mail campaign that has brought together people most likely to be immediately affected by privatisation: the elderly, rurual communities, poor people, etc. In Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has been actively campaigning for years to prevent the destruction of the public postal service.

So what about New Zealand and Dunedin? What will it take to stop closueres and service cuts here? NZ Post has consulted earlier in the year on its proposal to alter the Deed of Service to reduce to three day delivery. On fo the postal Unions, the Engineersing, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) ran a website where submissions could be made in opposition. You can view the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) submission here. But more will be required than submissions. Experience tells us that management or government often has a predetermined outcome it wants to impose despite overwhelming opposition. To oppose this effectively we need to unite opposition from postal workers in both the EPMU and the Postal Workers Union of Aoteoroa (PWUA), non-union workers, and the communites affected by the cuts, into a flaxroots coaltion that does not shy away from confrontation and direct action. Management decisions regarding closures too often go unchallenged in New Zealand. Redundancies are accepted with unions only trying to get the best deal for its affected members and retraining etc. Managerial prerogatives must be met with workers' prerogatives. Our jobs and public services must be defended. The campaign to save neurological services in Dunedin showed that people will mobilise to stop the closure of essential public services. With local media on its side that campaign was successful. The campaign to stop the closure of the Dunedin Mail Centre would need to link up with others in New Zealand and work together with the clear objective of preventing privatisation and re-establishing a universal public service with a monopoly over delivery in New Zealand. Public good must prevail over private profit.

This article was first published in POINT issue#35. 10-16.JUL. 2013

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