Year 2000 No. 27, February 15, 2000

Postal Services Bill:

Following the Dictates of the Marketplace

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

Postal Services Bill: Following the Dictates of the Marketplace

Local People Oppose Threatened Closure of Greenwich District Hospital

Birmingham Demonstration to Defend Social Programmes

NEWS IN BRIEF
Government to Decide on $1.2 bn missile deal
Racal Fears Loss of Contract

Newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
170, Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 2LA. Phone 0207 627 0599
Web Site: http://www.rcpbml.org.uk
e-mail:office@rcpbml.org.uk
Subscription Rates (Cheques made payable to Workers' Publication Centre):
Workers' Weekly Printed Edition: 70p per issue, £2.70 for 4 issues, £17 for 26 issues, £32 for 52 issues (including postage)

Workers' Daily Internet Edition sent by e-mail daily (Text e-mail ): 1 issue free, 6 months £5, Yearly £10



Postal Services Bill:

Following the Dictates of the Marketplace

Today the Postal Services Bill receives its second reading in the House of Commons. This is a Bill to carry the "restructuring" of the Post Office further down the road of following the dictates of the marketplace.

The Bill will turn the Post Office into a public limited company. The implication of its being a public limited company is that it will be subject to normal company law. At present the Post Office is a statutory corporation in what is termed the "public sector". At this stage all the shares will be owned by the government, or, legally speaking, by the Crown. However, with parliamentary approval, the government may exchange or sell shares in the Post Office, in the government’s words, to cement commercial strategic alliances – in other words, joint ventures or other partnerships which it considers of commercial advantage.

There are at least two main implications of the Post Office becoming a plc. One is that its motive will become to be competitive, that is, to compete both on the domestic market and internationally, with other postal and carrier contractors for profit. Even its present monopoly of post up to the value of £1 (or weighing less than 350 gms) is to be replaced by a system of licensing. The other, which could be said to follow from the first, is that the Post Office will be allowed to borrow from the private sector to finance investment, and there is no requirement that the lowest interest rates be sought. The limit of this borrowing is set at £5 billion.

The government is pointing out that potential competitors to the Post Office may benefit from the opening up of new markets and new opportunities for them in the area currently reserved for the Post Office. The Post Office estimates that the total value of the market in the reserved area is currently in the region of £5 billion. The total value of the postal services markets in the Britain is around £8 billion.

The government’s explanatory notes to the Postal Services Bill say that its reforms are intended to: introduce a more arm's-length commercial relationship with Government, including the approval of a five year strategic plan within which the Post Office has greater freedom to develop new products and services; invest; price commercially; and borrow for growth investments; create a new independent regulator, the Postal Services Commission, to promote and protect customer interests, regulate prices, and promote competition; strengthen consumer representation through the restructuring of the Post Office Users' National Council; increase resources for the Post Office company, by more than doubling the proportion of post tax earnings which the Post Office company can use for investment; convert the Post Office to a plc to underline the commercialisation of the business; protect the universal service obligation and uniform tariff; maintain a commitment to a nationwide network of post offices with the Government for the first time setting minimum criteria for access to counters' services.

The Post Office chairman, Neville Bain, already commented when the Postal Services Bill was published that the commercial freedoms contained in the Bill offered a springboard to meet and beat growing competition. "We need to turn threats into opportunities and the key is commercial freedom. That is why this bill is so important."

The "Third Way" type of solution to the Post Office – that is, neither a nationalised nor a privatised company – barely masks a move away from the conception that the government, as the representative of society, should be organising the economy to serve the national interest and the people’s needs. Instead, as an integral part of responding to the crisis of the social welfare state, the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation is being implemented in order to put all sectors of society in the service of the financial oligarchy and ensure that it is the rich who reap the maximum profits from these sectors. The global market is being made the target, a market that for letters and packages, for example, is estimated to be worth £20 billion a year, rising to £57 billion by 2010. The Post Office last year already took over German Parcel, for example, one of the biggest parcel carriers in Germany which operates in thirty countries. The financial oligarchy will also benefit from the interest on the loans which the Post Office will take out, underwritten by the government, as another form of debt interest paid to the rich. Any claims that the government is representing the interests of the people and the postal workers by "keeping the Post Office in the public sector" are the promotion of illusions to divert attention from the actual state of affairs, and are a crude deception. Not only will the postal service suffer, but there have been suggestions that between 5,000 and 8,000 sub-post offices would become unviable when, as part of the whole move to promote "commercial freedoms", the government is moving to automated transfer of benefit payments rather than over the Post Office counter. Non-urban areas would be particularly hard hit. This is just one example.

In this situation the working class, including the postal workers, must continue to defend their interests and the general interests of society by demanding a stop to the Post Office being used as a means to pay the rich. They must put forward their own alternative programme for a modern communications system as part of the programme of the working class to Stop Paying the Rich – Increase Investments in Social Programmes! The perspective here is that a modern system should be part of socialist planning for the economy and to meet the people’s needs in a new society. This is far from being a bureaucratic demand that the state, set apart from the people, and running a "nationalised industry", run the Post Office with no accountability. This scenario, which the "Third Way" supposedly opposed as being "old left", is not what is meant. The perspective is that, as part of the working class taking hold of what belongs to them and placing the assets of the nation under common control, it empowers the people to decide on the direction of the economy and puts the needs of the people and their claims on society as the central concern.

Article Index


Local People Oppose Threatened Closure of Greenwich District Hospital

The Hands Off Greenwich NHS Campaign has been fighting the proposed closure of the Greeenwich District Hospital (GDH) and its replacement by the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital (QEH) in 2001.

The relentless attacks on the NHS in recent years are starkly demonstrated by the fact that, until recently, there were two hospitals serving the area – the Brook and the GDH. During the last Conservative government, local people fought a campaign- ‘Two Into One Won’t Go!’ to oppose the closure of the Brook hospital. As is the case throughout the country, the present Labour government is not only doing nothing to redress the attacks on healthcare in this part of South East London by the previous Conservative government but is escalating these attacks through the introduction of the Private Finance Initiative. The proposed replacement of the GDH by the QEH under PFI will actually result in even fewer beds for the people of Greenwich and nearby areas.

To add insult to injury the local hospital trust has signed over the Woodlands nurses home in Vanbrugh Hill to private developers to build luxury flats as the site affords, as a local commentator put it, "a magnificent view of the river, including the Dome and Canary Wharf"! This has meant that 62 student nurses, with no prior warning, have been given notice to quit the Woodlands home by April 1. These student nurses earn just £2 an hour and will be homeless as they will clearly not be able to afford the exorbitant rents charged by private landlords. The student nurses have threatened to go on strike if they are not offered suitable accommodation that they can afford. UNISON and other bodies are supporting the nurses in their fight.

All this clearly shows how the Blair government, through the adoption of PFI, is putting private profit before the healthcare of people. The Hands off Greenwich NHS Campaign and other local organisations are holding meetings and planning various actions in the near future to oppose these attacks on the local health services.

Article Index


Birmingham Demonstration to Defend Social Programmes

On Saturday, February 26, there is to be a demonstration through Birmingham city centre to defend social programmes.

The demonstration, which is called by Birmingham UNISON Adult Services Stewards Committee and UNISON Housing Stewards Committee, is being organised under the slogan: "Defend Public Services". It is being supported by Residents Action Group For The Elderly (RAGE), Birmingham Defend Council Housing Campaign, Coventry Pensioners Association, and the Save Selly Oak and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Campaign. The march begins with a rally at the Council House, Victoria Square at 12 noon. The organisers put forward the demands: "No to the privatisation of Elderly Peoples Residential Homes!", "No to the sell off of Council Housing".

Article Index


NEWS IN BRIEF

Government to Decide on $1.2 bn missile deal

According to news reports, decision time is nearing for the government on an important new air-to-air missile contract in which BAe Systems and its partners are in competition with its US rival Raytheon Co. The government's equipment approval committee is due to meet on February 21 to discuss the issue and decide on a recommendation, and the head of procurement has said he hopes for a decision before the end of March, although final approval may not come until nearer the summer.

This contradiction comes in the wake of the "Declaration of Principles for Defence Equipment and Industrial Cooperation" which Defence Minister Geoff Hoon signed with US Defence Secretary William Cohen on February 5. The Pentagon has been concerned about the continued financial troubles of Raytheon and other arms manufacturers and the deal with Britain was to be the first of a series of deals to expand military cooperation. But when it comes down to it, the intensifying contradictions between the US and the European Union cannot be easily swept aside.

BAe on Sunday would say only that it was a "very tough and evenly balanced competition" between its Meteor missile, being developed by its Matra BAe Dynamics venture, and Raytheon's AMRAAM-based (Advanced Medium Range) missile. BAe would not comment further on a Sunday Times report which said that Tony Blair would plump for the Meteor, largely to further his aspirations for Britain in Europe. Raytheon has said Britain has budgeted $1.2 billion for the project, which would arm Eurofighter Typhoon jets ordered by Britain, but that it could supply a development of its existing AIM-120 AMRAAM weapon for less.

The importance of the new missile contract was highlighted by the involvement of President Bill Clinton, who is understood to have written to Blair last week supporting the Raytheon case. His move underlines the apparent choice between a European and a US supplier. BAe is said to argue, however, that the divide between US and European bids in such decisions is becoming blurred. Boeing Co. has a role in the Meteor project, providing manufacturing advice and lobbying in the US. Boeing is understood to have been briefing the US Navy, Air Force and the Pentagon on how technology derived from the Meteor project could be used in genuinely trans-Atlantic deals.

The new missile being developed by BAe and France's Matra, which is part of the European Aeronautic, Defence and Space (EADS) company being formed with DaimlerChrysler AG's Dasa and Spain's Casa, would have strong export potential. If developed, it would arm Dassault Aviation Rafale and Saab Gripen fighters in various European air forces as well as the Typhoon. The link with Boeing could also open up the large market of Boeing-made fighters. Britain is said to require an extremely high performance missile with a range many times further than the standard AMRAAM missile in the category, made by industry leader Raytheon.

Racal Fears Loss of Contract

It is reported that around 1,100 jobs could be lost if the government does not award a £300 million Ministry of Defence contract to Racal Electronics in what is said to be a politically fraught decision expected this week.

Racal is widely expected to be beaten for the contract by US firm ITT in a deal to provide next-generation army radio systems. Such a defeat for Racal would come as a severe blow to its exports, which could add a further £650 million to the contract.

Article Index


RCPB(ML) Home Page

Workers' Daily Internet Edition Index Page