From Socialist Voice, January 2006

New banking force in France

It was always a demand of the Irish labour movement that the state set up a third banking force, using An Post as a central plank. This proposal always met with outright hostility from the big private commercial banks that dominate the Irish banking system.
    In France on 1 January 2006 the French equivalent of An Post, La Poste, launched a wholly owned subsidiary, the Banque Postale, to provide financial services in direct competition with the three main private banks (Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas, and Banque Populaire).
    The Banque Postale will use the 17,000 post offices throughout France. It will offer customers personal loans and 100 per cent mortgages and will further develop its mortgage range over the coming years. La Poste has already been providing a range of financial services, including current accounts and bank cards.
    The postal service has been campaigning for the last decade to have its role in the financial market expanded and developed. This has provoked strong resistance from the private banks. (It’s amazing how those who preach competition to others and laud the virtues of the “market” always dislike competition.)
    The post office network’s 17,000 outlets far outnumber the 9,000 of Crédit Agricole. The financial service sector of La Poste has 28 million customers, of whom 12 million have a post office current account, while Crédit Agricole has 22 million customers.
    This development in the activities of La Poste will go a long way towards keeping post offices open in rural areas and small towns. In Ireland we have all the main banks closing down their branches, and An Post complaining that it can’t sustain the number of rural post offices. An Post is even closing down sub-offices in large towns and cities, claiming the fall-off in letter post as the main factor.
    Clearly through political pressure—and the very fact that it makes a lot of economic sense and is socially desirable—this development is accepted by the current right-wing French government. The post office in many rural areas gives a valuable public service by providing services that are not necessarily profitable but are socially necessary. This is just as true in Ireland as it is in France.
    This is a policy that needs to be dusted off by the Irish labour movement. A campaign to enhance the role of An Post and extend the range of services it can provide to its customers would draw a wide range of political and social groups in behind the labour movement and help reactivate its grass roots and local influence.

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