August 2011        

Protect your post!

In late 2010 the Communication Workers’ Union launched the “Protect Your Post” campaign ( in response to the liberalisation of postal services being imposed in the EU and beyond.
     Launching the campaign, the general secretary of the CWU, Steve Fitzpatrick, said: “The Government is currently developing the Postal Services Bill, which will change the face of the Irish postal market for ever by allowing it to be opened up to the free market. It is feared that this will put the vital public service that An Post provides at risk, as this has happened in other countries where the postal market has been liberalised (opened to the free market).”
     By saying “change the face of the Irish postal market for ever,” what Mr Fitzpatrick really means is the closure of post offices, mass redundancies, increased prices, and a degradation of services, particularly in rural areas and those not considered to be profitable enough.
     On its campaign web site the CWU provides empirical data from five other countries (the United States, Britain, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands) that have undergone similar processes that supports this projection.
     The Third Postal Services Directive, imposed on Ireland by the EU, dictated that postal services must be open to competition by 1 January 2011. The Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act, passed by the Dáil on 20 July this year, put the EU diktat into effect, with Sinn Féin and a number of independents, including the ULA, voting against it.
     The minister for communications, energy, and natural resources, Pat Rabbitte, argued that the act “offers certainty and protection to An Post, its competitors, and postal service users . . . Overall, the bill strikes a balance between enabling competition, safeguarding the universal service and protecting consumers’ interests.”
     On the matter of potential redundancies he said: “How An Post configures its business, including its employment arrangements, is a commercial matter for the board and management of the company and not one in which I have a role.” Yes, that is a Labour Party minster saying in effect that redundancies are none of his business!
     “Liberalisation” means that An Post, though remaining for the moment a state-sponsored corporation, will be sold as part of the fire sale of state assets imposed by the troika. It will be forced to act as a wholly private company, as it is forced to compete with businesses whose sole purpose is the creation of profit, rather than the provision of a public service.
     This law is bad for the workers, for citizens, and for small businesses. It will mean direct redundancies and will also put severe pressures on small businesses because of increased costs. For elderly people in rural communities whose local post office is central to their lives, this is devastating.
     Some might be tempted—including the CWU and Sinn Féin—to consider this battle lost, but politics does not begin or end with the Dáil, or with EU directives. The fact that these policies exist and have been imposed does not end the struggle: it only marks a new stage of the fight.
     This “liberalisation” is another example of the big-business agenda of the EU, which played a central role in creating the economic crisis in Ireland, has exacerbated it, and certainly holds no sustainable solutions to it.
     The myth that the EU is good for us and has been good for us must be confronted and exposed. Trade unions must deal with the fact that the struggles they engage in, and the downward pressures on workers, are in large part a result of the EU and the adoption of the euro. This is just one more example.
     It is hypocritical and dishonest to campaign against something and not follow through on it or seek the root causes of the issue. Our membership of the EU and the euro must be raised if a campaign to save our Post Office (for it still is partly ours) is to succeed.
     The CWU must bring its campaign to communities and engage in community organising. It must link up, not run away from, those political forces that exist in every community that wish to preserve and protect our public services; and, along with every other trade union, it must realise that the Labour Party is not a friend.
     Protect your post—yes, let’s do that. But this will now require extra-parliamentary political action and should be linked to campaigns against water charges and property taxes, for the protection of JLCs and for the reclamation of our democracy and sovereignty from the EU and IMF.
     The TEEU motion (supported by the CWU and others) passed by the ICTU conference calling for a campaign to save important infrastructural companies, and outlining a number of positive forms of resistance, must be the focal point for all progressive trade unionists and the unifying point of localised union struggles.

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