Warning of industrial action over Royal Mail plans

A fresh battle over the future of the Royal Mail was raging today when postal workers warned of industrial action against Government plans to sell a stake in the business.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) set itself on a collision course with the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition by vowing to campaign against privatisation plans.

The union said it believed a Bill on selling a stake in the Royal Mail will be included in the Queen's Speech tomorrow, warning it would not be supported by the public.

Delegates at the union's annual conference in Bournemouth rejected the "discredited" policy of the previous government and decided to campaign for a wholly publicly-owned Royal Mail.

Deputy general secretary Dave Ward said: "If we need to take industrial action to defeat privatisation to secure our members' pensions and jobs, we will not hesitate to do it.

"The battle for the future of this industry is on again. The CWU is ready for that battle."

The union ran a campaign last year which led to the Labour government shelving plans to part-privatise the Royal Mail, and later took industrial action over jobs, pay and working practices.

"We deserved a bit of a break, but within days of winning the election, the Government has made it absolutely clear that we are back in a major battle for the future of the postal service and our members' jobs.

"We are battle hardened, but we are certainly not battle weary."

Mr Ward said the Royal Mail's pensions deficit could soon be put at £10 billion, but he maintained the business's assets had grown to £26 billion, which the new Government was "crudely" trying to raid.

CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said every opinion poll in the last 20 years had shown public opposition to privatising the Royal Mail.

The main competitors mentioned as possible buyers, including Dutch firm TNT, were not showing any interest in taking a stake in the Royal Mail, he told delegates.

"The Government majority will make it difficult for us, and our tactics will have to be new and innovative. It will not be easy, but we have shown our determination to fight this."

Mr Hayes said later: "Privatising the Royal Mail is old politics dressed up in new language. It is not needed. We have an agreement and it is now time to move on.

"It is essential that the public realise what this proposal means - it will be a disaster."

Mr Hayes said he believed the Government was trying to get bad news out of the way in one go, but he predicted there would be tensions between Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs.

"We will have a united parliamentary Labour Party and I expect candidates in the party leadership election will endorse our position.

"Our members will be a bit weary, but we will galvanise our activists and campaign strongly against this."

Lee Barron, the CWU's Midlands regional secretary, said the Government did not have a mandate from the public to change the ownership of the Royal Mail.

"The Conservatives did not even mention it in their election manifesto. This is the failed politics of the past but, if we need to defend the industry, services and jobs, we will do that.

"We will take all means to protect this industry from the vultures of the private sector."

Linda Woodings, from the East Midlands branch of the CWU, said privatisation was "discredited", with productivity gains only achieved by cutting jobs.

"We halted the partial sell-off last year, with the help of hundreds of Labour MPs and many ministers. We also voiced the concerns of the public. We will do it again."