Posts Tagged ‘Robson Green’

The Post Office, Privatisation and Valueless ‘Work-shares’

July 13, 2013

This is a story that I will need to check, but if it’s true, then the Post Office has committed what would once have been a violation of the Truck Acts, and committed something that could reasonably be construed as fraud.

‘Work Shares’, Local Currency Schemes and 19th century Anarchism

The government this week announced it was moving ahead with its plans to privatise the Post Office. This is scheduled for the autumn. There is going to be major restructuring, but it has stated that its workers will be given shares as part of the privatisation deal. I know a number of people, who work for the Mail that are naturally worried about whether they will still have a job in a few month’s time. A friend yesterday told me, while we were discussing this, ‘At least this time they’ll have real shares’. I queried what they meant by this, and my friend further explained that a little while ago the Mail told its workers that it was now going to pay for their overtime in that period in ‘work shares’. My friend said this wasn’t the correct term, which he couldn’t remember at that moment. The name my friend gave to it suggests that it may have been similar to some of the local currency schemes operating in some parts of the UK. These schemes give you a number of coupons or token for hours worked in particular community projects, which can be exchanged for goods and services, which have involved the same amount of hours worked. It’s an idea that ultimately seems to come from 19th century Anarchism, particularly Proudhon’s Mutualism and Anarcho-Individualism. One of the great American Anarchists of the 19th century used to operate what he called a ‘Time Store’. He used to time how long it took to serve a customer. The actual monetary cost of his wares were low, very close to cost price. However, he would also charge his customers payment in kind equivalent to the time he had taken to serve them. It was a commercially successful system.

It also inspired the classic SF short story, And Then There Were None, in which a party of imperialist Earthmen gradually succumb to the superior social and political system of just such an Anarchist Utopia. The planet they attempt to conquer has just such a libertarian economic and political system. Intrusive questions and attempts to bully the self-reliant farmers, businessmen and workers of the world into giving vital information is simply answered with the word ‘NYOB’: None Of Your Business. The local currency schemes, which such libertarian ideas have inspired, have done a lot of stimulate local economies, as people patronise their local businesses using these currencies. Or they did until Gordon Brown started looking for more things he could tax, and declared that these schemes were also subject to VAT. Unfortunately, according to my friend the Mail used an accounting trick to declare that these ‘work shares’ were valueless, took them back off their workers, and destroyed them.

The result of this is that the Post Office workers were effectively not paid for the overtime they worked.

The Truck System

Now as I said, I don’t know if this is true. If it is, then at one time it would have been a violation of the Truck Acts.

Robson Green gave a succinct summary of the ‘Truck System’ in his TV show, Building the North, on ITV on Wednesday, although he did not call it by name. He remarked how 19th century factory masters had nearly absolute control of their workers’ lives. They were frequently paid in tokens, which could only be used in the company shops. Although he didn’t call it by name, this was the notorious Truck System. It was abolished in the 19th century by the Liberal government, which freed their workers from such commercial exploitation from their employers. I’ve got a feeling that free trade commercial ideology may also have played a part. If the workers’ were free to spend their money how they chose, then not only would this allow them greater choice, it would also encourage greater competition and commercial opportunities as other companies and shops would be free to supply them with whatever they wanted or needed.

Truck Acts Repealed in Favour of Electronic Payment

Unfortunately, the Truck Acts were repealed in the 1980s when the direct payment of wages and salaries into employees’ bank accounts was introduced. My point here is not to criticise that system of payment, but simply to show that it appears to have had the unfortunate consequences of opening the system of payments back up to such morally and commercially dubious arrangements as the ‘work shares’. It looks like something close to the Truck System was being operated by the Mail with these spurious shares. It does not augur well for employee confidence in their promises to provide them with shares as part of the privatisation package.

Unpopularity of Post Office Privatisation

I also have to say that I don’t know anyone personally who has been in favour of the privatisation of the Royal Mail. My next door neighbours were working class Conservatives. They objected to the idea, when it was mooted by Blair’s administration. I don’t think ordinary people like them will be impressed whatever the type of government that introduces it. The same friend, who mentioned the ‘work share’ system also told me that the dangers of privatising this service could be seen in the way the Americans had never privatised it. America has always strongly supported capitalism and free enterprise, at least to a greater extent than the European nations. If the Americans found that privatising the Post Office was unworkable, then it showed that it was really unworkable.