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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Y a pas marqué La Poste…

by Patrick APEL-MULLER

It isn’t marked ‘Post Office’...

Translated Sunday 7 September 2008, by Gene Zbikowski


As in the best of times past, the trade unions find themselves united to stop the privatization of the French postal service. They will strike on September 23. Even the left-wing parties are coming out of the shadow cast over all of them by the calamitous wheeler-dealing at the Socialist Party’s “summer school” [1] in La Rochelle, to embark, at long last, on the path to a strong riposte to the government’s privatization plan, in the form of a joint petition.

Something is mounting as the holiday season comes to an end, something that might upset the French president’s smug self-satisfaction and check the UMP-led deregulatory offensive. This combination of forces can force the government to bend because it is mainly aimed at affecting public opinion.

The postal service is embedded at the very heart of French life. It’s still the service that binds people together, the one that you worry about when a village post office closes, depriving the village of a beating heart, the service that you demand when, living in a big working-class neighborhood, you want a post office close to where you live. It’s still the postal service at the street corner that distributes meager pensions to the aged, the place where you go to put some money in a child’s postal savings account, or to get your Christmas packages. It’s still charged with public service missions, even if the postal service sometimes cuts some corners. These public service missions are for everybody, and hence are mainly a guarantee for the poorest among us.

What would remain if the postal service were privatized, and its main job became guaranteeing fat dividends for shareholders? Nothing, or at best appearances, or the ghost of appearances. With repeated cost-cutting measures and personnel cuts, “reorganization” and “rationalization”, the postal service would abandon rural areas. Uniform fees would become a thing of the past and most users, transformed into customers, would have to pay more and more.

Every privatization of public services has ended in the same way. The latest example is in the energy sector, with the unstoppable increases in natural gas prices and, proportionately, in gas company profits... You could list the pros and cons resulting from the privatization of the public telephone company, France Télécom, or that of the banks... There’s a big gap between the lullabies they hum to us before the entry of private investors and the battle hymns of the financial markets, once they are in control.

The planned privatization of the postal service brings to the fore the major stakes in our future. Are we to submit to capitalist imperatives in a globalized economy, to every type of deregulation, to the primacy of competition and profits, or shall we dare to demand common management of vital common goods and services, equal access for all to the right to an education, to health care, to communications, to knowledge, to the sharing of wealth and information? What is to be the motor of society – the general interest, or the profits of the multinationals?

These questions are shaking the left. Behind the scenes, hesitation is drilling through the Socialist Party. How can one pretend to change life and to improve conditions for the majority without contradicting the main dogmas of the financial markets? This is the source of the gymnastics performed in positioning oneself, the word games around the word “liberal,” and the factional bickering.

The section of the left that is committed to social change has not been spared by the imperative need for renewal. The French Communist Party can no longer use yesterday’s logic to analyze a society and a world which the last twenty years have turned upside down and inside out. This is one of the characteristics that is brought out by the Viavoice opinion poll, which we are publishing in today’s issue.

But let’s not spoil the pleasure of the moment. A riposte to Sarkozy-ism, a discussion to be pursued... Whew! The times when Corsican buddies and – depending on what the parliamentary committee on the Tapie scandal says – scoundrels dominated political life may be drawing to a close.

[1In France, each political party organizes a “summer school” or conference for its activists in the summer, when the French parliament is not sitting.

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