Diary of a Nobody

I am currently working on a review of Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down. Although the conference to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the book has been moved to February, it still gives me some more time to work on this review and other work by Hill.

The new Bob Dylan book just arrived called The Philosophy of Modern Song. Having just glanced inside, it looks stunning with Dylan’s keen analytical insight into the modern song. I will review it for my website.

While there is a backlog of books I need to review, I will have to concentrate on some articles on the latest developments at Royal Mail. Management is hell-bent on destroying the pay conditions of thousands of postal workers and turning the company into an Amazon-style business with all that entails for the workforce, i.e. job cuts and redundancies. With Thirty thousand postal workers having already applied for early retirement, with more on the way, the CWU bureaucracy seems hell-bent on some shabby deal rather than mobilise postal workers against these attacks. Time for some independent rank-and-file committees to be established.

Early next year, I need to start some work on Stuart Hall. His Selected Writings on Marxism were published in 2021, and work on him is long overdue. When I did the first year of a pre-masters degree at Birkbeck, I researched him and his sidekick Raphael Samuel. Returning to the Bishopsgate Institute, where the Samuel archive is held, is a must.

Intend to do a short review of Show Me The Bodies, Peter Apps’ excellent-looking book on the corporate murder of 72 people in the Grenfell fire.

I am near the end of Blake Bailey’s biography of Phillip Roth. It is a superb read, and at over 900 pages long, it feels like I have lived with Roth all my life. Not sure I will review quite yet, and maybe do a bit more reading.

Given that most of the advertisements for my website go through Twitter, thanks to the megalomaniac Adolf Musk, I will have to look elsewhere to publicise the website and blog.

Meetings

On Monday, 21 November 2022, Elliot Vernon will talk on “The Wall and Glory of Jerusalem”: The message of sermons preached before the Lord Mayor and the City of London in the Commonwealth and Protectorate, 1649-1660. Part of Britain in Revolution series from Oxford University.

Christopher Hill and the English Revolution: 50 years after TWTUD- Sat, 4 February 2023, 09:30 – 17:00 GMT- Institute of Historical Research (IHR), School of Advanced Study Senate House Malet Street London WC1E 7HU

An Email from Christopher Thompson

I was interested to read or rather to re-read Ann Talbot’s reflections from March, 2003 on Christopher Hill’s life and career. This assessment had two aspects, one political dealing with his trajectory as a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and admirer of the former Soviet Union until his departure after the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and a second considering his historiographical legacy and its influence on and importance for later historical work.

 As one of his former postgraduate pupils, I ought to begin by saying that I always got on perfectly well with him in personal terms in the late-1960s and again when I last saw him and his wife, Bridget, at the Huntington Library in California in January, 1997. By then, of course, his corpus of work had been overtaken by the so-called ‘revisionist’ revolt of the 1970s and by the assault on his methods by figures like J.H.Hexter and Mark Kishlansky.  It is with the second of Ann Talbot’s arguments that I most concerned here.

Hill’s academic career was centred on the University of Oxford apart from a very brief spell in University College, Cardiff and military and diplomatic service during the Second World War. In Oxford, he was one of a cohort of distinguished historians – people like Hugh Trevor-Roper at Christ Church College and then as Regius Professor; John Cooper at Trinity College; Lawrence Stone until 1963 at Wadham College; John Habbakuk at All Souls and later Jesus Colleges; Menna Prestwich at St Hilda’s College; the young Keith Thomas at St John’s College; Valerie Pearl at Somerville College; and rising doctoral researchers like Nicholas Tyacke, Michael Mahony, John Morrill, Blair Worden and many others – which meant that his voice was one amongst many. He was less of a dominant figure in Oxford than many have supposed.

Nor was he the first to raise a revolt against the Whig interpretation elaborated by T.B.Macaulay and G.M.Trevleyan. R.G.Usher had disputed in the mid-1920s the claims of rising Parliamentary power advanced by S.R.Gardiner and C.H.Firth while R.H.Tawney had, by 1940, elaborated an economic and social interpretation of the causes of the English Revolution or Civil War that precipitated the famous ‘storm over the gentry’ once it had been enthusiastically embraced by Lawrence Stone. Christopher Hill was thus not the only begetter of a Marxist or materialist approach to the events of the 1640s and 1650s. 

It was actually outside Oxford where Hill’s influence was chiefly felt in classes run by the Workers’ Education Association, in summer schools run by the Communist Party and, later, by the Socialist Workers’ Party (as Ann Talbot noted). On the European continent, especially in the countries controlled by the former Soviet Union, his articles, books and collections of essays were repeatedly translated and published. A casual trawl through eastern European and Russian websites reveals the lasting impact of his writings there. They are still cited in many of these countries as if they represented the latest scholarship on the English Revolution.

But it was not true to claim after Hill’s death that academic historians still defined their positions in relation to his works. Like Lawrence Stone, he had been superseded by later generations of historians. His interpretation of seventeenth-century events and figures had become much too predictable long before 1980. Since, moreover, the bulk of the surviving evidence from that period was and remains in manuscript form, his analysis lacked the fructifying nutriment of contact with original sources. That is not to belittle his achievements in his prime. He put arguments that needed to be challenged. He made claims that required refutation. He was an interesting observer of the past but not, in my view, a conclusively defining figure in twentieth-century historiography.

The Capitulation of the CWU Bureaucracy

In a clear indication that the Communication Workers Union [CWU] bureaucracy has capitulated to Royal Mail and is preparing to end the current strike, the CWU General Secretary Dave Ward announced that the strike action on 12 and 14 November had been cancelled, which means there will be no strike action for over a month. The union has announced holding two 48-hour strikes around Black Friday and Cyber Monday – 24-25 November and 30 November – 1 December – and adding vague promises of strike action up to Christmas.

The union is wasting further time by asking postal workers to vote on the new Royal Mail ‘offer’ in a workplace ballot and a no-confidence vote in Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson. So craven is the CWU bureaucracy’s action that its Head of Communication, Chris Webb, was forced to attack it saying loads of CWU members were angry and confused about the announcement and demanded that the union reinstate the two cancelled strike days—alongside the new ones. “People are saying, the union’s bottled it, we’re surrendering, we’re giving up to Royal Mail—why aren’t we keeping the pressure up?”

The ending of the two strikes on the 12th and 14th of November came as Royal Mail issued a new pay offer which is a massive pay cut and calls for further draconian attacks on postal workers’ pay and condition. Royal Mail is now docking pay and refusing overtime to make workers submit to their demands.

Royal Mail’s action is a further declaration of war on postal workers. Already 96 CWU members have been suspended nationally since the strikes began. Royal Mail wants to impose a 7 per cent rise over two years, plus a lump sum payment of 2 per cent this year, even though inflation is already at over 10 per cent. It would be paid only if postal workers agreed to Sunday working, new start times and flexible working. Royal Mail wants to tear up postal workers’ conditions that have taken decades to establish, slash jobs, and bring new starters in on worse terms and conditions.

All previous agreements with Royal Mail have been torn up. Union reps will no longer be allowed to have meetings or be released for union business. Overtime agreements are being scrapped. Delivery duties which were organised jointly by management and the union, will now be organised by managers only. Reserves can be sent to any office that needs them, and seniority of duties and holidays are to be scrapped. Workers’ performance is now being tracked and assessed by data from the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). In other words, Royal Mail intends to have a low-wage Uber-style workforce.

The CWU union bureaucracy described the offer as “a surrender document.” But that is exactly what they have done. As Laura Tiernan states, “Royal Mail’s announcement has blown the CWU’s corporatist strategy out of the water”.

Instead of rejecting this offer out of hand, instigating indefinite strike action, and establishing a strike fund, the union bureaucracy has called for more talks with an employer that has no intention of talking or backing down. Ward states, “On occasions, there has to be a moment where you focus on trying to negotiate, And it has been hard to focus on the negotiations when you’re also out on strike. Sometimes that isn’t always helpful.” How are negotiations supposed to take place when even Royal Mail’s CEO, Simon Thompson, does not even turn up for talks?

Ward explained his reasoning, saying, “We have got to take stock of where we are now, and we do have to put on the table other parts of our strategy to win this dispute. “There will be a hell of a lot of activity we’ll be expecting you to undertake, and we don’t want that activity to run in conjunction with the strike action that was planned on the 12 and 14 November. “Never believe there’s only one tactic that wins a dispute. What we’re putting forward is a rounded strategy. We don’t just get into a cycle where every strike is followed by the next one, the next one. You have to have a wider plan.”

Ward’s pathetic and treacherous plan is to write letters to MPs, asking for a hearing at a parliamentary committee and trying to get a debate in parliament. He also said union leaders wanted a meeting with Royal Mail’s shareholders: “We will explain to the shareholders that the CWU is up for change, and we will put forward our change plan.”

These shareholders are not innocent bystanders in this dispute. Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson, along with his private equity friends such as VESA and the Tory government, which has just greenlighted a possible takeover by billionaire shareholder Daniel Kretinsky, who wants to end Saturday letters deliveries, are pursuing a strategy to shatter workers’ pay and conditions, placing the company on a competitive footing with Amazon and other global logistics giants. These gentlemen have their strategy; unfortunately, postal workers do not have theirs.

While militant strike action is important, it will not work on its win this dispute. The bureaucracy fears postal workers will start unofficial strikes to protect themselves from Royal Mail attacks. This struggle is at a crossroads. To win it, postal workers must break the stranglehold of the CWU bureaucracy and set up rank-and-file committees, which will take the strike out of the hands of the union bureaucracy. They must link their struggle with other sections of workers, such as railway workers. The demand must be raised for the nationalisation of Royal Mail, the seizure of its vast profits and its conversion into a public utility under the democratic control of the working class.

Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth-Translated by Charlotte Barslund-Part of the Verso Fiction series-Verso September 15, 2020, 240 pages

“Once a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.” Czeslaw Milosz

“I won’t talk about my family.” Vigdis Hjorth

“I object greatly to this taking people’s lives and putting them into fiction. And then a famous author who resents critics for saying that he doesn’t make things up”. Deception, Phillip Roth

A novel that combines “reality fiction” and metafiction is difficult to pull off. Hjorth’s novel is an absorbing read. It exposes the treachery of Norway’s Social Democratic party’s attempt to privatise its postal service and integrate it fully into its capitalist economic system.

It has to be said that Long Live the Post Horn is one of the few novels about the postal service. Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 comes to mind, as does Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, which reviewers of Hjorth’s book have ignored.

Hjorth, born in 1959, is a prolific author of over 20 novels and is well-known in her own country, although not as renowned abroad. However, her latest book, Is Mother Dead, is changing that. Long Live the Post Horn! (2012) is the third of her books translated into English by the superb Charlotte Barslund. The surreal cover of Long Live the Post Horn! was designed by Rumors. It is beautiful and was included on a BuzzFeed News list of “the most beautiful book covers of 2020”. All major media publications extensively reviewed the novel.  

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Makenna Goodman wrote of Long Live the Post Horn! that it was “a familiar exposition of capital and commodity” and argued that “Hjorth manages to make it feel urgent in a new way” and that her  writing style was “neat and direct, even when it becomes circuitous” and concluded that “a novel like Long Live the Post Horn! does not come around often enough.”

The book’s main character is Ellinor, a PR consultant who decides to take on the European Union [EU] and the Norwegian Social Democratic Party’s attempt to privatise the postal network. While exposing the treachery of the Social Democrats, the novel glorifies the trade unions, which in the modern period have collaborated with big business as much as the European Labour Parties.

During a recent book launch of Hjorth’s new book Is Mother dead, she chilling recounts that one of the leading Social Democratic politicians mentioned in the book was killed in the July 22, 2011, massacre at a social-democratic summer camp organised by the youth division of the Labour Party, where 69 people were brutally killed, by the fascist Anders Breivik.[1]

During the same meeting, Hjorth was brutally honest about how writing about her family in her novels had deeply affected her mental health. Hjorth writes about being in psychoanalysis, “What is interesting, when you go to see an analyst, you find out how many lies you have in your story about yourself,” she says. “Often, you survive because you have these lies. But still, you have to get rid of those lies even though you have survived by telling them to yourself. And that’s a painful process. I think that people who have been in psychoanalysis learn not to lie as much as they did before. So, like we are talking here now, my mind might be thinking, ‘Ah, Vigdis, Is this right? Are you lying now? Is this how you like to see it? OK, be honest.’ So you learn the technique of communicating with yourself.”

Her novel Will and Testament provoked a lawsuit from her own family, and her sister then wrote her book in response to Hjorth’s. According to Hjorth.”Most families have a kind of official family story,” This is how we do Christmas’, and so on. If one member does not share this official, nice story, there is a big tension. I think I have given a voice to that person who has a more complex story who is not prepared to be part of it. The family won’t listen to her, and there is a great deal of unpleasantness.”

She suggests a long tradition in Norwegian fiction, especially among female writers, to expose the dark underbelly of family life. “I think literally the first sentence that Sigrid Undset, our Nobel prize winner, wrote, in her first book was ‘I have been unfaithful to my husband’,” she says, with a laugh. “So it was always there.” The desire for truth-telling emerges, perhaps, from a particular sameness in Norwegian family life, she adds. “I think in England for example the difference between rich and poor has always been big and especially now. And so there are lots of versions of family life. In Norway I think we are more equal in generally. And I think when everyone is living the same way, people compare all the time. It makes them look from behind the curtains at their neighbours.”

Hjorth’s honesty has deeply affected her readers as well as the people who translate her novels, with Charlotte Barslund writing, “When I translate a novel, I am always conscious of the place where it takes off and the place where it lands. Will its themes resonate with its new readers who bring their own experiences to a novel conceived in another country? Since I was commissioned to translate Is Mother Dead two years ago, I have become increasingly aware of how many instances of family estrangement exist both among people I know and outside my circle. Hjorth’s thoughtful, honest and razor-sharp analysis of estrangement has left me with a sense of profound sadness and a desperate plea for compassion, humility and tolerance. There has to be another way than cutting people out of your life if they don’t share your truth. Is Mother Dead shows us that there are no winners in the intergenerational battle”?

From a philosophical standpoint, Hjorth is deeply influenced by the work of Soren Kierkegaard. The title of Vigdis Hjorth’s novel, Long Live the Post Horn!, is taken from Soren Kierkegaard’s work, Repetition, in which the 19th-century Danish philosopher cites the post horn. The horn was used in Norway to announce the coming of the mail. It must be said that Kierkegaard is not a healthy influence on Hjorth’s work.

In a critical review of Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography by Joachim Garff, Tom Carter writes, “Kierkegaard, whose major works include Fear and Trembling, Either-Or, and From the Papers of One Still Living, remains a major figure in philosophy. He is one of the principal authors of some of the most prevalent philosophical positions in academia today, which include the rejection of reason, science and the Enlightenment, and, above all, a rejection of the unity of reason and reality, which is a rejection of the possibility of science. Kierkegaard saw no correlation between universal essence and individual existence—between the law-governed processes of the objective world and the perceptive and cognitive faculties of the individual. Moreover, he denied that such a correlation was achievable.”[2]

Unlike Kierkegaard, Hjorth does see a connection between universal essence and individual existence. This does not make her a socialist or anti-capitalist, but it gives her a deeper insight into the problems millions of workers face worldwide. As a teacher, Hjorth worked with people who had no papers or were refugees, and this empathy with working people imbues her work. Her new book deserves a wide readership, and her previous work should be re-examined.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Behring_Breivik

[2] Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography, by Joachim Garff, translated by Bruce H. Kirmmse. 867 pages, Princeton University Press, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2006/04/kier-a17.html

Diary of a Nobody-4

I went to two events last week. The first was Vigdis Hjorth discussing her new book, Is Mother Dead, at the London Review of Books shop. Since I have read only one book by this prolific Norwegian writer, I will not comment too much except to write that I am working on a review of her excellent book, Long Live the Post Horn.

The second event was held at the Institute of Historical Research. The meeting was held to announce the soon-to-be publication of the Writings of Oliver Cromwell. It was disappointing that most academic communities ignored such an important event. The conference itself was put in a grubby room with no sign on the door, and more importantly, no wine was on show. If Oxford University Press is reading this, a review copy would not go a miss or at least produce a paperback copy that you do not have to sell an organ to afford. John Morrill leader of the team that carried out the new collection has a new biography of Oliver Cromwell coming out in 2023. By all accounts it will be a new revisionist assessment of the leader of the English revolution.

Monday of this week, I listened to an excellent lecture by John Rees- The Fiery Spirits and the coming of the English Revolution. Convened by the beautiful Sophie Aldred. It is part of the Britain in Revolution series held online at the University of Oxford. John’s book on the same subject will be released by Verso next year.

According to his university web page, “John Rees is researching the republicans and regicides of the Long Parliament, 1640-1650, in preparation for a second major book on the English Revolution. This will develop the argument of The Leveller Revolution (Verso, 2016) that the proclamation of the Republic and the execution of Charles I resulted from a political bloc fashioned by the radical Independents and the Leveller movement. The long parliament’s so-called ‘fiery spirits’ often had personal and family histories opposing the Stuart monarchy. Examining these will give us an insight into the causes of the English Revolution. The study will focus on the careers of four of the most prominent fiery spirits, the MPs Henry Marten, William Strode, Peter Wentworth, and Alexander Rigby.”

Anyone who follows My website will see that a new article on the current postal strike has just been published. It can be read at https://atrumpetofsedition.org/ or can be seen at https://www.royalmailchat.co.uk/home.php

A recent visit to my favourite bookshop in London, Judd Books, yielded some new books that I might or might not read. Witness to the German Revolution-Victor Serge. Doing History from the Bottom Up-Staughton Lynd. Miles-by Miles Davis. The Philosophy of Modern Song Hardcover – 1 Nov. 2022by Bob Dylan. I hope to review this book when it is released.

CT sent me an interesting book- Sergei Kondratiev’s book on the English Revolution (translated from Russian by Google). If anyone wants a pdf copy I will send it via email.

The Communication Workers Union [CWU] Waives the White Flag

The decision by the Communication Workers Union{CWU} to enter talks at the conciliation service ACAS is a clear indication that it is looking to end the strike and capitulate to the demands of the Royal Mail.

It is no accident that the attempt by the CWU to end this strike coincides with two inter-related developments: the crisis in the Tory party, which has all the hallmarks of a revolutionary crisis developing in Britain and the growing strike movement that is threatening to grow out of the control of the Labour party and trade union bureaucracy.

For the last six weeks, the CWU has sent numerous begging letters to Royal Mail management pleading to be lenient and negotiate with the union, only for Royal Mail to ignore their pleas, escalate executive actions, and threaten mass redundancies. The redundancies are a clear attempt to intimidate postal workers from taking further strike action. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has made it clear that it will not mobilise postal workers against Royal Mail’s declaration of class warfare.

As Tony Robson points out, the union issued “an appeal for the Board to meet and discuss the union’s “alternative business plan”, framed as one offering greater profitability based on “utilising the competitive edge it has already in its deliveries to 32 million addresses across the country.”

Royal Mail’s agreement to talks is a ruse to buy more time to end strikes over the profitable Christmas period and to give the Tory government time to implement draconian anti-strike legalisation.

From the very first days of the strike, the union has put forward a pro-business agenda. David Ward, CWU leader, said shareholders were on the union’s side, boasting on a Facebook meeting that the union had held secret talks with VESA, the same private equity firm pushing through massive attacks on postal workers’ pay and conditions.

As for ACAS, the union is asking postal workers to put their faith in an anti-working class and pro-business organisation. It is not some independent organisation, but a mechanism used by big business to end strikes, as the Refuse workers in Coventry found to their cost[1]

The postal workers’ dispute is now in danger and threatened directly by the CWU bureaucracy’s corporatist strategy, posing the need for the rank and file to take charge. At every Royal Mail and Parcelforce depot, rank-and-file strike committees must be established to fight for the following:

·       An inflation-busting pay award, with all future pay automatically indexed to the RPI inflation rate

·       The immediate provision of strike pay for Royal Mail, BT and Openreach workers and Post Office workers to co-ordinate effective and sustained joint action

·       No negotiations with Royal Mail until all mass redundancies are withdrawn and all executive action ended over the revision of terms and conditions. Any further talks are to be live-streamed.

·       Reach out to Amazon workers who have launched wildcat action against sweatshop conditions in a united front of all delivery workers to defeat the race to the bottom

·       Royal Mail and Amazon must be nationalised, their profits confiscated to meet pressing social needs and their operations placed under the democratic control of workers.


[1] ACAS sides with strike-breaking Coventry Labour council against refuse drivers-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2022/03/16/cove-m16.html

Diary of a Nobody-Part 3

 “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

― Gustave Flaubert

Firstly apologies for the late publication of my article, The Global Attack on Postal workers. I put it on the website Royalmailchat[1] , achieving 800-page hits with four comments. The current struggle has started to get vicious, with Royal Mail starting to push 10,000 redundancies, and this is just the start of their attempt to Amazonistion the business. One significant development came out of the CWU’s Thursday Facebook meeting. While it is common knowledge that Royal Mail has held secret talks with the Private Equity Firm VESA, which is one of the powers behind the throne and is pulling the strings of the current CEO, Simon Thompson. It is not common knowledge that Terry Pullinger, the current CWU DGSP, also met with representatives of VESA. What was the purpose of this meeting, and what was discussed should be made public?

There are a few meetings and lectures worth mentioning this week. On Monday at Bookmarks, The SWP bookshop -Book Launch -Claude McKay -The Making of a Black Bolshevik-17th October-6.30. On Tuesday at the London Review of Books Bookshop -Vigdis Hjorth & Shahidha Bari: Is Mother Dead-Vigdis Hjorth discusses her new novel, Is Mother Dead (Verso) with Shahidha Bari. 7 pm. Writings of Oliver Cromwell- Woburn Suite, G22/26, Ground Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 20 October 2022, 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

A couple of things from correspondence received this week. F Mami is a regular contributor to my website. See his latest article[2]. Fouad is looking for paid work for his writings, so if any media people are reading this, let me know if you are interested. Contact me at the following email keith@atrumpetofsedition.org.

CT sent an email regarding the Christopher Hill conference. I think we are both outsiders to this event, and it would be good if we both did articles on the conference from differing perspectives. I am reviewing the book A World Turn Upside Down before the meeting. It would be nice if Verso of Penguinb did an anniversary issue, but I will not hold my breath. My next review for my website will be David Caute’s The Red List.

A couple of important articles were published on wsws.org. The People Immortal: Soviet writer Vasily Grossman’s first novel about World War II by Clara Weiss[3] and Eugene V. Debs and the struggle of railroaders-by Tom Mackaman[4]

Again a few new books were purchased this week. The People Immortal-Vasily Grossman. A Spectre, Haunting: On the Communist Manifesto Hardcover – 12 May 2022-by China Miéville


[1] https://www.royalmailchat.co.uk/home.php

[2] http://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2022/10/reynolds-nicholas-2022-need-to-know.html

[3] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2022/10/14/auih-o14.html

[4] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2022/10/10/debs-o10.html

Reynolds, Nicholas. 2022. Need to Know: World War II and the Rise of American Intelligence. Mariner Books: New York and Boston.

Nicholas Reynolds is a historian. Need to Know traces the rise of what ultimately has become known as the CIA, Central Intelligence Agency, perhaps the most famous intelligence body among the eighteen spy institutions in the U.S.

Given the lure and stature the CIA enjoys today, readers may easily think that the process promulgated in creating the spying structure had been smooth or problem-free. After all, why the fuzz as the country needed a professional spy agency like no other and similar to similar agencies in the rest of the world? But the story about the CIA creation is radically different from this perceived wisdom for reasons Reynolds specifically outlines in this exceptional 500-plus pages. Indeed, it makes a lot of sense to grasp the hard knocks of the birth that marked the preliminaries of what is now the solid institution without which the U.S. cannot be imagined.

For beginners in intelligence history, Reynolds’s story makes sense only when knowing that before World War II, the U.S. did not have a permanent spy institution for a century and a half of its existence. Strange as it seems now, since its inception, the country’s founding fathers have opposed the spying principle. The Puritans’ bent on starting the City upon a Hill morphed into distancing their polity from disgraceful and cheap practices of the old world, a situation that U.S. elites and insiders of the establishment throughout U.S. history could not easily untangle until the advent of WWII.

In contrast, with WWII and the U.S. general mood dramatically changing in favour of less isolationism and more involvement in world affairs, the U.S. granted permission to eavesdrop on enemies’ communication traffic. All these and more, Reynolds elaborates, showing politicians’ extreme caution and suspicion of this change in state policy, precisely the bias, against spying as the backbone underlying state policy for accessing information. In licensing a spying agency, a free hand could have spurred undesired consequences and turned the promise of the City upon a Hill into yet another corrupt and degenerate polity of the old world. 

With this background in mind, we understand the difficulties, the hesitations, and the half-hearted beginnings of what will become during and particularly after WWII, the U.S. intelligence taking an industrial scale. We read that even when he favoured founding a body that could provide answers and offer policymakers an advantage when negotiating with representatives of foreign governments, President Roosevelt had always resisted replicating British or European intelligence structures.

With the ongoing war in Europe, particularly after the fall of France in June 1940 and certainly, before the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, FDR authorized Colonel Willian J. Donovan to form what was for him more or less an amateur spy body, compared to the British MI6 and in parallel to already existing institutions such as Military Intelligence Division (MID), Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) and of course the FBI. A key preoccupation for FDR is the management of the massive traffic, literally the tons of sensitive information reaching his office. The administration is ideally carried out through coordination between the already existing structures. In addition to the coordination task, the Colonel has in mind an additional task dear to his heart, the planning and executing undercover operations.

In June 1941, Roosevelts signed the order to create the Coordinator of Information COI amidst opposition and resistance from the FBI and other intelligence bodies (those of the Army and the Navy). Like with all novel experiences, the established bureaucracies did not welcome the newborn arrival for fear it would dwarf their work as COI was placed directly under the White House. The intrigues in the hierarchy will oblige Roosevelt to transform the new baby into OSS (Office of Strategic Service) under the authority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Put in charge of the budding institution, Donovan had to work twice as hard as other intelligence organizations to prove to his superiors the usefulness of the new establishment. One must remember that the new establishment was functioning amidst competing and the ever-suspicious Military, Navy, and FBI. Because they could break codes about Japanese diplomatic and military traffic, the Navy and the Army saw little utility in Donovan’s body. Besides, they wanted to protect their code-breaking enterprises. This explains how they were mortally obsessed with safekeeping, a substantial advantage over the enemy, thanks to their code-breaking. Hence why they resisted full cooperation with Denovan’s agency.

Donovan’s tours in Britain gave him the incentive to founding an American equivalent to the deeply entrenched British intelligence services. Ever eager to actively participate in the war, Donovan’s early mission as head of the COI had been in China and India after Pearl Harbor and the Japanese invasion of the far east. His collaboration with the British helped enlist American and local sabotage operations behind enemy lines. His real contribution as head of OSS, for which decision-makers in Washington were thrilled, comes in the context of the landing in Normandy, the liberation of France, and the arrangement of German army defection in northern Italy in the early months of 1945.

Still, with FDR’s death in April 1945 and the end of hostilities in the European war theatre, Donovan and his structure fell out of favour. Again, the fall was not for lack of pertinent reasons. While the new administration seized on the key role of intelligence in shortening the length of the war and with recommendations from the Navy and Army, it still wanted to restructure OSS by distributing its staff among the Navy, Army, and the State Department. President Truman found out that a real restructuring has to begin with relieving Donovan from his duties while awarding him for the achievements that have given an edge to the Allies’ war efforts.

For precision’s sake, Reynolds specifies that Truman bore no ill feelings against Donovan or OSS. That policy can be explained only by the old American bias against intelligence which reemerged after the victory in WWII. Truman was afraid that the exceptional success of intelligence could propagate to make the U.S., just like other European democracies, drift in peaceful times toward dictatorship because intelligence could not control its ambitions.

Reynolds’ writing in this book is conversational, and as such, it is engaging. His chit-chat style delves into what initially looks like secondary bits or extended biographies, all for exploring pertinent backgrounds. The reading of Need to Know flies because its author is careful about providing the right environment. The extensive endnotes and bibliography entries at the end underline the author’s passion, who wanted to translate how a central intelligence structure has never been systematic or planned from the start. Quite the contrary, if anything, Reynolds’ narrative illustrates that the process that was promulgated in 1947 to what had become the CIA has been through trial-and-error, accommodating how policymakers variedly (some slowly; others quickly) registered American victory not only against the axis forces but also against America’s Allies in 1945. Marshalling the mindset to seize on that exceptional victory had to end in a central intelligence agency in which COI and OSS serve as excellent precursors. 

Fouad Mami

Université d’Adrar (Algeria)

The Global Attack on Postal Workers

Employing over 115,000 Royal Mail workers, Royal Mail is currently undertaking a fundamental restructuring of its core business. It aims to concentrate on the lucrative parcel market and ditch its responsibility for letter delivery. It would appear to be deliberately trashing this side of the business to sell it to any private equity firm greedy enough to buy it. The 500-year-old company has also changed its name to International Distributions Services plc.

To undertake this restructuring, it is carrying out a vicious attack on postal workers’ pay and conditions that is unprecedented in this industry in modern times. Along with other wholesale changes, it demands new delivery schedules to compete with parcel delivery services such as Amazon, which employs a super-exploited gig workforce. Royal Mail wants delivery rounds to start two hours later each day, from 9 am, with the last post at 7 pm or later. It wants compulsory Sunday work. If successful, it will amount to the Amazonisation of the postal service.

Worldwide postal networks are also launching systematic and widescale privatisation of their core businesses. Two related developments are driving this privatisation process or Post Office reform. Firstly, the exponential growth of electronic mail has placed massive demands on postal services worldwide to cut costs and improve efficiency to remain competitive. Computers now generate over 80 per cent of all correspondence sent.

Secondly, the globalisation of trade and industry facilitated by these same technological developments has torn the ground from under the postal service as a nationally based venture. Whereas the post Office once enjoyed monopoly status as a domestic carrier, today, it is forced to compete at home and abroad against its international rivals.

Postal companies around the world are, in the words of a UNI Global Report adopting “solutions aimed at optimising deliveries, such as the outsourcing of delivery services, the prior quantification of tasks using software tools (geo-routing13), the introduction of alternate day delivery, the questioning of the “tenure” of delivery rounds, the non-physical delivery of registered mail, the extension of delivery rounds and, for some operators, the total or partial integration of parcels and letters into one delivery stream. Some postal and parcel operators are also starting to introduce new low-cost (“uberized”) flexible delivery models such as crowdsourcing which allows deliveries to be organised locally or even nationally (for the moment, mainly in the US, the UK and Belgium”.

Given the globalised nature of the postal industry, it is not surprising that the attacks on British postal workers are mirrored worldwide. Across the channel, postal workers in France have come under sustained attacks from La Poste. Like postal workers around the globe, French postal workers joined their fellow workers during the Covid 19 pandemic playing an ever more “essential” role as they deliver food, medications, money, communications, and much more to millions of homes. Like their global counterparts, French postal workers have been treated as if their lives have no value, and thousands of postal workers were infected with many deaths. Since 2012 there have been 19 suicides or attempted suicides of postal workers.

La Poste is in many ways ahead of its European competitors in undertaking a massive restructuring of its business model to compete with its international rivals. It was one of the first European postal services to change the start times of its postal workers from 6 am to 8 am to compete with its rivals in the lucrative parcels business. This has ended the “job and finish” principle, something Royal Mail in the UK is keen to duplicate.

To offset the decline in Letters, La Poste has, According to a UNI Global Union report, now has postal workers doing “new services such as “Watch over my parents”, home delivery of errands, meals or medicines, technical or administrative help (help with tax return forms, installation of TV decoders).[1] Most drivers at La Poste’s subsidiary DPD are self-employed, and La Poste has shed over 70,000 of its postal workers.

“La Poste has considerably expanded its European express delivery network through investments in new technologies and a series of external acquisitions (Seur, Exapaq, Pickup Services Siodemka, among others). DPD is now the second-largest operator in Europe behind Deutsche Post DHL, with a market share estimated at 12.9% (with leading positions in several European markets such as Germany, the UK, France, Poland and Portugal). La Poste is also investing outside Europe (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkey, China and Africa, and South and North America), intending to become a major player in the global e-commerce supply chain. About a quarter of La Poste turnover is already realised on foreign markets.”[2]

The German Postal Service was privatised in 1989. It is hell-bent on cutting costs, including introducing low-paid contracts similar to its private business rivals, to furnish the German financial elite with increased dividends and facilitate its business expansion into foreign markets.

In Belgium, Bpost has already attempted the Uberisation of its core business. According to the Uni Global Study, “In 2016, Bpost launched Bringr, an innovative, collaborative platform app allowing smartphone users to find a driver for delivering goods. According to the company, Bringr aims to complement Bpost’s existing product range with a service that enables users to find a driver to pick up goods at point A and deliver them to point B. First developed in the USA and the uK, this crowdsourced delivery model, which works on the same principle as popular driving (Uber) or grocery or food delivery services (Uber Eats, Deliveroo), are becoming increasingly popular among delivery companies as it satisfies consumers’ growing demands for faster online deliveries while at the same time decreasing the cost of last-mile delivery by lowering labour and other fixed expenses.[3] Over 10% of its workforce is agency workers. In Poland, like its western counterparts, the Polish postal services face fierce competition from its rivals. Many competitors have a low-cost business method with low fixed costs and cheap labour. In Sweden, over 29,000 jobs have been lost due to the reorganisation of the Swedish postal network. Posten AB closed all post offices by 2002 and replaced them with so-called business centres and postal contact points located in grocery stores, filling stations, kiosks etc.

Like many postal workers around the world, postal workers in Sweden were fearful of the new changes, according to the Uni Global report: “Working conditions have also suffered. A SECO study team visited 800 Swedish Post and CityMail workplaces. These visits confirmed problems of stress and heavy workloads. According to the study, “the most distressing observation was the anxiety about the future expressed by most employees. This situation has increased in long-term absence, the increased incidence of occupational illness and high employee turnover”.

In New Zealand, in 1998, the Postal Services Act ended the statutory monopoly of New Zealand Post (NZ Post) to carry letters, opening the postal market to full competition. NZ Post, to reduce cost {Royal Mail in the UK is seeking to do the same} is using self-employed workers for certain tasks. Many other duties are now being outsourced to companies with low wages and poor working conditions. This has led to over 5000 job losses since 2013. Australia Post The Australian government is conducting a restructuring of Australia Post that threatens 2,000 jobs. Many workers have been punished for speaking out on COVID-19 conditions

In Canada, Casual labour is rife at Canada Post, with 32 per cent of staff part-time, and the lack of full-time jobs has led to an escalation of casual work. An article on wsws.org reports, “Postal workers endure demanding and dangerous working conditions, including forced overtime and an accident rate that is more than five times the norm in federally regulated industries. Canada Post is using technological change to increase postal workers’ workloads further while slashing jobs. Backed by the Conservative government’s 2011 back-to-work law, it slashed pension benefits and expanded multi-tier employment.”[4]

In the United States, President Joe Biden recently signed the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022, which will see the health care benefits of US postal workers slashed. The APWU and the other postal unions have regularly aided and abetted management attacks of wages and conditions and have fully supported the cuts in health care costs.

Brazil is in the final stages of privatising the state-owned postal office Correios, after a nationwide 35-day strike was sabotaged by the postal unions in September. In a previous strike in In 2014, Postal Union workers came out of strike over the transfer of the post’s healthcare system to a new management agency. In Brazil, postal workers’ wages and salaries are among the lowest in Brazilian state-owned companies.

In the United Kingdom, With the average wage of a Royal Mail Letters Operational Grade postal worker set at a measly £22,589, nearly £5000 below the national wage, postal workers have for the last decade or so been in a constant and fierce battle to defend and improve their pay and workers conditions. As was outlined at the beginning of this article, they face an employer who is hell-bent on destroying their hard-fought pay and benefits. The result of two decades of Royal Mail restructuring and then privatisation in 2013 has reduced jobs by 44,000. With the direct collaboration of the CWU, the company has seen the wholesale looting of the pension and the establishment of a new two-tier pension that will see new starters on a worse pension than their fellow workers. It has replaced its defined benefit pension scheme with a sub-standard arrangement. Postal workers have launched serious strikes to defend their pay and working conditions. The Communication Workers Union {CWU} has utilised the strikes as a bargaining counter to force Royal Mail to the negotiating table.

Like their counterparts around the globe, the CWU, far from defending postal workers from Royal Mail’s rapacious attacks, have aided and abetted this process. As Eric London writes, “The trade unions, controlled by massive bureaucracies that are entirely integrated into the structures of the state and finance capital, serve as instruments of imperialism, and are working in every country with the corporations and capitalist parties to suppress this growing movement and to isolate the most militant struggles. The task that directly confronts the working class is to smash the bureaucratic dictatorship and transfer power to the rank and file.[5]

The International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC), founded by the International Committee of the Fourth International in May 2021,  calls on all postal workers to break from their union leader and set up their organisations independent of the union bureaucracy in order to coordinate and draw together all the disparate struggles of the international working class into one unified world movement. Above all, what is needed is the building of a socialist leadership to direct the emerging struggles in the direction of a challenge to the capitalist system and imperialist war.

Sources

1.   Correspondence on the privatisation of Britain’s postal service-24 August 2002- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2002/08/corr-a24.pdf

2.   The Economic And Social Consequences of Postal Services Liberalisation – Uni Global study

3.   Canada Post workers need a socialist strategy to defy and defeat Liberals’ back-to-work law- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/11/24/cupw-n24.html

Notes

1.   Masters of the Post: The Authorised History of the Royal Mail Hardcover – 3 Nov. 2011by Duncan Campbell-Smith 

2.   LONDON POSTAL WORKERS A TRADE UNION HISTORY 1839–2000 Kindle Edition-by Norman Candy

3.   Scratching the Surface: Posties, Privatisation and Strikes in the Royal Mail Paperback – 29 Aug. 2014 -by Phil ChadwickThe Meaning of Militancy?: Postal Workers and Industrial Relations (Routledge Revivals) Hardcover – 27 Oct. 2017-by Gregor


[1] The Economic And Social Consequences of Postal Services Liberalisation – Uni Global study

[2] The Economic And Social Consequences of Postal Services Liberalisation – Uni Global study www.syndex.fr

[3] THE Economic And Social Consequences of Postal Services Liberalisation – Uni Global study- www.syndex.fr

[4] Canada Post workers need socialist strategy to defy and defeat Liberals’ back-to-work law- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/11/24/cupw-n24.html

[5] The global strike wave and the crisis of revolutionary leadership- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2022/10/05/xsob-o05.htm