Wednesday, 21 October 2009

In Favour of the Postal strike

Yes - you read that right, I'm in favour of the strike scheduled for this week by the Communication Workers' Union.

Not because I am persuaded of their cause - to be persuaded I would have to understand it, and as no-one has been able to explain why they are striking, I have the distinct impression that no-one else understands it either. No, my desire to see the strike go ahead is purely in order to watch the CWU be forced to change its name to the Communication Worker's Union.

You see, I practice from the Oxford area. The Oxford sorting office was renowned as one of the more militant offices; the very instant that an unreasonable request was made by management, the whole lot would walk out. Of course, as their definition of "unreasonable" seemed to extend to such things as Pete being asked to deliver Bob's round while Bob was off instead of just sitting around until his shift finished, this caused some irritation locally.

I understand that things were so bad that the Oxford sorting office was closed, and the staff transferred to Swindon*. This left no-one in Oxford to sort Oxford's mail, so the management transferred the task to Swindon. One almost wants to grab Royal Mail's management by the lapels and yell at them that the problem was not the building, it was the staff in it...

So, in an argument between Royal Mail staff and Royal Mail management, I truly have no allegiance. So far as I am concerned, both are useless.

It was with no great surprise, then, that I found myself wondering what to do about the strike - how to cope. What surprised me was the answer; nothing.

You see, the local sorting office has gone on strike so often, at such short notice, that we have become so used to coping that we no longer regard the letter as a default. Most of our clients send and receive communication via email. Sometimes, an original document needs to be conveyed, but for some time now there has been nothing on earth that would persuade me to entrust an original document that could not be easily replaced to the tender mercies of the postal system, so all such mail goes by courier.

At home, the position is the same. The people that I know, and from whom I want to hear, use telephone, email, or twitter to contact me. All I receive through my letterbox is junk mail and bills. I order quite a bit from Amazon and the like but they mainly use Citylink instead of Royal Mail. Now, I am no great fan of Sh**tyLink, but at least they don't lose stuff as regularly, and their depot is on my way home.

So, frankly, if the strike is short-lived, then I won't care either way because it is nothing out of the ordinary. If it lasts long enough to kill Royal Mail off, then I will be pleased; that might (at last) open up the market to let in a proper, reliable daily postal service.

Which would, actually, be quite a nice thing to have.

*Note; I have not been able to verify this.


  1. I do not want to disagree with you, but I do. Maybe it is pain before gain.

    (A lame claim to fame: when John Major was in office, I had an interview with Lord Poole in 10 Downing Street since I knew a lot about financial services; it appears I still know more than Gordon Brown. Anyway, I told Lord Poole why the PO would not be privatised. This was too brave a move as he was overseeing the plans to privatise it. I was not appointed but the privatisation plans for the PO were dropped seven days later. With hindsight, I should have been more diplomatic in my answer. Perhaps my answer to you on this occasion shows I still have not learnt that lesson, but one reason I like your blog is that you always prepared to reply) ;-)

  2. Disagreement is permitted, indeed invited. All I ask is that it be expressed politely :-)

    I think my approach would be classed as creatively destructive. There is precedent for this, although the pain can sadly be all too real.

    Perhaps you impressed His Lordship more than you thought? One must hold back a little, lest one give all the necessary advice for free on the first meeting ;-)

  3. Thanks for the tip, Patently. I will bear it in mind next time, that is if I have cottoned on what the question is about. ;-)

    Returning to the Royal Mail, you are not elderly then, living out in the wilds at the end of long country lane with your nearest neighbour half a mile away and no family to visit? Do postmen get out more than policemen these days?

    So this is the outcome when both management and staff appear to adopt unreasonable working practices, coupled with Mandelson plotting behind the scenes. It is typical of a mature industry but their downfall is that they no
    longer enjoy such a monopoly, as you point out. It was too good for too long that they lost the ability to adapt at a reasonable pace in a reasonable manner.

  4. I've finally got off my arse, made myself an email signature on 'Paintbrush' and started asking everyone I have to write to whether they have email

  5. Royal Mail have incredibly bad managers. Postman, up through the ranks, with little idea of employment laws and little management training or ability.
    It isn't unusual for a local manager to announce the transfer of staff to another office, without discussion, without notice. Some of the memos they send out seem designed to trigger revolt.They are badly worded, unclear, and seem to imply blame to workers for management failures.

    On the other hand CWU are incredibly militant. They are inflexible and unrealistic. They promise workers far more than they can deliver. {no pun intended}.
    Almost every piece of literature and every interview refers to the salary of the top boss, Adam crozier. So what? Michael Owen earns the same and he only plays 30 mins a week. Who cares what someone else earns. Its what their members earn that they should worry about.

    It seems outside of the most militant offices only about 20% of posties will be on strike, possibly more in the drivers part, but nothing like what CWU will claim.

    The strike is about job losses Patently. Pure and simple. RM want to make the majority of its 200,000 workers part time, with only part time benefits, limited pensions etc but 35+ hours a week.
    If it was being done in the NHS or to Teachers there would be mass walkouts.Its unfair, but no more unfair than what has happened elsewhere to private firms.

    RM still delivers 93% of all UK mail. Other carriers will charge a hell of a lot more for a hell of a lot less when they get given the go ahead. Both sides should try harder. CWU's claims about Lord M siding with the management seem justified given the lack of government intervention and the release of the powerpoints to Newsnight that indicated government collusion. Lord M wants to privatise. CWU setting themselves up to fail in this strike will make that much easier in the future.

    As you may know I have both CWU and RM for clients.

    I'm sick of both of them.

  6. Measured, you have fallen into the classic fallacy of assuming that if an undertaking vanishes, nothing will replace it.

    Bill - the NHS and the teaching profession do not, of course, face new competition from technology that, for the vast majority of mail, does the same job in minutes instead of days, and for near-zero marginal cost. If we could log on to and cure a heart attack with a mouseclick, then it is unlikely that we would be sympathetic to nurses demanding that we carry on paying their salaries anyway.

    So whilst I'm sad that some postmen will lose their jobs, my sadness is that there is no job for them to do - not that someone has finally bitten the bullet and pointed out that their job did in fact vanish years ago.

    We all seem to agree that this is a fight between the incompetents and the irrationals, though ... interesting.

  7. *Pick myself up and dust myself down*

    I have not. Of course, I have considered that there will be replacement and I have no problem agreeing with your views on the sorting of mail. Investment must take place and the resultant changes should be embraced, despite the inevitable job losses that will occur as a result.

    No, my sadness lies with prospective changes to the manner of delivery whereby post has to be collected, postboxes are introduced and continuity is lost as different postman deliver to different streets on different days according to the logistical analysis of the mail bag. The reassuring friendly
    utterance of a gruff "morning" or the alert that all is not well at an address bites the dust. It does not mean much to you at this stage but it does to an increasing number of people who have too little going on in their lives already.

  8. Ah, I see; it is not the loss of any postman you lament, but the loss of a consistent postman who one can get to know. Consider my comment retracted!

  9. Oh, P, so you can be soft and cuddly. ;-)

  10. We actually had some post this morning. That doesn't happen every day round here.

  11. M - I have a cuddly side and a sharp spiky side. I've learnt to keep one for home and one for work!

    Albert - where we live, we never get post in the morning. 12:30 at best... ;-)

  12. Hedgehog.

    Unless you have a better description, and you usually do.