Sunday, 18 October 2009

Royal Mail, RIP?

For those in the UK, the big news is that the workers of Royal Mail are planning a nationwide strike this week. This has actually been quite a nasty little dispute with plenty of drama unfolding over the Autumn.

Now, I am in two minds over this strike. Already, because of the local wildcat strikes, a lot of my letters have not got to their final destination, forcing me to register and redeliver them. Annoying, and expensive. I do not mind them getting to the destination late, I just think it sucks that they do not turn up at all.

However, the postal workers represent one of the last truly national industries left in the UK. The Royal Mail is one of the few symbols left of British pride. And it is managed by a bunch of muppets.

I have worked for the Royal Mail as a Christmas casual. Yeah, the permanent staff will eye them with suspicion, believing that you are there to undermine their position. But the bulk of casuals are there to scrape some cash for Christmas, and only a few actually 'graduate' to the coveted position of a real postman. I was one of those casuals, and I remember being so broke at one point that I had to walk home in the snow, as it was a few days before I was paid. Cold memories!

But yeah, the management are idiots. I remember standing in line for an hour so they could sign me onto their list. Although I was getting paid to stand there, as I had turned up on time, because they had to verify that I turned up, I was effectively doing nothing. There is also a lot of harassment of the casual staff, with permission needed to go to the toilets and other really petty issues. I do not know what it is like with the permanent staff, but there was always a union rep on the floor. A bit of 1970's lunnacy methinks.

So do I have an opinion on this strike. Well yeah. In a way. Royal Mail does need modernising, it is a simple fact that they are carrying less letters. At the same time, with the huge explosion in parcel delivery due to online shopping, Royal Mail has really cocked that up. Come on, you essentially have a monopoly on the UK's postal system, HOW can you be loosing money?

But also the workers do have to fight for their rights. We are quite happy to give billions away to bankers who are now turning a handsome profit, but as a nation we seem loathe to support the ordinary man on the street if they dare to rise above the parapet and shout 'enough is enough'.

We have seen it happen before in the UK during the 1980's, how an industry is fiddled by government and its public service remit then utterly destroyed until it is there to serve shareholders, leaving the customer with crap. Water companies, bus services and airports are great examples of utilities that have been privatised and utterly beaten into the ground, providing surly service for a high cost. Living in London, I have to put up with Thames Water's overcharging for stuff that falls from the sky (in bucketloads), grumpy bus drivers who are worked into the ground (doing what a generation ago was the job of two people - conductor and driver) and the lunacy that is Heathrow (or the awful, falling to pieces Gatwick).

(Conversely phone companies and airlines have actually worked quite well from a consumer point of view as competition has been easily introduced).

The only place I see the government taking Royal Mail is to the knackers yard to be broken up and sold off to their buddies in The City for a tidy profit. In that way I do support the staff of Royal Mail, as if they do not fight for their jobs, then no one else will. Unfortunately, there is only one was that this is going to end. Badly, for all concerned.

Royal Mail: Born 1660. Died 2009. Killed by a bankrupt and utterly corrupted government. R.I.P.


IsarSteve said...

Yes and No.. like you I'm torn. But I expect things will get worse for the customer, whichever way it goes..

Fact is, it isn't 1970 anymore and people just don't send as many letters like they did back then..

I've always felt that the best way a work force can safeguard their jobs is by making themselves essential..

Royal Mail has succeeded in doing the opposite... concentrated on milking the stamp collectors by producing ever more stamps 'to collect' rather than 'to use' - more than three times the amount annually, than in the 1980s.
Stamp collectors like/liked 'real stamps' not those just printed to make money..

As for bus conductors, I take your point, but these days, most people have prepaid tickets, whereas thirty years ago the opposite was the case. Lastly, would you be prepared to finance two wages (Driver & Conductor) by an increase in fares?

Asad said...

Too true, my's just so predictable how this is merely another carcass to be dished out between 'the lads' in the Square Mile...

el director! said...

@isarsteve - I can see your point about conductors completely. As for Royal Mail, its management has shown complete ineptitude especially over the past few years. I think most of the workforce understands the need for change, but the management looks like it is hellbent on forcing things through without negotiation.

@asad - Royal Mail will be the Labour Party's Railtrack.