Ever since Thatcher quenched her thirst for destroying the unions in the 1980s, industrial action – ‘striking’ – has become unpalatable for many in today’s Britain. Triumphantly shrouded in memories of militant socialism being defeated by a rampant Conservatism, it is highly unlikely that the call for industrial action by postal workers from the Communication Workers Union (CWU) yesterday will be greeted by overwhelming support from the general public. Indeed, the strikes will be little more than a throwback to the ‘dark days’ of picket lines, scabs and a much bleaker 70s Britain.
But what the general public seem unwilling to hear is the reality of what is happening in the Royal Mail. Under the guise of modernisation, brokered by Chief Executive Adam Crozier – the same Adam Crozier that was responsible for giving Sven Goran Eriksson his multi-million pound contract by the Football Association – the Royal Mail is cutting jobs and piling extra work on to its employees at a rate that is pushing them to breaking point. Because of this, the Royal Mail management are causing enormous resentment among an already disgruntled workforce. For many postal workers, the outcome has been one of more work for no extra pay.
While there is no apparent extra pay for postal workers however, in 2008 the BBC reported that Royal Mail’s trading position had worsened dramatically to an annual loss of £279 million a year. Despite this, Crozier’s remuneration at the same time was being reported as having near tripled to £3 million per annum.
And it is not even as though the postal workers or the CWU are against the need for modernisation or making savings. In fact both the postal workers and the CWU agree, even where increased mechanisation will ultimately put humans out of work. The thing that the Royal Mail management disagree with however is that postal workers and the CWU should be able to be a partner in the negotiations to implement these changes.
Like the NHS, the Royal Mail is – or at least in recent memory was – a well regarded and respected public institution. It is for this reason that Lord Mandelson’s attempts to privatise or part-privatise the service have failed so far. Look behind the rhetoric of Crozier, Mandelson et al that deliberately paints the postal workers and the CWU as being the 21st century equivalent to Arthur Scargill and the miners, and what will become obvious is that the Royal Mail – the UK’s only universal mail-delivery service and publicly-owned utility – is being slowly and painfully run into the ground.
It is clear for all to see what has been allowed to happen to the Post Office network in recent years. Like the Royal Mail, the Post Office network was a similarly respected institution that provided a unique and invaluable service to many, especially those in rural areas and those of an older generation. Despite this, the Labour government and others have allowed the network to be decimated where thousands of post offices have been shut in the process.
And like those that worked in the Post Office, many postal workers see the job they do as providing a service to the general public. So while the Royal Mail management continues its long tradition of cutting investment and staff, the Government would prefer to wash its hands of all responsibility for the Royal Mail, and the general public appear not to care, aren’t the postal workers right to defend one of the few institutions that continues to belong to us all?
This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.