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Whilst we’re at it: Out of Kilter

November 11, 2009

Here’s a blog entry by the conspicuously named Roy Mayall for the London Review Blog:

The postal strike is off. You don’t need me to tell you that. What you may not know is how this has affected us posties.

I first heard the rumours in the office on Thursday when I got back from my round. The union rep said: ‘You’d better watch the news.’ I’m sure I wasn’t the only postie glued to his TV that afternoon, waiting for clarification. It seemed a strange way of finding out whether or not you were going into work in the morning, waiting for a BBC newscaster to inform you.

The atmosphere at work on Friday was slightly odd, slightly out of kilter. Someone had turned the volume up. Everyone was a tad more animated than usual, a fraction louder, a notch more bellicose. But after that – well you get on with things, don’t you. There’s a job to do. By Saturday everything was quieting down, and by Monday it was as if the strike had never happened at all. We were all just standing around, sorting the mail, wondering what, exactly, we had gained.

There are two opinions on the matter. One – the louder – is that we’ve been sold out. The union has established its position in the work-place and is satisfied with that. Management has been forced to deal with the union, and now, between them, they can stitch us all up.

The other – quieter and more considered – is that we’ve won our position at the negotiating table, and that we have to trust the union to get us the best deal they can. I’ve looked at the agreement and there’s little in it that I would argue with. On the other hand, there are some glaring omissions.

‘Downstream access’, for instance. Downstream access is the process whereby private mail companies can take all of the most profitable traffic from the Royal Mail, and then get the Royal Mail to deliver it for them. Using the Royal Mail network to undermine the Royal Mail. The union, apparently, don’t see anything wrong with this. If it comes to any future industrial action I think we should go into work but refuse to deliver anything that doesn’t have a Royal Mail stamp on it. That would stir things up.

Then there’s what the agreement refers to as ‘D2D’. That’s ‘door-to-door’ in long-hand, also known as ‘household’. Both terms are euphemisms for what the rest of the world calls ‘junk mail’. This is the stuff that doesn’t even have an address on it: adverts that we shovel through your door whether you asked for it or not. I hate it, and – regardless of the remuneration – would rather opt out of delivering it altogether. Unfortunately my union doesn’t agree with me. I know the issue is on the table, but the question for the union is how much of this stuff should we be delivering, and at what price, not whether there’s a moral or environmental objection to it altogether.

There are other unresolved issues too: the Attendance Procedure, staff levels, the introduction of Walk Sequencing Machines and other new technology, the length of walks, the increasing casualisation of the workforce, the proportion of full-time staff to part-time. A whole bunch of things that have yet to be resolved.

One thing is certain: the strike may be off, but the dispute isn’t over.

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