Out of Kilter

Roy Mayall · The Dispute Isn't Over

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.


  • 11 November 2009 at 4:28pm
    PabloK says:
    A small note of appreciation. These updates, and the longer Diary piece in the LRB, have been invaluable sources of information. I've thought more than once that if they more widely read, well, something somewhere would be better.

  • 11 November 2009 at 8:54pm
    Iorwerth Lewis says:
    I would like to add my appreciation. And I have learnt more from this blog than from anywhere else. The suggestion that in the next dispute you should deliver only Royal Mail stamped post is excellent, because that goes to the heart of the problem, which is unfair competition. Another idea would be to invite the public on Trollop walks. That is to, like Trollop, walk the walks the posties walk and find out what it is really like. One small ray of sunshine. The break up of British Rail into several companies has meant the train drivers' pay going up as companies bid for the staff. Would that happen in the postal service?

  • 12 November 2009 at 8:03pm
    Roy Mayall says:
    Thanks for your kind comments. I'm really pleased that people have been appreciating this blog. At least it's allowed one postie to have his say, and, hopefully, to reflect some of the concerns in the office. Unfortunately I'm not sure anyone either in the CWU or in management will be paying all that much attention. As for the British Rail analogy, Iorwerth, the difference is that train drivers are skilled workers. So are posties: but it precisely the postman's skill which the modernisation programme is intended to do away with. Once they have machines to do the sorting, the only skills left will be the ability to walk and to read.... and to carry large volumes of mail.

    What's a Trollop walk, btw? That sounds like an interesting idea. I suspect that the Royal Mail wouldn't allow it.

  • 30 November 2009 at 10:51pm
    stan1962 says:
    I think that's referring to the writer Anthony Trollope who was a surveyor with the Post Office and credited with the red pillar box.I believe he used to travel round getting information first-hand.

  • 1 December 2009 at 2:04pm
    Roy Mayall says:
    Ah! That explains it.

  • 20 December 2009 at 7:11am
    the abbot postie says:
    I hate D2D items, or household deliveries as i still call them but it seems it is in our contract of employment. What do you think, though, of the idea that instead of being paid weekly the payments are made either once or twice a year.
    I don't know about you but i do a rural delivery of around 350 drops and, to be honest, ten pounds a week in my hand-if that-is not noticeable?

  • 20 December 2009 at 6:42pm
    Roy Mayall says:
    Hi a p. Mine's a town centre delivery with 600 addresses so it makes me about £20 a week. Pathetic really. Yes, maybe a couple of times a year. It would seem more like a bonus then. But I'd rather not deliver it. You might like this:

  • 23 December 2009 at 4:00am
    the abbot postie says:
    I like the link,Roy,who can't relate to it!
    Personally i know of no postie who wants to do household deliveries.Lets face it, the public should know that we have to prep all these bloody items in our own time.With 3 items,on average,i reckon it takes over 20 minutes per 100 to collate and prep not to mention the extra weight and time it takes to deliver the blooming things.
    You mentioned the hearing aid ones, lol, i used to deliver D2Ds for (shall we call them) Modinoes Pizza, this to an area which was probably 80% retirees and almost certainly thought a pizza was a market square somewhere abroad! Obviously great market research was involved.

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