The Royal Mail is instituting a massive restructuring of the service. Rounds are being altered, delivery methods changed, new technology introduced, bikes scrapped, hours extended, delivery offices closed, all in the name of something they call ‘modernisation’. In practice it means that people are getting their post later in the day; there is an increasing casualisation of the work force as staff are moved around more and the traditional relationship between a postal worker and his round is being broken; office closures mean that people have to travel further to pick up undelivered packages; the move from bikes to walking with trolleys and the huge increase in the workload means that postal workers are left aching and exhausted after a day’s work; extensive use of vans means more pollution.
You have to wonder why they’re doing it. Conspiracy theorists among the staff have their opinions. My friend Jerry says: ‘I’m comparing it to Chelsea football club in the 1980s when it was run into the ground and you had some guy come along and bought it for a pound. I’m thinking, is that what they’re trying to do? Are they trying to rip the job apart so badly that they can go up to someone and say, well look, we’ve done everything, we’ve invested billions into machinery, we’ve done this, we’ve done that, we just can’t make a profit.’ In other words, are they preparing the industry for privatisation by running it down, in order to devalue it and make it cheaper for a private investor? Are the current management already acting on behalf of the future owners?
Another possible reason might be the way that these changes embed the Royal Mail with other corporations. It only takes one man working part time from a small workshop in every office to maintain our bikes. But the vans that are due to be rolled out to replace them – thousands of which are already sitting in a field outside Bristol – will require an ongoing relationship with the company that sold them in order to keep them on the road. The new walk-sequencing machines are made by Solystic, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, which describes itself as ‘a leading global security company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems, shipbuilding and technical services to government and commercial customers worldwide.’ It’s a defence contractor, in other words, so the Royal Mail is now tied in with the defence industry.
But there is another possibility, to do with the standardisation of the job. The new system depends on a computer programme called Pegasus Geo-Route. It decides that every delivery will take precisely six seconds, and that knocking on a door to hand over a packet or to get a signature will take precisely one minute. It measures the precise distance of every walk, up and down every garden path, to every door. It tells the postal worker exactly how fast he is supposed to be walking and therefore how long each round is supposed to take.
The joy of being a postal worker is that once out of the office and on your round you are free. No one is looking over your shoulder telling you how you are supposed to be working. With Pegasus Geo-Route, management will be sitting on our shoulders virtually and watching how we work. If you ask me, what they really mean by ‘modernisation’ is control.