We were recently asked to deliver an insulting letter. It was an advertising circular from Clifford James, announcing their January sale. The insult was a statement on the front of the bright red envelope.
From the LRB.
Read more here.
This article was written in response to Simon Barnes, producer of the Dispatches programme which was aired on Channel 4 on Monday 8th of February 2010. I wrote a review which was published in the Guardian’s on-line Comment is free, which drew another response from Simon Barnes himself.
You can watch some of the programme here.
You can read my Guardian piece here.
You can read Simon Barnes’ response here.
I have yet to receive a reply to this letter.
Thanks for responding to my article in Comment is free.
I think that both of us are agreed that the Royal Mail is in an appalling state, and that something needs to be done. Where we disagree is in the idea that your programme actually addressed any of the issues.
You said that your coherent analysis of the situation was provided by the section dealing with industrial relations inside the company. What you failed to do was to ask why industrial relations are bad. Why are workers who were once loyal to the company disinclined to give of their best? What has gone so wrong with relations between the workers and the management that makes them speak with such bitterness of each other?
At the beginning of the programme you showed an agency worker training your reporter. The agency worker was cavalier in his attitude to the mail, so while he told his trainee the proper way of doing things, he consistently ignored his own advice. The narrator said that the agency worker claimed he had been doing the job for two years. The question you failed to ask at this point is why the Royal Mail has been employing an agency worker for this length of time? Why does the Royal Mail prefer to employ casual labour – and to keep it casual – than to employ a full-time postal worker on a proper contract?
You say that the fact that three of your four experts have a privatising agenda was not relevant to what they had to say and that they all want the Royal Mail to succeed. I think you will find that Dr Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute does not want the Royal Mail to succeed in its present form, but would prefer full-scale privatisation, including the ending of the universal delivery obligation. The other two probably want the Royal Mail to survive, but in a much reduced form, giving profits to the private companies who they serve.
One of the problems in attempting to have a discussion via a third party, is that an editor stands between us. The line “where were the voices of genuine postal workers” in my original version actually went on to say “who were not being filmed covertly?” That’s the question I wanted to ask. You had “experts” passing their opinions, and then covert filming of postal workers in a strife-ridden office, but you did not have reflections on the state of the industry from postal workers able to answer your questions directly.
This is cheap, nasty, sneaky television, like telling tales out of school, not even allowing the postal workers whose jobs you have no doubt jeopardised the right of reply. I wonder how long it would take for covert filming in your office to turn up similar material?
As one of my colleagues said: “how many hundreds of hours of film of ordinary everyday activities hit the cutting room floor just to leave these 40 minutes of shock-horror-outrage TV?”
However, you might be surprised to hear that the response in our delivery office was not all negative. Another colleague said he thought the programme was good in that it highlighted the inadequacies of management, the lax security, the poor equipment, the lack of training and the use of agency workers instead of full-time staff.
My problem with the programme, however, lies in its utter lack of analysis. You looked at the symptoms, but not at the cause, and in your response to my article failed to answer my main point, that the Royal Mail is being undermined by a regulatory system which requires the company not only to deliver its rivals’ mail for them, but to then supplement them at the rate of 2p per letter.
You asked if I had a story for you. Well I do.
You say that the private companies are a side show and that the problem with the Royal Mail is down to bad industrial relations. But this is the exact opposite of what is really happening. The private companies are not a sideshow, they are the cause of the problem.
We do the work, the private mail companies take the profit. Every time I deliver a letter for TNT or UK Mail, or any one of the other 41 other private mail companies, it is a blow to my job and my pride, not to say my pocket as a taxpayer.
You can read my views on that here: http://roymayall.wordpress.com/2010/01/31/royal-mail-in-the-free-market-casino/
They call this process “deregulation” but in order to achieve it the Royal Mail is highly regulated. And then, when you look at who does the regulating, you find that most of the members of the Postcomm have interests in privatisation in one form or another.
You can check that out here: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2009/12/21/roy-mayall/who-regulates-the-regulators/
Your programme makes it clear that there is a bad attitude in some (but not most) offices, but it failed to address any of the major issues facing the Royal Mail at the moment. “Modernisation” is a euphemism for privatisation, and for an attack upon our wages and conditions at work. The company has shed 60,000 jobs in the last 7 years, while mechanisation has not taken up the slack. In other words, the remaining 120,000 RM employees have been doing a third more work for the same wages. It has been becoming harder and harder to do a proper job. We’ve watched our status as workers go down. We’ve listened to endless propaganda from the government and the management. We’ve heard them telling lies about us. We’ve been threatened with the loss of our pensions. We are carrying more and bulkier mail while being pressurised to do the job ever faster, doing longer rounds, all for the same money. Is it surprising then that some postal workers have become surly of late and that industrial relations are strained, to say the least?
I’d like to see you do a programme about “final mile delivery” and the collusion between government and the regulators to hide this attack upon our service behind the smokescreen of “market forces”. The market is a sham, a cheap cover for what is really happening to our industry – which Dispatches entirely failed to address – the process of enforced (and hidden) privatisation.
From The Guardian
Read the article here.
See some of the programme here.
Postal workers will certainly know about Downstream Access, but how many members of the public have heard about it or understand what is going on?
The following is a user’s guide to Downstream Access and its impact on the Royal Mail.
Downstream Access (DSA) is the means by which private mail companies can gain access to the Royal Mail network, using Royal Mail staff to deliver their mail for them. It is the result of a series of EU directives whose ostensible purpose was to liberalise and harmonise postal services across Europe. What the process has actually achieved is the casualisation of postal worker’s jobs and diminishing standards for the ordinary consumer.
There are 41 licensed postal operators in the UK, including the Royal Mail. Of these only the Royal Mail has a universal delivery obligation.
Downstream Access companies include Citipost, DHL, SecuredMail, TNT and UK Mail. They bid for the most profitable bulk city-to-city and business to business trade, taking it away from the Royal Mail, before handing it over to the Royal Mail to actually deliver it.
You can tell which is Downstream Access mail by the frank in the right hand corner of the envelope. Any mail that doesn’t have a Royal Mail stamp, or which has some other kind of mark on it, is Downstream Access mail.
Samples of DSA franks are shown to the right.
According to Billy Hayes in a recent article, every downstream access letter actually costs the Royal Mail 2p.
This means that the British taxpayer is subsidising private companies to run-down the Royal Mail at the cost of 2p for every letter.
The trick that is being played on all of us is to present this process as part of the normal workings of the free market. We are being presented with the picture of an out-of-date, old-fashioned Royal Mail struggling in a free market against its more efficient and “modern” rivals. The Royal Mail is then being asked to “modernise” in response to this.
What this means for the workforce is increasing amounts of work for diminishing numbers of staff, increasing casualisation of the workforce, more and more part-time staff on diminishing pay and conditions, and a lessening of the ratio of full-time to part-time staff. It is full-time staff who are expected to take up the slack, while, at the same time, the pressure is on for full-time staff to leave the Royal Mail, to take redundancy, or to look for work in other trades.
What this means for the consumer is an increasingly shoddy and make-shift service, as Royal Mail staff are coming under pressure to do more work in less time.
The old-fashioned postie’s pride in his job and his service to customers is being squeezed out in favour of a cheaper mail service for the big corporations. B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to customer) is being made cheaper at the expense the ordinary consumer, including small businesses and High Street shops, who are receiving their mail ever later.
What we can do about this
We need to start a campaign to return Downstream Access mail to the sender.
All unsolicited mail, such as advertising leaflets, promotional or charity mail, or other non-urgent mail sent by DSA, should be immediately returned.
Make sure the address window on the envelope is covered, and that the return address is highlighted.
Make sure, also, that it is clear WHY you are returning the mail.
Write “NO TO DOWNSTREAM ACCESS”, or some similar phrase, in bold clear letters on the front of the envelope, and put the letter back in the post.
What if I need to read the contents?
Obviously you will need to read some of your DSA mail. Bank statements, for instance, are often sent by DSA. Clearly you will need to open these.
However, you can write to the company who sent you the mail telling them that you disapprove of their use of private companies to deliver their mail and asking that all letters be sent by Royal Mail in future.
It is up to you how much or how little of your DSA mail you return. Obviously the more the better, but even if only non-essential mail is returned it will put pressure on those companies who opt for DSA to use the Royal Mail instead.
Downstream Access is not “competition” for the Royal Mail, it is a burden. The companies who profit by DSA are not “rivals” they are parasites.
Say NO to Downstream Access!
Return the Royal Mail to full public ownership.
We believe it would be far better to let Royal Mail once again have a monopoly and let it get on with what it’s been doing for 350 years.
I wrote this song after listening to the serialisation of Roy Mayall’s book ‘Dear Granny Smith’ on BBC Radio 4 . Also last year I took part in a Market Research day for the Royal Mail and came away dismayed.
So I wrote this song. The lyrics speak for themselves. The song is dedicated to Roy Mayall and all the other Posties who try and do their jobs in very difficult circumstances. The Shadow Kabinet say SAVE THE ROYAL MAIL! Who said the protest song is dead?