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An Answer to You and Yours

On You & Yours on BBC Radio 4 there was a discussion about Dear Granny Smith, featuring Billy Hayes of the CWU and Richard Hooper, author of the Hooper Report into the future of the Royal Mail. This is Roy Mayall’s response to that programme.

On You & Yours on BBC Radio 4 there was a discussion about Dear Granny Smith, featuring Billy Hayes of the CWU and Richard Hooper, author of the Hooper Report into the future of the Royal Mail.

One of the things that has started to get to me since the publication of my book, Dear Granny Smith, is how often it is misrepresented in the press and by the media.

Peter White, on You & Yours called it “sentimental and unrealistic”. He also says that I am scathing about new technology and the idea of modernisation.

That was odd, because he played a short snippet from the BBC Book of the Week reading by Philip Jackson, in which, after a brief description of how the new Walk-Sequencing Machines work, the narrator quite clearly says, “and there’s not a postie in the whole world who would object.”

In another sequence Richard Hooper, author of the Hooper Reportinto the future of the Royal Mail, described the book as “a witty, mischievous, wonderfully nostalgic piece of writing”, but went on to describe it as “absolutely anti-modernisation, anti the modern way of doing things.”

Then he said: “But let’s get real, we all agree, Billy Hayes has just said it, the union agrees, the management agrees, the government agrees, that if we’re going to maintain our beloved universal postal service…. that the Royal Mail must accelerate its modernisation programme….” adding that the Walk-Sequencing Machines will “save the posties time, giving them more time to be out on delivery.”

This is precisely our fear. As if 3.5 hours is not already long enough to be working flat-out – 3.5 hours which generally turns into 4 hours, often more – now they want to put even more weight on our backs, even more time out on delivery.

You see, when Richard Hooper and the management of Royal Mail talk about “modernisation” it’s actually a euphemism. It doesn’t mean modernisation at all.

No postie would object to machines that took some of the drudgery out of our work, or which speeded things up, or which made the Royal Mail more efficient. This is the trick that is being played whenever anyone says that Dear Granny Smith is a nostalgic book – or as Billy Hayes, the General Secretary of the Communications Workers Union put it: “pining for the blue remembered hills” – that discussing past work conditions is being “unrealistic”, as if having time, having proper tea-breaks, good pay and conditions, time to do the job properly and not being worked like a pack-mule, were all unrealistic goals.

No. What “modernisation”, in the sense that management consultants and senior management at the Royal Mail mean it, is not modernisation. It is privatisation.

There is a passage in the book where I compare the lives of two postmen: one an old postman who started work in the 1950s, and the other, a younger family man, now in his 40s. The first, who I call “Tom”, now lives in happy retirement, having left the postal service a couple of years ago, while the other – “Jerry” – has only a lifetime of hardship to look forward to, and fully expects to be working for a privatised mail service by the time he retires.

And then I say:

You have to ask why this should be? What has changed in the last 50 years? Why is Jerry’s future so different than the one that Tom would have expected at the same age? How come Tom can rest in contented retirement, while Jerry only has a future full of hardship and uncertainty to look forward to?

Us postie’s haven’t changed. Jerry is as committed to his customers as Tom ever was. He is as dedicated, as honest, as straightforward, as hard-working, as decent, as kind. The post hasn’t changed. We still need the post. So why are the workers suffering in this way?

I guess you might say, “it’s the same for everyone. No one has any certainty any more.”

I guess that’s true.

But you still have to ask why? What is the driving force behind all these changes?

In the book I don’t answer that question, but I will try to here.

The driving force behind all these changes is something called neoliberalism. It is the guiding philosophy of the corporations. It basically says that nothing will exist on this planet – no human endeavour will take place, no plot of land will exist – that does not make a profit for them. Humans beings’ only purpose is to work for them. We are indebted to them through our mortgages, in the exact same way that serfs were indebted to the Lords in feudal times, and a portion of our labour will go to pay off our indebtedness in the same way that serfs were made to hand over a portion of their produce to the Lords.

In other words, what they have in mind for us isn’t “modernisation” at all. It is the exact opposite. It is a return to feudal serfdom.

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  1. martin
    December 21, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    I’ve taken the liberty Roy of posting this on the SOLIDARITY website (a trade union magazine which I edit)

    http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/roy-mayall-replies-to-you-and-yours/

    Keep up the good work.

    Regards

    Martin Wicks

    • December 21, 2009 at 9:44 pm

      That’s fine Martin. I’ll take a look. Cheers, Roy.

  2. January 3, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Thanks Brian for forwarding this. A very good review. One puzzle, though: I don’t think I ever mentioned any affection for Old Labour. I’m interested now in both the Shop Stewards network and in the Libertarian Socialists. If any one from either of these organisations wants to contact me, then feel free. I want to go on with the task of informing the public but have been working on my own up till now, so I’m looking for allies to help me along.

  3. martin
    January 3, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    I’m involved in the National Shop Stewards Network Roy. You can find its website at:

    http://www.shopstewards.net/

    By the way Roy, I’d like to reproduce your article ‘who regulates the regulators’ in the next issue of SOLIDARITY if that’s OK.

  4. Alan Woodward
    January 4, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Hello Roy, glad you liked my review and sorry I assumed your liking for old Labour.
    I am a retired union member who used to put on shop stewards courses.
    In Haringey, we had a support group and I personally went to every picket line in the borough with a bulletin based on the experience of the last days picketting. We set up a formal group, comprising many of us who were involved with the Ford Visteon Occupation Support Group. It had people on it from the Haringey Solidarity Group and a few from SWP.
    If you would like to see the bulletins please let me know.
    Libertarian Socialists are very small, mainly ex council communists, and we mainly publish booklets on historical and current topics – most recently an outline history of the international shop stewards movement.
    The National Shop Stewards Network would almost certainly aid your campaign and I assume its Chair Dave Chapple, a postie fron SW Region, is in touch.
    Hope to hear from you, Alan Woodward

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