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A Letter to Dispatches

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.

To:

Simon Barnes,
Dispatches,
Channel 4.

Dear Simon,

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: https://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.

Best wishes,

Roy Mayall.

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