Royal Mail’s latest ad: the hypocrisy of capitalism in one minute

“We love parcels…”

Royal Mail’s management don’t regard you as customers but recipients, simply a way to deliver returns to their investors.

From the Guardian, Comment is free.

The first TV advert from the Royal Mail since privatisation was shown over the weekend, during the X Factor, and Downton Abbey.

The advert features the Royal Mail Choir, singing their version of the Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, while postmen and women deliver parcels to their appreciative customers.

Here’s a summary of the whole advert, in one paragraph:

There’s a Sikh postie walking along a corridor; a little girl placing stamps upon a parcel; a pen drawing hearts in red ink upon a sheet of paper; a man paying for his parcel delivery on-line using a tablet computer; a shot within a parcel depot featuring parcels running on a conveyor belt with lasers reading the addresses; delivery to a café (the café owner opens his arms as if he’s about to embrace the postie) followed by a series of other deliveries in quick succession: to a stately home, to a garage complete with garage-band, to a little girl’s birthday party; a Muslim postie walking passed a training centre with the words “For Hire” painted on the wall; delivery to a factory; a black female postie smiling (the only woman postal worker in the advert); delivery to an upmarket London townhouse; two rain soaked posties; another Royal Mail parcel depot featuring brand new, sparkling-clean Royal Mail lorries; a Royal Mail lorry driving passed a remote rural village; a little girl opening up a letter box in anticipation of a delivery (an intense light bursts from the letter box like a mystical sign); that Sikh postie again, in a massive block of flats (an Indian woman answers the door wearing rubber gloves); another postie dwarfed by another huge, semi-circular block of flats, followed by the slogan, “We deliver one billion parcels a year”; a shot of a postal worker raising his arms in apparent blessing of the contents of a Royal Mail van (he’s like Jesus blessing the loaves and the fishes) ending with the words, “We love parcels.”

Everyone is smiling.

All of that to the words of All You Need Is Love:

Love, love, love
Love, love, love
Love, love, love

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need.

And there you have it: the hypocrisy of advanced capitalism in precisely one minute.

The Royal Mail delivers none of that. It doesn’t deliver love. It doesn’t deliver diversity. It doesn’t deliver a welcoming smile. It doesn’t deliver to stately homes, to garages or to birthday parties. It doesn’t deliver hope and anticipation. It doesn’t deliver mail to remote communities. It doesn’t deliver friendliness in the rain. It doesn’t even deliver parcels. We do all of that: the men and women of all backgrounds and ethnicities who work for the Royal Mail. That’s our job.

Now that it is privatised, the Royal Mail’s job is simply to deliver returns to its investors.

For a long time now the Royal Mail has been divided, between management and postal workers, between those who see it as a business, and those who see it as a service. The people who commissioned that advert are the former rather than the latter. It’s not a service to them, it’s a way of making money.

We were told this many years ago: “Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more.”

Granny Smith” is the postal worker’s affectionate nickname for you, the customer. Or rather, for the people that we regard as our customers, the people we meet on the doorstep everyday. But the Royal Mail management doesn’t regard you as their customers. They don’t meet you but once in a lifetime. You are merely the recipients of the mail. Their customers are the people who send the mail in large quantities: the utility companies, the banks, the advertisers, the bulk deliverers, the people who churn letters out by the tonne using advanced computer systems, the mail-shot companies using lists they’ve purchased from other advertisers, the conveyors of junk mail and other unwanted material, the people who fill up your halls and your bins with garbage, the landfill merchants. Those are the Royal Mail’s customers, not you. The people they make the money off.

See: that’s the hypocrisy of that advert. They know that postal workers are held in high regard by the public. They know that most of us will go out of our way to look after our customers, that we will do our best even in adverse circumstances, that we will give that cheery smile in the rain. That was always the case in the past, though it’s getting rarer and rarer as time goes by.

In the old days, we loved our job. It was great getting out and about, on the streets of our towns, delivering the service we knew you wanted. The work was energetic but satisfying. It brought us face to face with our neighbours. And we had a little time to spare back then. There were enough of us doing the job to get the work done and still have enough time left over to lead lives of our own.

Fifteen years ago, the average delivery span was two and a half hours. That’s two and a half hours of high-octane energy expenditure: a workout by any other name. It kept us fit, it kept us happy, it kept the endorphins flowing to our brains. It kept us smiling.

We would get up early to greet the dawn and have the mail on your doorstep by breakfast.

That’s not the case any more.

Ten years ago the delivery spans were increased to three and a half hours.

These days the average delivery span is four to four and a half hours. After two and a half hours of intense work the endorphins cease flowing and the pain starts to kick in. We walk till we ache. We no longer have time for our customers and we’re so dog-tired at the end of the day that we don’t even have time for ourselves. We eat, we sleep, we work, that’s all. There’s no energy left for anything else.

This is called “productivity”. Less posties doing more work, at a faster rate. In the past decade the company has lost 50,000 jobs, with more job losses promised now that it has been privatised.

Less jobs means more work for me. More hours on my feet. More weight in my trolley. More gates, more doorsteps, more letter boxes. More endless miles of trudging drudgery on the streets of my town.

The choice of the X Factor and Downton Abbey to air the advert was very telling.

The X Factor represents the illusion of capitalism, that we may find a way out of its servitude one day: that some of us, at least, through good luck or talent, will be given the keys to escape. Downton Abbey represents the reality: a servant class serving a privileged elite.

As a public service our service was to you, the public. As a privatised monopoly our service will be to the shareholders from now on.

23 thoughts on “Royal Mail’s latest ad: the hypocrisy of capitalism in one minute

Add yours

  1. Welcome to the real world – working 8 hours a day is the norm – posties had it so good for so long now reality bites and its leaving a mark – if you don’t like the conditions of your job change jobs try to find another job that’s cushier.

    1. Are you an idiot or what? Postal workers work eight hours a day just like everyone else. They work in the office preparing their rounds before they go out. The times refer to the delivery round itself, a period of intense effort, which a Marine fitness instructor on Panorama a couple of years back tried doing and described as “unreasonable”. So don’t give me any of that shit about us joining the real world, mate. You have no fucking idea.

    2. When you refer to ‘posties’ I assume that you are referring to delivery postmen and women who are at the sharp end walking the streets in all weathers. They do make up a large proportion of the workforce but there are many others in large processing centres and on distribution whose work rate and schedules I suspect you know very little about. Suffice to say that most mail centres employ large numbers of staff on intense fairly mundane tasks that are akin to factory production lines, distribution drivers have tight deadlines to meet in order that the overall work plan is achieved.

      Back to the delivery OPG …. I would be the first to admit that there used to be areas where staff utilisation was not that high and the union membership intransigent with a reluctance to modernise or change working methods. But all this is now a thing of the past and the drive to modernise and increase efficiency has probably gone too far in the other direction. There is a culture within certain areas of the management which is unhealthy in that it appears to turn a blind eye to bullying and harassment (of managers as well as OPGs) and there are suspicions that this type of despicable behaviour is actually promoted by certain areas of the management structure. Both CWU and senior management are aware of these behavioural issues but so far nothing appears to have changed very much.

  2. I hope Royal Mail get a severe bollocking for using a Beatles song in their crummy ad – there was a time when none of the Beatles allowed their music to be used for such degrading purposes: has this changed?

    1. There’s only Paul and Ringo left, of course, and I think they sold all the rights to their songs a long time ago. Last I heard Michael Jackson owned the songs, but that’s bound to have changed by now, given that he’s somewhere else too.

  3. Having worked outside the post office, I think you don’t know what you are talking about. In every other job, you have down time to relax, catch a breath, or just stop for a moment. A postie does not. It is full speed from start to stop or the result is suspension. I would’nt change jobs because of it, but it is one of the benefits of full-tilt work. Please remember that “grass is always greener” story. Or maybe just come do the job for a couple days and try it yourself before you criticisze others. Most fail at it because they aren’t in shape. Are you?

  4. What an amazingly good write. It graphically depicts the workings of a postie, as opposed to the machinations of the Royal Mail, privatised. How can you tell if a person is a muslim just from how they look, by the way? On that point, it was wrong. But the issue of diversity was interesting – by displaying diversity, the Royal Mail, privatised, is actually showing it’s bigotry. Because it’s like this, the advertisers sit around discussing the ad and they say ‘We need a Sikh, a muslim, a woman, a black person…’ and everyone claps their hands and loves it. But it’s fake and it’s false and it’s as bigoted and ignorant as Bernard Manning was and remains, in our memories. There are no people in ‘Capitalism’ – there are only drones and slave masters.

    1. Lindy, if you look at the film you’ll know why I drew that conclusion. But you’re right, token displays of racial diversity as evidence of inclusiveness is itself a form of bigotry. The film was an insult to all postal workers, regardless of their ethnicity.

  5. Yes, sorry, I missed it before. Thank you for that. I’m glad you got what I was trying to say, you put it much more succinctly. I think the ad is quite sickly.

    1. Actually you made me a bit insecure with that comment. I thought, yes, how can you tell if he’s a Muslim or not? So I’ve changed it. I’ve also addressed another of these comments in the post. Thanks for taking an interest Lindy. Let’s hope this is the last privatisation.

  6. Roy
    A great piece of writing as usual. the article describes very well what is a big issue for An Post delivery staff, especially as they age recovery from each days delivery is slower. The retirement age has alse been extended to 67 years of age.
    It might be worth looking at fitness standards for the British Army if its anything like the Irish army the tests are less strenuous as the soldiers age.. The people sitting on computers making up delivery routes for delivery workers should be made to do some of the deliveries for a few week to see what it feels like..

  7. If I’m understanding correctly:
    To plunder the service aspect of postal delivery, turn the dedicated workforce
    into compromised overworked disgruntled lackeys then spend thousands pretending
    to the public it still is what it was before they cocked it

    Hello ‘Roy’ you do a great job telling it from one angle. Keep it up. As the choir we are immensely proud of the song and the film.
    A lot of these comments are made by people not knowing our job. WE DO deliver to stately homes, every address in the country in fact, six days a week.
    You may not like the privatisation, but lay off our advert!

    1. Hi, I have no problems with the choir, and you do a great job of that classic song, but in the context of the advert it was sickly.

      I don’t know about you, but as a working postie I’m worked off my feet these days, with hardly a breath left over for myself. I do like to keep cheerful, like those posties in the film, but that is my choice, my effort, and has nothing to do with the Royal Mail, which, in fact, has been imposing itself on me me increasingly recently, making my job ever harder.

      It’s not ‘your’ advert. It belongs to and was paid for by the Royal Mail and is being used as a propaganda tool. My point is that it’s us posties who do the work and we were effectively consulted over privatisation in our ballot recently. You know what the results of the ballot were.

      I can see why you like the film. It’s a great promotional ad for what you do, but it does a great disservice to the majority of Royal Mail workers who were overwhelmingly against privatisation, by blatantly ignoring our point of view. It’s my job to – in my own small way – redress that balance.

      I’m a small scale operation here. One guy in a room as opposed to the entire management structure of the Royal Mail, with all its resources, the ad agency, the film maker, but I intend to make my voice heard.

      1. No problem with the choir or their performance but as roymayall has pointed out it is merely RM marketing, which paints a totally false picture of the role of the average OPG.

        I don’t expect a warts and all film of agency staff segregating mail for 3hrs on a meter table, or OPGs attending a frozen dock with no heating during the night shift, but to give credit to the viewing public it should bare some resemblance to the real world.

      2. In my experience, even though they order the stuff, a great many members of the public really detest having to get up and answer when I knock at the door and ring the bell. Especially on a Saturday morning. “What time do you call this? It’s the middle of the flippin’ night”. “Well, actually, I’ve been up and at work for 6 hours”.

  9. So that makes it the same as every other advert on television then? A way to get customers to buy products?! Do Tesco adverts give you an in depth and balanced sense of the everyday troubles of a checkout operator?!

  10. Could not agree more with this article.

    More parcels than ever before and yet managers making us get out at a time when the vast majority of people have gone to work. You’re being set an impossible task to begin with.

    In the past, when posties were hitting the streets at 6.30am in the morning – I would be going back to the office with one or two parcels a week MAX. Nowadays, it’s anywhere between 10-30 packets A DAY!! It’s absolutely obscene.

    I would’nt object to starting my delivery a 9-10am if all we had to deliver were small parcels that would fit through people’s letterboxes – but sadly this is not the case in the real world.

    Managers endlessly lecture us about efficiency and their favorite phrase ‘moving forward’ and yet they waste money and resources on a scale that would put us to shame. There is nothing efficient in taking back 20+ PACKETS A DAY only for customers to ring up and request a re-delivery the following day. Most of the time, in my experience, they aren’t even there to receive their requested re-deliveries.

    I became a postman for one reason only: Early starts, Early finish. Period! I did not become a postman to start my round at 9.30am only to still be legging it a 2pm in the afternoon.

    The job today is not that of a postman; it’s some perverse variant of it.

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