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

November 3, 2013 23 comments

“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.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/royal-mail-ad-management-customers

Who Is Roy Mayall?

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Herodotus, The Histories, via the inscription on the main post office at 34th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.

The Postman

Roy Mayall is not just one postal worker. He is all postal workers everywhere, men and women, drivers, delivery workers, office workers, sorters, machine operators, engineers, union members and non union members, young and old, retired or just starting out, part-time or full-time, 20 hour, 25 hour, 30 hour and 40 hours a week, agency workers, casual workers, cleaners, everyone who has ever taken part in the postal service, black, white, or Asian, European or African or Afro-Caribbean, gay, straight or a little bit of both, left-handed or right handed, City or Rural, inner City or Suburban, from the craggy coasts of Cornwall to the Highland Glens, from the green hills of England, to the mountains of Wales, North and South, East and West, the Home Counties, the Midlands and the North.

Wherever men and women pound the streets with mail on their backs, that’s where Roy Mayall walks. Wherever they skip onto a bike and go skimming along with their burden of mail that’s where Roy Mayall is. Wherever there’s a letterbox, wherever there’s a gate, wherever there’s a footpath to a door, wherever there’s a garden, wherever there’s a dog barking, in the morning, in the afternoon, rattling along with the thoughts in his head, that’s our Roy. Harassed by the time, as the hours are getting later, stressed by the lack of money and the weight on his back, pushed for time, pushed to his limits, energetically pressing on, through the wind, through the rain, through the heat of the sun, through ice, through snow, when the hail stones pelt like shrapnel on the roofs of houses, rattling the bonnets of cars, wrapped up in his waterproofs, with the mail bundled up beneath his arm to keep it dry, that’s Roy.

Hopping in and out of his van a hundred, a hundred and fifty times a day, the same movement of the hip, the step out onto the kerb, with the mail in bags in the back to take out to all the delivery workers. To this drop off point, to the next. All day and every day from one day to the next.

Sorting the mail, throwing it off into the frames, like a card dealer dealing his cards. A pack of two thousand cards with 600 players in every game. The advertising coupons, the leaflets, the brochures and the letters, from the banks or the building society, from the Insurance company or the gas, from the electricity company, from the Solicitor. Birthday cards and anniversary cards and Mother’s Day cards and Christmas cards and Easter cards. Postcards from the seaside. Parcels from ebay. Books from Amazon. DVDs from LoveFilm.com. Competition Winners. Christmas catalogues. Saga magazine. Sky Mag. The Beano. The London Review of Books. All of these pass through Roy Mayall’s hands, from the sorting frame into the box, from the box to the frame.

And then sweeping them into bundles, wrapped up in red elastic, and then packed into bags, turning the letters where there’s a packet. All this weight of communication on his shoulders, all this dizzying constellation of words. All these presents to be opened. All these thoughts to be remembered. All this love in scrawled handwriting. Love from Mum and Love from Dad and Love from your dear Aunt Vera. How much love have us posties carried down through the centuries? How much kind regards? How much that is now forgotten? How much that is yet to be written?

The everyday postie on his round, a secret conveyor of love.

The Romance of the Envelope

August 1, 2010 Leave a comment

A quilt inspired by Dear Granny Smith

Symbolic

The Romance of the Envelope

A quilt made to highlight the plight of the Royal Mail was exhibited at the Festival of Quilts held at the NEC in Birmingham between the 19th and the 22nd of August 2010.

The quilt is called The Romance of the Envelope and is made by Charlotte Soares of London.

It was inspired by Dear Granny Smith and incorporates parts of the book in its design.

The entry in the catalogue describes it as follows:

Inspiration, Roy Mayall’s ‘Dear Granny Smith’ educating me about threat of private sorting firms taking lucrative business from Royal Mail.

Mixed Media, pillar-box red felt, polywadding, torn sacking organza, metallic and invisible thread loosely stitched by hand and machine.”

The quilt is meant as a symbolic representation of the current state of the Royal Mail. This is how Charlotte describes it:

“The red is felt. On top of that is sacking. On top of that is a collage of envelopes which I did send through the mail, then covered over my name and address, stamps sewn together to make a textile, parts of Dear Granny Smith, and old postcards – some secured under netting, some under perspex. This all represents the post office at its best, working efficiently and meaning a lot to the public, delivering messages and Valentines and greetings cards to nearest and dearest. Then you get the business mail represented by the windows from bill envelopes and some franked Royal Mail.”

After this the quilt appears to fall apart:

“The sacking begins to tear. There are red elastic bands, every one picked up from the pavements where they were dropped by our local postmen. Under the tear there are the new franchises with their different symbols, UK MailTNT etc, and a selection of the companies using them. These are left hanging loose, they do not make the company secure, they make it fragile. Near the bottom are the pages from Dear Granny Smith which explain about this new development. There is a photo printed onto organza of a postman struggling to push his wagon up over a footbridge which I thought was quite symbolic. I asked permission from Royal Mail Twickenham to include this anonymous postman. The water is rising at his feet, and the blue watery organza represents the threat to the institution of overloading the postman and the companies who do not contribute to the profits of Royal Mail but demand deliveries by their postmen. A few stamps are drowning in this corner. The bottom is black edged, in memoriam, the rubber bands are only done up with safety pins, the whole thing might unravel. The patriotic braid down the sides is little Union flags with hearts in the centre and there is a large Union Flag at the top left of the quilt. Not all the franchises are British but the Postal service was a British invention. Pillar boxes and post vans are icons of Britain.”

On the front is printed on a panel:

The Romance of the Envelope.

Red pillar boxes, Postmen, mail through the door, like fish and chips, are part of our way of life. But just as fish and chips is threatened by the pizza industry, so sorting franchises threaten the extinction of a British invented institution we take for granted. Did you even know UK Mail etc are not part of Royal Mail? It’s CRAZY. Use it or Lose it!

Message

Dear Granny Smith

On the back is printed on a label:

Befriend contentment, harbour no disappointment.

Stitch with integrity. Know when to stop.

Stephen Seifert, The Tao of Quilting.

“This quilt grew and grew from a few stamps sewn together to a wall hanging with a story without an ending,” she says. “It’s not the world’s best sewn quilt. It’s very rough and ready but as my daughter said, sewn with passion. It’s quite delicate and I hope it survives its journey to and from Birmingham. I am thinking of donating it afterwards to the new postal museum in Swindon.

“Old Crazy Quilts were haphazard patches,” she adds, talking about the history of quilt making. “Usually they were in rich fabrics, added on top of each other and embroidered and embellished with stitchery and beads. I have hinted at this tradition with a spectacular glittery blue thread, braid and a few ornamental stitches. On the whole though I stitched randomly. The stitching isn’t as important as the message.”

Let’s hope the message gets through.

‘My subversive testament to the dedication of postal workers’

February 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Socialist Worker online logo

Post worker Roy Mayall wrote the popular book Dear Granny Smith – which became an overnight hit. He explains how it all came about.

From Socialist Worker.

Read the article here.

Dear Majesty – A song based on Dear Granny Smith

February 1, 2010 Leave a comment

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?

Steve Somerset.

“Charmingly subversive”

January 9, 2010 Leave a comment

This is my favourite review of Dear Granny Smith so far, from the review website Me and My Big Mouth.

“You may have heard this charmingly subversive book on Radio 4 over Christmas. Roy Mayall (not, you will be amazed to hear, his real name) is a postman of 30 years service and he is, albeit politely, pissed off about the state of Royal Mail, or Consignia, or whatever they are called now. This short polemic takes the form of a letter to ‘Granny Smith’, the typical customer of old. In it, the author explains everything that he thinks is wrong with the postal service and why, in some instances, things would be better if they went back to the way they used to be. But this isn’t a whinging when-I-were-a-lad complaint. It is a common sense argument. Roy wants less junk mail in his bag, to be able to deliver your post at breakfast time, for his bosses to stop lying about the state of the business and trying to introduce new initiatives that don’t work. He isn’t against progress. He just wants a better service for his customers. Customers he knows personally and clearly cares about a great deal. As rants go this is about as well-mannered and well argued as they get. It will only take 30 minutes or so to read and you will feel a warm glow once you have finished. Not because of Royal Mail, they will annoy you and piss you off, but because there are still postmen like Roy Mayall out there. Let’s just hope his lone voice does not go unnoticed.”

At last, someone who understands what I’m saying.

A Review of Dear Granny Smith by Alan Woodward

January 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Forwarded from Alan Woodward of Haringey Support Group:

This timely book, conveniently published in envelope size, gives the inside story from a postal worker about what’s happening to a major public service and the reasons why posties have been taking one day strikes over the last 5 months of 2009. Its outline of working conditions is quite unusual and is a thorough account of the present Government and Royal Mail’s offensive against ordinary workers. The title uses the posties own term for the public and pulls no punches, being written in workshop language and presents a totally devastating critique of the management’s inflammatory commercial approach. Because small bookshops may experience trouble obtaining it, I have given internet details.

The author uses a pen name but has apparently been a working postman for some years. Whoever wrote the eleven chapters, it is an imaginative well constructed book and at £4-99, it is an absolute bargain. As the blurb says, postal workers have a pet name for their customers. It’s “Granny Smith”, a name that calls to mind every old lady who lives alone and for whom the mail service is a lifeline.

The title is taken from yet another management meeting to announce to the staff some further details of the proposed ‘modernisation’ changes: Someone piped up in the middle of it. “What about Granny Smith?” he said. He’s an old-fashioned sort of postman, the kind who cares about these things.

”Granny Smith is not important,” was the reply. “Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more.”

Roy Mayall gives reasons for the industrial action including a consideration for all the Granny Smiths, and the book is likely to swing the public behind the postal workers once and for all. Its exposure of corporate dominance is as relevant as it is timely in an election year. The book is written in a conversational style, with some workplace humour that sometimes approaches being crude and the postie is blunt in his message about reversing the adoption of commercial values. All this subversion was edited out by the BBC when the book was serialised on Radio4 as Book of the Week in December 2009 but will ring a bell with anyone who went to the picket line during the dispute. With its rotas, barbeques and careful monitoring of persons allegedly going into work, the strike, like the book, was well organised and successful .

The two main themes of the text are the degradation of working conditions and the market inspired transition from an efficient public service into a shambolic and inefficient business enterprise. The first theme would be familiar to anyone concerned with the condition of the working class — it has been their constant companion for the best part of two centuries. The author describes in some detail, and with some bitter humour, how well established workplace practices have been just replaced with crack brained schemes, designed it seems with just proving that the current management are in charge. Or so they like to think . Roy Mayall tells how the impracticality of the new technology based ‘modernisation’, has ground to a halt in all its essential features – address reading machines, replacing bikes with cumbersome electric trolleys, Starbursts or bulk delivery teams and suchlike. ‘Mech-ed’ – mail – machine sorted – from a target of over 80% , has now dropped to 50% and that just the official figures!

What has not failed is the re-organisation of work, the consistent bullying, the abolition of even the smallest amount of free time, the extremely authoritarian Attendance Procedures that force even quite ill people into work on threat of dismissal, and such like. You may say there’s nothing new about all that . Everyone knows that there is no ‘democracy’ in our totalitarian workplaces and that an ancient political commentator remarked that the only true wealth is time – the point is that all these processes are cunningly hidden by the alliance of the politicals, management and most of the media. Once again victim blaming is announced – ” the posties are being ‘obstructive’”.

Now old timers may recall the promises of 30 years ago that new technology would liberate society . People would work for only a few hours , machines would do the heavy toil and our most onerous task would be decided what to do with our leisure. In reality Roy Mayall describes taking out six bags of mail each day instead of one, the huge increase of junk advertising mail despite the lying assurances that mail levels are falling, constant and aggressive management ‘interviews’, [interrogation more like] , and the leisure room turned into a management lecture centre for open propaganda sessions, or corporate drivel as he calls it . All this is done in the interests of ‘renewed capitalism’ by Thatcher, Blair and Brown , — can you tell them apart ? Small wonder the political confusion as the leaders of the Communication Workers Union try to boost Labour while the members revolt into confusion. And we haven’t even mentioned the Final Agreement. This brings us to the second theme, switching over from public to private ownership.

We have described above the new slavery, posties too tired to do anything but work and sleep. Every one knows the management strategy – ~ allow pension ‘holidays’ for management, but not workers, so that the pension fund is deeply in debt, ~ hound out the full timers , ~ bring in part timers and casuals, ~reduce the enterprise to the point of collapse to make a private take over seem like salvation; THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE as we may remember. The author gives chapter and verse about the public service ethos. How posties have a social role, just like the hospital cleaners who were abolished for disease spreading contractors, and, as part of the community, are useful contributors. Reporting domestic ill health, helping out pensioners, transmitting information, monitoring temporarily empty houses, acting as a counsellor and so on . Today ‘Granny Smith’ doesn’t matter, the needs of the corporate bodies take first, second and all places. Despite the record of these companies — and it was their failure that caused the modern pre-Thatcher society to be set up it should be remembered – the private sector dominates both industry and wider society.

 

Downstream Access

The complicated process of privatisation has been well publicised recently but what is less well known is the “creeping commercialisation “.

Take ‘downstream access’, which allows private companies to select out any part of the process which it thinks profitable and privatise it. This is already used by operators like TNT, but the use of this surrender to profit scheme has now appeared in the NHS. Clinicenta, despite some appalling performances is still allowed to cherry pick and make money from it’s choice. The union leadership seems passive in various unions and allows this insidious practice to continue. Once again its down to the rank and file.

Another feature is the use of language , a key factor as Orwell noted. Here “modernisation” means privatisation , more speed up, no job security, all casual labour, poverty wages. ” Flexibility” means obeying instructions however absurd. Management “discretion ” in fact means mandatory. “Public Service” means total subordination to corporate objectives . “Attendance ” means absenting yourself from medical attention, “Mail sort” means junk mail or around two thirds of the total, and so on. Royal Mail management have nothing to learn from 1984. The recent international financial crisis should, in an ideal world, have demolished the credentials of the free market. There is little evidence that this has happened, and even less that the political leaders have any intention of changing course. For them, no Alternative exists, so they press ahead with cosmetic reforms while keeping the pressure on the rest of us in the same old way. Mayall is quite clear about the consequences, in terms of blame for general issues , on the central role of the market. To an extent he also implicates the union for losing sight of the social aims of the labour movement in pursuit of the free market . While his affection for old Labour may be exaggerated — remember George Brown and Harold Wilson? –his basic sentiments ring quite true.

He ends with a tale where an old person in a future world that is totally commercial describes the Royal Mail set up as it used to be to an obviously incredible audience. The ‘McMail’ option he calls it . but as he also says, it’s not too late to save it, though prospects under Cameron , Brown and co do seem bleak. Generally the text has no overall political message, despite his reference to ‘the gods of wealth and economics’. He doesn’t waste ink either on the alternative promises of The Revolutionary Party any more than conventional politicians. His memories of old Labour are likely to be illusory but his demolition of the present institutions and their scurrilous roles is complete.

As he says “my tale is of loss and deceit, anger and despair, and the wanton destruction of an ancient and venerable organisation”. It seem likely that no one has told him of the libertarian philosophy, and in particular the idea of workers control of the workplace , then society. This idea is implicit in his critique of management and politicians – the workers can manage the place quite well on their own, but the political implications are missing. This is a deep seated problem and one which the conscious minority has been slow in tackling.

Finally, this is a unique publication. There were some examples of solidarity from other workers in the long dispute. Drivers and service workers refusing to cross picket lines and some workplace money collections, though the strike leaders gave this a low priority. What of the future? The 2007 strike was followed by the 2009 one, as management kept on with its predetermined free market strategy – modernisation at all costs. At present as management press on with their only delayed plans , we can expect more conflict and picket lines.

Labour intends continuing to worship the gods that have failed – be prepared for more early rising.

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