I understand why some people vote for the BNP. Saying that doesn’t mean that I will vote for the BNP, or that I support the BNP, or that I am recommending the BNP; it simply means that I have a certain sympathy with people who are so far excluded from the political process that they feel they need to vote for an extreme party in order to make an extreme statement.
People are angry. They are justifiably angry. According to theSunday Times Rich List 2010, the wealth of the richest 1,000 multi-millionaires has increased by 29.9% in the last year. This is at a time when the rest of us are being asked to tighten our belts, to accept wage cuts and austerities and a reduction in our public services.
People can see this. They know that the system is stacked against them. They recognise the political system for what it is: a mechanism for the redistribution of wealth, from the poor, to the rich.
Anti-racism is a diversion. Everyone in the political establishment is anti-racist. Gordon Brown is anti-racist. David Cameron is anti-racist. Nick Clegg is anti-racist. Politician’s wear their anti-racist credentials in the same way that Nick Griffin is wearing a Remembrance Day poppy in the picture above. Being anti-racist is just a radical rosette which any politician can pin to his lapel to make it look like he is a concerned and caring person.
It has become so much a part of the political brand as a whole, that any politician who deviates from the message by just a few ill-considered words is hounded down. What this sets up is a form of self-censorship. Is the average Tory squire any less racist than he used to be? Of course not. He just doesn’t say it in public any more.
Billy Hayes, the general secretary of the Communications Workers Union – and a strong supporter of the Labour Party – is a spokesman for Unite Against Fascism, and has made a number of statements against the BNP. This is all very radical and left-wing and it shows how deeply committed he is to a progressive political agenda.
But Billy Hayes has just negotiated an agreement with the Royal Mail which sees postal workers having to take a reduction in wages and a worsening of our conditions. Maybe this is also part of his anti-racist agenda. We are all going to be shafted equally, regardless of our ethnic background.
The issue isn’t race, it is class. It always was. All working people are suffering under the strains of the neo-liberal attack which politicians have encouraged in the last 30 years; the deregulation of the banking sector to allow the kleptocratsin the City of London to steal our pension funds and our savings; the break-up and sale of our public services at knock-down prices; the export of our jobs to low-wage colonies abroad.
The myth of the asylum seeker being given priority for housing wouldn’t have such a potent appeal if it wasn’t set against the background of poor quality housing and ever lengthening waiting lists. Immigration wouldn’t be an issue if, at the same time, our living standards weren’t being driven down, if we weren’t suffering cuts to our public services and an attack upon the future we always hoped for our children.
The BNP is a vile and morally corrupt political party which has set out to exploit this situation for its own ends, but we don’t defeat it by marching up and down and shouting. The BNP thrives on confrontation. It uses violent opposition to it as justification for its own existence. Allow Nick Griffin to speak and you show him for what he is, a sinister clown with a hate-filled political agenda. Silence him and you encourage the age-old reactionary tendency of the British working class to shove a rocket up the arse of the political establishment and then to stand back and watch the reaction.
Never underestimate the bloody-mindedness of the British working class.
More Roy Mayall
More on the General Election 2010
- Will voting reflect signs of our times? | Roy Mayall | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
Roy Mayall: How will disillusionment with mainstream politics and modern capitalism affect the election results?
- Who will stop Royal Mail privatisation? | Roy Mayall | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
Roy Mayall: Those of us who are opposed to Royal Mail privatisation find that none of the major parties represent our views this election
- Stamp of approval for Finland | Roy Mayall | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
Roy Mayall: None of the main party manifestos has the solution to Royal Mail’s problems. Finland does
- Don\’t go postal over election leaflets | Roy Mayall | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
Roy Mayall: Election leaflets might seem a relic in the age of TV debates, but they do serve an important function for smaller parties
Postal workers will soon be under pressure to deliver junk mail to every household.
From the Guardian.
Read more here.
That’s the Royal Mail for you: cheapskate and penny pinching on every level. The company we work for can’t even afford to allow us to take a little time to ask some of the questions and to get some of the answers that will help us to make an informed decision about our future.
From the London Review of Books.
Read more here.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I didn’t go on strike for money last year. I went on strike for quality: for the quality of our jobs and the quality of the service. It was the quality of service I was as concerned about as much as anything to do with money.
I was talking to one of my mates at work yesterday. I asked him if he’d read the agreement?
“There’s no point,” he said, “I’m not in the union so I can’t vote on it anyway.”
That seemed like a strange point of view to me.
“But it will affect your job for the next few years. Aren’t you interested to find out what it says?”
“No Roy,” he said, in a voice resonant with resignation and defeat, “I’ve been in the job for thirteen years now, and what I’ve found is that the management always gets what it wants.”
That seems like a loser’s attitude to me. The management always gets what it wants. Even when they are wholly wrong, we just have to accept it. It is the way of the world. If we all thought like that then nothing would ever change and we might as well roll over and die right now for all the good that breathing would do.
And then my friend said, “In the end there’s only eight hours in a day. They can’t make us work more than that.”
This is true. But they can make us work harder in those eight hours. They can make us carry more weight. They can make us break our backs with the sheer volume of mail we are obliged to carry. They can make us work till four o’clock on a Saturday, heaving out shit-loads of junk mail to households that hate us for it. They can turn our lives upside down with all of their ludicrous innovations. They can have us leaping through hoops to satisfy arbitrary management requirements which serve no other purpose than to undermine our self-esteem.
This is the thing I most dislike about this agreement. It opens the door to all of that. Longer spans. More junk mail. Later starts. Late Saturdays. A poorer service all round.
And in the end, whose interest is all of this serving? Take those late starts. What’s that for exactly? It’s so they can run their Walk Sequencing Machines to automate the job. But – hang on – aren’t Walk Sequencing Machines meant to make the job more efficient? So how come they can’t run to time then? Why do we have to start late in order to serve them? Why can’t they start early in order to serve us?
There’s the question. And the answer is – I very strongly suspect – that we are starting later in order to serve the interests of the private mail companies. It’s a strange kind of business indeed that inconveniences it’s own work force and it’s own customers in the interests of its rivals, but I’m certain that that is what is going on.
This is the point that keeps coming back to me again and again and again. We are constantly being bombarded with this propaganda about the diminishing market, when we all know, by the sheer weight we are lugging about every day, that the market is growing. There’s plenty of cash flowing about in the postal trade. What they mean is a diminishing share of the market, because the private mail companies are eating into our profit base, but without adding anything of value. We still do most of the work.
So what really puzzles me is why the union isn’t doing something about this?
There would be no need to talk about growing the market by loading our poor unsuspecting customers with yet more unwanted junk, if only the Royal Mail was being properly paid for what it does. There would be no need for later start times if we weren’t having to wait for the private mail companies to get the mail to us first, adding one more unnecessary link to the chain.
If the union told us to stop delivering Downstream Access (DSA) mail, we could kill it off instantly.
The union’s official policy is for an end to DSA mail and a return to the Royal Mail monopoly. But where are the campaign leaflets to go with this policy? Where’s the strategy? Is there a plan of action? Are the membership being informed? Do we know what steps we are going to take in order to overturn this unbalanced relationship? And, while Dave and Billy are presenting their all-singing, all-dancing never-ending musical road-show around the country, why aren’t they mentioning the one issue that could actually make a difference to all of us?
Why aren’t they telling us what they propose to do about DSA?
As I say: I didn’t go on strike for money. Money isn’t the most important issue here. What concerns me is what the job will be like in two, three, five years time, and what sort of an industry we bequeath to our kids.
Automation doesn’t worry me either. Bring it on, I say. Let’s have all that walk-sequenced mail flowing in so we can throw it off in half the time. Except that no one is expecting us to be able to do that. The estimate is that walk-sequencing will save about seven minutes a round. And meanwhile, in the real growth market, the relentless rise of on-line shopping, walk-sequencing machines are all but useless. The best way of sorting oddly shaped and uneven packets is still by hand. And until they’ve invented robots that can read the mail and rails that lead to everyone’s front door, they will always need people to deliver the mail on foot. The postal market is a growing market – or at least a steady market – and there will always be space for people within it.
It’s a question of how we fill that space: as donkeys, or as thinking human beings.
So what do you think is the real reason behind the “modernising” agenda. I put the word in inverted commas because I remain sceptical about the use of the word in current management-speak.
There’s an old-fashioned economic theory known as The Labour Theory of Value. It isn’t taught much any more. Marxists will know of it, but it isn’t only a Marxist concept. John Stuart Mill used it. Ricardo used it. It dates back to the thirteenth century. It was the traditional measure by which value was estimated.
I have all of the following from Michael Hudson, who I highly recommend as someone who makes economic theory understandable again.
The principle concern in Classical economic theory was the question of value. Where does it come from? And then it asks another question: what’s the difference between the hide of a cow and a pair of shoes? (In modern terms, what’s the difference between a pile of sand and a silicone chip?) The hide is worth less than the shoes. (The sand is worth less than the chip.) And what makes the difference? It is labour. It is the value of the labour that has gone into the making of the product, both the direct labour, and the accumulated labour in terms of education and training, which is why skilled work is worth more than unskilled work. More labour has gone into it.
And traditionally, Classical economics drew a line between earned income, and unearned income. Earned income came from adding your labour to a product to create value. That is the real economy. Unearned income is things like rents, interest, stocks and shares, land value and real estate. Unearned income is money that can be earned while twiddling your thumbs or goosing the maid. You don’t need to work to get it.
Classical economics therefore proposed taxing unearned income in order to benefit society as a whole. It is what Adam Smith meant when he talked about the free market. The free market did not become free until the burden of unearned income had been lifted from the economy by taxation: the exact opposite of current free market thinking. It was what the Labour Party was created to do. That was what was meant by the redistribution of wealth: redistribution from those who lived off unearned income to those who earned their income by work, by labour.
You can see why it’s not taught any more can’t you? Because it questions the very basis of the world we inhabit, where unearned income lords it over earned income, and we have all become serfs to the profit motive.
This is the real reason behind the euphemistic term “modernisation”. Modernisation means privatisation. What they actually mean is the right of the agencies of unearned income who now rule the world to extract private profit from every form of human endeavour: and that includes the postal market.
The postal market is not being privatised in the interests of efficiency, but in the interests of the corporations that already control most of our lives.
This, of course, is the world we live in, and I guess the union think that they are just being realistic by making compromises with it in order to survive. But here are some of the things I don’t understand. So, for instance, we are now being told that the Royal Mail were going to abolish the piece rate for door-to-door anyway, so we should consider the door-to-door supplement as a bonus.
Can you imagine what would have happened if Royal Mail had unilaterally got rid of door-to-door payments and attempted to force them into our workload without union consent? We’d have simply refused. They would have had a rebellion on their hands. They could never have got away with it.
In other words, what the union have done here is to offer the management a gift of the door-to-door payments. They’ve handed it to them on a plate.
But I wouldn’t even mind taking a pay cut if I thought this agreement was in the best interests of the work force. The trouble is there is so much in the agreement which is not.
The six-day work plan, the revision of hours, the later start times, the longer Saturdays, all of this adds up to a sell out. It’s not like we’ve given one thing in order to get something better back. It all stinks.
Take the issue of productivity, for example.
As it says in the agreement:
“We want to bring everybody’s actual performance up to the level of the top 10% performance…”
I think this is what concerns me the most.
I know I couldn’t possibly go any faster. I’m a middle-aged man and the job already knackers me out. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this. I know how fast the top 10% can go. I’ve worked with them, and it’s just not possible for me to go that fast.
My friend the Minister of Cucumber on Royal Mail Chat made an interesting observation about this. Why were we allowed job and knock for a period? It’s obvious now: it upped the work-rate. People started working faster so they could get home earlier. But now that work-rate, which we used to do voluntarily for ourselves, is expected of us as part of the job.
They upped the speed of Pegasus to match it, and are upping the length of our walks to reflect the greater amounts of work we are expected to do.
The agreement continues this process. Longer walks, more junk mail, longer delivery spans. It’s all a way of increasing productivity so they can siphon the profit off to the private sector.
Meanwhile the agreement assigns the role of management enforcer and collective cheerleader to the CWU.
Listen to these passages if you don’t believe me:
“Both Royal Mail and the CWU recognise that successful change needs full and meaningful involvement of all key parties. It is therefore critical that both local management and the CWU are positively and actively involved in the revisions process.”
That means they’ll decide for us what the work plan will be.
After that there will be “joint training on the relevant parts of this agreement” – that means propaganda – “CWU reps being able to play an active role in Work Time Listening and Learning (WTLL) sessions” – that means they will be expected to pass the propaganda on to us.
God help us! Our weekly WTLL propaganda sessions are dull enough as it is, without having to listen to yet more platitudinous commentary by people who have been brainwashed into management ways of thinking.
It’s all very well for the union and the management to want to improve industrial relations so we can get on with the job of delivering the mail, but this agreement just looks like the CWU are getting into bed with management.
Let’s hope they will be very happy together.
Read more by Roy Mayall
- Roy Mayall | guardian.co.uk
Roy Mayall is a pseudonym for a postal worker who has been in the job for about five years and works in a delivery office somewhere in the south-east of England. He writes a blog at roymayall.wordpress.com
- Roy Mayall London Review Blog
- Dear Granny Smith: A Letter from Your Postman: Amazon.co.uk: Roy Mayall: Books
Dear Granny Smith: A Letter from Your Postman: Amazon.co.uk: Roy Mayall: Books
We’ve been reading through the text of the agreement to see what it reveals. This technique of close reading of a text is sometimes called “deconstruction” and is usually reserved for literary analysis.
The problem is, as we’ve already found, that the actual words of the agreement are open to interpretation. The people who put this piece of writing together may think they know what it means, but individual managers in individual offices may have entirely different thoughts altogether. This, then, leaves the agreement open to abuse.
It’s also clear that there are a number of problem areas and un-thought-out aspects to the agreement which make it a very unsatisfactory document all round.
The idea that we have to vote on this agreement as it stands, that there is no alternative and no way of adjusting it, shows how arrogant the negotiators have been. Didn’t it occur to them that we might want to have our say? After all, it is our union. It is our industry. These are our jobs on the line. It’s our pay and conditions we’re talking about here. These are our workloads. Some of us will be expected to be out on the streets delivering door-to-door as late as 4pm on a Saturday afternoon for what amounts to a cut in pay. Didn’t the union think there might be a reaction to this?
Central to the agreement is the new work-plan which will be rolled out in the coming months. This involves a six day week and later start times. Our whole working day is going to be moved back an hour. This will be a problem for a lot of people. Most of us took this job because of the hours. Many of us have commitments. Maybe our spouses work too and we pick the kids up from school. That’s a common arrangement. What has the new agreement done to accommodate that?
Then there are our customers, particularly our small business customers, who have been used to getting their mail early. It’s not only a matter of inconvenience. Hundreds of companies across the country operate their own mail-rooms and employ staff to sort their mail internally. Most have no clue that their mail is about to be disrupted and their office routines thrown out of the window. Similarly the thousands of other companies who deal with incoming mail early in the day in order to deal with sales or enquiries and try to give a “same day” service are shortly in for a nasty surprise.
The question is, what is driving these changes? Are they really in the best interests of our customers and our industry, or might this not have something to do with the private mail companies who need extra time to get their work done and delivered to us? Will the private companies now be holding us back in terms of hours in the same way that they currently hold us back in terms of profitability?
I’d like to see the statistics on this, wouldn’t you? I’d like to see the calculations these decisions are based upon, instead of which it’s just a case of take it or leave it, with the union now being privy to the information, but the rest of us being left in the dark.
I think that it is this that I find most disturbing about the agreement. It’s an accommodation between the union and Royal Mail management which will be subject to rules of commercial confidentiality. That means the union will have to make decisions based upon information which they are unable to pass on to the membership. This changes our relationship to the union altogether. It forces them closer to management and further away from us. There’s already a fundamental split between paid union officials and the membership they serve, since most of them have forgotten what the job is actually like. This new “accommodation” will make that split even more pronounced.
“World Class Mail”
Going through the agreement you find a lot of jargon. It’s full of buzz-words and phrases which obviously have some other meaning than the ones we usually use in common English. This is standard practice when you have something to hide. It is why legal terminology is so dense and complex. It also has the advantage that normal people don’t have the knowledge and the equipment to handle it, so have to employ “experts” to help with their understanding. The experts, of course, are the ones who came up with all the entangled terminology in the first place, thus ensuring that they have a job for life disentangling it and helping to make sense of it for the rest of us.
Take this paragraph as an example:
“Royal Mail and the CWU commit themselves to develop and deploy world-class standards of performance and methods using a range of approaches. One such approach…. is the World Class Mail (WCM) initiative. In order to progress WCM Royal Mail are committed to help the CWU at all levels to gain a better understanding of this initiative.”
This is disturbing on a number of levels. The phrase “World Class Mail” is a technical term. You can tell a technical term when it can be reduced to a string of letters. That’s always an indicator of the fact that the words being used might turn out to mean something other than what you expected them to mean. It appears to refer to the adoption of delivery methods and techniques which are used in other countries. That means that the Royal Mail will be scouring the world for methods of increasing our work load and therefore our profitability in order to offer cheaper products for the private companies. At least that’s what it implies.
The trouble is it’s not clear what it means. What is clear is that the Royal Mail are already committed to this Whatever-It-Turns-Out-To-Be (WITOTB) and that the CWU’s role is simply to gain a better understanding of it in order to help implement what it has already been decided is going to happen anyway, whether you like it or not.
So, you think, how can the CWU have signed up to something it currently has no understanding of?
The agreement then goes on: “Royal Mail will ensure that WCM becomes a core agenda item in the new strategic involvement forums.”
That means that when the two sides meet the WCM (WITOTB) will be one of the main items on the agenda.
It sounds like these meetings will be very one-sided. CWU reps will sit there and be lectured on the WCM (WITOTB) agenda. Then they will come back to the office to help management implement it. And we still don’t even know what it is as yet!
Later we find ourselves talking about productivity and we come to this very disturbing sentence:
“We want to bring everybody’s actual performance up to the level of the top 10% performance…”
There are caveats attached to this, about good employment policy and safe working practices, but, it seems to me this is a recipe for pure bullying. What if one worker can’t get into that top 10%? Some of us work at different speeds. Older guys just take longer to do the job, that’s all there is to it, and not everyone is consistently fast and accurate at the same time. With a bullying manager and a weak, or non-existent rep, I can see this turning some people’s lives into a living hell.
And we all know, despite the platitudes and high-minded phrases, that bullying is endemic in management culture. The directors bully the DSMs who bully the cluster-managers who bully the DOMs who bully the line-managers who bully us. Some people get it worse than others and changes in the job have meant that we’re all more isolated from each other than we used to be. Hidden in the quiet recesses of a frame a lot of threats can be made. I’m not sure if it takes a certain kind of a person to want to be a manager in the first place, or whether there are training programmes, but we all know that bullying goes on and that the procedures for dealing with it are crude and inadequate.
The question of productivity is a form of bullying in itself. It is bullying made into policy. If you are not going fast enough, we will force you to go faster. Add this to the bullying tendencies of a large number of managers and I can see a recipe for a great deal of unhappiness in the Royal Mail: even more unhappiness than we have now.
Health and Safety
Another characteristic of the agreement is the use of generalised “mission-statements” which, you suspect, are nothing more than sound-bites to be rolled out in front of the press, should we ever need them. So “health and safety…. is of paramount importance to Royal Mail.” Well duh. Who isn’t committed to health and safety? They’re hardly going to come out and say they are committed to disease and danger, are they?
It’s a question of what your policies are. Currently we all have to wear cycle helmets and there are yellow lines zigzagging all over the yard to indicate where you are supposed to walk – which everyone ignores – and smokers are made to stand behind the bicycle sheds (virtually) to get their nicotine fix. One of my colleagues was put through the disciplinary procedure for smoking too near to the entrance to the office.
All of this is in the name of “health and safety”. But the Attendance Procedure is still in place, which still forces me to come into work when I’m not fit, and all of the platitudes and vagaries and generalised mission statements in this agreement are not going to compensate for the fact that we are going to be carrying more mail of worse quality till later in the day, and that this will affect our home lives and our leisure-time and will impact dramatically on our time-off, thus endangering our health.
So the document promises to identify the causes of stress and to work to address them, while, at the same time it intends to understand, identify and tackle the causes of fatigue.
Well I can tell you what the answer to both of these questions are. Stress. It’s caused by the job. Fatigue. It’s caused by the job. And this agreement is about to add more stress and more fatigue to the job.
As we all know this is one of the most contentious areas in the document. Door-to-door is to be included in our workload, the cap to be lifted on the numbers, a door-to-door and early shift allowance supplement to be paid out to all staff, pro-rata for part-timers. I won’t go into all of the arguments here. We all know it is a pay cut for many of us, part-timers in particular. But here is the most significant element, that I haven’t heard anyone say as yet. Our customers hate door-to-door. They loath it with a passion. We’ve all heard them rattling on about it. They all want it stopped. So by voting for this agreement we are voting for something our customers hate.
At the moment there is still a residue of respect for what we do as posties. It’s fading fast and with the casualisation of the workforce over the last few years and the increasing workload, which means we aren’t able to do our job properly, there is a growing element amongst the public who are starting to get very vociferous about us. By voting for something we know our customers don’t want – and that isn’t even in our interests – aren’t we just inviting the public to take their frustrations out upon us even more?
Add to this the increasing damage to the environment as more forests are decimated to make more pointless reading matter that people will just throw in the bin, and the implication in the agreement that we will be delivering junk mail right up until Christmas, and the suggestion that we might be forced to take out Saturday-only junk mail (maybe even on the Saturday before Christmas) and it looks increasingly like a very, very bad deal indeed.
But here is the bit that made me scream out with sheer exasperation when I read it:
“Managers, CWU reps and employees will all play a part in driving up the perception, awareness and importance of the door-to-door delivery.”
No I won’t. I hate it. It is shit. It is corporate propaganda on a grand scale. It is part of the culture of glossy diversion and distraction which is endangering our very future on this planet. It is meaningless drivel. It clogs up the mail. It flops about in my frame. It sticks to my hands. It is of poor quality. It’s embarrassing. It serves no other purpose than as recycling. What does it get recycled into, I wonder? More junk mail.
Currently, when I hand a bunch of junk to a customer and they say, “is that all there is?” I can say, “I’m sorry, it’s not my fault.”
If we accept this deal we will know that it is our fault, that it was our decision which foisted this upon them, and we can only shrug in shame.
Think about that when you cast your vote.
Purpose and Scope
Reading through the new agreement I’m struck by how far short of expectations it actually falls.
On this basis I’ve decided to “deconstruct” the text to see if we can’t find out what is actually going on within it.
Remember, this document was written by a bunch of people with various agendas, sitting in various rooms in various parts of the country, arguing about individual words in the text in order to secure what they consider to be the best deals for their clients. It’s a question of who you think the clients may be. In the case of the union, it should be the membership, but is probably more likely the organisation of the union itself. In the case of the Royal Mail, it should be its shareholder, the government – that is us, the taxpayer – but is more likely to be the vested interests of its top management and the immediate prejudices of those members of the government who are overseeing the process: in this case, Peter Mandelson.
It’s not exactly a coherent document, and any close reading shows that large parts of it are made deliberately obscure in order to hide its meaning. That, in itself, tells you something.
The aims of the agreement are laid out in the introduction, called Purpose and Scope. In the first paragraph it states: “our traditional business is being overtaken by modern methods of communication… where competition, pension costs and volume decline are massive challenges for the company.”
You see, we’re already into a debate, and we haven’t even started reading the main body of the agreement yet. Who says that our traditional business is being overtaken? Where is the independent assessment of this? We hear statements of this kind all the time, and it appears to fit into some kind of narrative the various parties are setting up in the public mind, but it’s not necessarily true. I mean, I’m writing this on Mother’s Day. Have I sent my Mum a Mother’s Day text or a Mother’s Day email today? Of course not. I’ve sent a Mother’s Day card and a bunch of flowers, like everyone else. I’ve been delivering other people’s Mums their Mother’s Day cards all week. In a few weeks time it will be Easter and there will be Easter cards to deliver; so while we might agree there have been some alterations to our traditional business, most of it is still here, and will always be here, regardless of modern methods of communication.
As for the “competition”: every postie knows this is a wholesale deceit. There is no competition in the delivery market. There is only the Royal Mail, and all of these so-called competitors are merely parasites on the Royal Mail network, taking trade from us at a subsidised rate, while demanding that the Royal Mail delivers their letters for them.
The same holds for “volume decline”, another meaningless phrase which adds to the story-line we are being spun, but which is demonstrably not true. They must think we are idiots. We handle the mail and know more than anyone that most on-line business is passing through our hands these days, and that this has led to a dramatic increase in the volume of traffic, at least in terms of size and value.
In other words, the very terms this document is basing its arguments on are at best a severe distortion of the truth, at worst, outright lies.
Modernisation – Not A Shared Vision
The first part of the document is called “Modernisation – A Shared Vision”.
Again, we are at the site of some contention here, since I’m clear in my head that what the Royal Mail means by the word “modernisation” and what I mean are two entirely different things.
What I might mean would be things like new machinery brought in to make my job easier, and to make the delivery of mail more efficient. What the Royal Mail mean, on the other hand, is more work for less pay. They are bringing in the new machinery in order to cut jobs, in order to load us up like donkeys, in order to increase profitability. This is the exact opposite of any generally accepted meaning of the word “modern”. It’s not “modernisation” we’re talking about here, but regression to a past era of exploitation and oppression, and to label it “modern” in any way is to test the English language to its limits.
Another contentious word in the document is “customer”. This is used a lot. We have to “align the interests of our customers, the workforce and the company as a whole.” But it depends who you mean by “customer”. As posties, of course, we are aware of the customers on the street, in the houses, behind the letter boxes we deliver to. But there’s another level of customer too: the corporate customer, whose interests may be entirely different from the first kind of customer, in a large number of ways.
Our day-to-day customers want their mail delivered as early as possible, as quickly as possible, at a fair rate across the country to reflect the needs of the entire community. The corporate customer, on the other hand, wants his own mail to be delivered as cheaply as possible, preferably cheaper than his rivals, and doesn’t care about the network as a whole or its impact on the general public.
The corporate customer is driven by the demands of privatised profit, not by social responsibility or the needs of the ordinary customer to receive a decent service.
It’s a question of who we serve.
It’s the top-brass at the Royal Mail who deal with corporate customers on a daily basis, of course, and it’s interesting to note that the line between us – the management and the workforce – lies at exactly the same meridian as the line between the interests of the corporations and the interests of the every day customer.
The next part of the document is called “Transforming Relationships”.
This, of course, is the centrepiece of the entire agreement. It is what both the CWU and the Royal Mail set out the achieve. Traditionally the relationship between the union and management has been adversarial. The reason we went on strike was because management were refusing to negotiate with the union or to inform them of its plans. The very least we have managed to achieve is to have forced management to consult with the union as the process of modernisation goes ahead.
We can all be grateful for that.
But this is precisely where the problem arises, it seems. It’s like the union have rolled on their backs at this point, seduced and flattered by the prospects of consultation – of being allowed to play with the big boys in the big boys school – and have given away their whole negotiating position.
Yes, the management now has to “recognise and value the CWU as an independent trade union”, but, at the same time, the CWU has to “recognise that Royal Mail management has absolute accountability to the public, it’s customers, employees and stakeholders, for the performance of the business.”
It’s that word “absolute” I find somewhat ominous.
It’s a very final-sounding word. It’s a dictatorial word in fact. Compare the two statements. One is a promise to “value” the union, the other is a demand for “absolute accountability” of management; that is, for absolute control.
In other words, reading between the lines, what the union had secured is an agreement to be consulted as the management implement their plans, to possibly tinker around the edges, and to become cheerleaders for the on-going programme of management-led “modernisation”, while management have secured the right to do exactly what they want.
This is all tied together by a series of meetings between management and the union, to “structure training to ensure everyone involved in the IR framework is developed to a minimum standard in line with defined skills and capabilities.” What does that mean? To me it reads like a season of free junkets in which reps will get brainwashed into accepting the terms of the agreement.
What none of this does is to ask posties or the public what we want.
Part-time to full-time
To be fair to the union, they were in an impossible position. Obviously they can’t please all of the people all of the time, and they’ve had to make some very difficult decisions along the way. They’ve clearly opted for what they see as the best interests of the majority of the workforce. The commitment to a 75%-25% full-time to part-time ratio is one of the points of principle in the agreement I’m sure the union feel proud to have achieved. In an industry in which, on a world-scale, full-time jobs are being replaced with part-time and casual labour, this is a significant hold.
Unfortunately they appear to have done this at the expense of part-time workers. As the agreement says:
“Full time employees will retain full-time status unless they volunteer to move to part-time hours. Part-time employees will be entitled to retain their existing contractual hours if they wish.”
That statement is glaring in its omission. There is no reference to the possibility of part-time workers ever being in line for a full-time job. In fact, by not stating it, it is being very clearly ruled out. This effectively creates a multi-tiered workforce, with increasing casualisation of the job as new contracts are brought in without the prospect of promotion to full-time grades. Along with pay issues – which we will discuss later – this is surely the beginning of the end for the notion of equality in the workplace. It’s not just a question of hours, it’s also a question of status. Part-time workers are now second-class citizens within the Royal Mail, with agency workers even lower down on the ladder.
You wonder if there was any deliberate calculation going on in the minds of our union leaders here. “75%-25%. That means that if we get the backing of the largest group, the rest will just have to make do.”
Whatever happened to the idea that our union was there to represent us all?
Next we come to the central issue, what the document, in it’s typically opaque manner, refers to as “Generic Operational Transformation”.
That means – to put it into common English – changes in the way we work.
These are the six points the agreement outlines:
- New machinery.
- New delivery methods.
- Mail centre “rationalisation”.
- New products and services.
- Working practices.
If you’ve read the agreement you’ll know I’ve severely cut-down the length of these points, but I think I’ve generally got the sense of what is being said without getting clogged up in the detail.
So now to add commentary from a posties point of view:
- New machinery. No problem with this. Anything which makes my job easier is welcome. But the new machinery won’t save vast amounts of time, won’t be able to cope with the large amounts of traffic coming in the form of on-line purchases and other oddly-shaped objects, will have problems reading ordinary people’s handwriting, so will still require a significant amount of hand-sorting as usual. I expect they will make a lot of noise too, thus interrupting our banter.
- New delivery methods. These I suspect will be mainly rubbish. Things like “starburst” – where we all go out in vans and deliver on mass to estates – which have been trialled and shown to fail. The problem with all of these methods is they undermine the traditional relationship between the postie and his customer, so will encourage more fraud and more theft along with more casualisation of the workforce. Plus – knowing what I know about the Royal Mail management – there will be a bunch of hare-brained absurdities brought in, invented by people in offices with calculators for brains, which will just turn out to be unworkable on the ground. Let the postie do his job, that’s what I say. When it comes to delivering mail, we are the experts.
- Mail centre rationalisation. This will effectively be a real estate grab. Imagine the value of some of those prime city centre sites. What is Mount Pleasant worth, for example? And don’t be surprised if the sites are being knocked off at below market prices, and that some members of the current Royal Mail leadership – or their cronies in the city – won’t be making a lot of money from this. The other problem with this is that it goes against the best interests not only of posties, who want to work near home, but of their customers also, who would much prefer to retrieve their packages from a local office than have to drive over to the nearest city. It also goes against the interests of the planet as a whole, forcing us to drive to get to work, rather than just hopping on a bike, as many of us do now.
- New products and services. More rubbish no doubt. More door-to-door. More rebate. More trash. More of the stuff that no one wants and no one needs. More stuff being forced upon us in the interests of the corporations. More forests being decimated. More weight on our backs. When will these people learn: you can repackage an advert a million times and it’s still an advert? People are getting quicker at seeing through all the complex subterfuges which attempt to disguise these “products” as something else and it all ends up in the bin in the end.
- Working practices. This will mean more interference in our work, more people looking over our shoulders and following us round, more “innovations” of the sort we’ve already seen, most of which don’t work. More excuses for bad-natured managers to practice their bullying techniques. More lapsing of frames. Greater workloads. Longer delivery spans. Increased work rates. Learning how to jog, juggle and read mail all at the same time.
- Productivity. This works in parallel with the last point, of course. Productivity is referring to what we take out and carry on our backs. It means turning us into donkeys. The more weight we carry and the faster we deliver it, the better for profitability. It all goes in with the transformation of our working lives from one of service to our customer to one of serfdom to the neoliberal barons and the banking elite who have demanded that nothing will exist on this planet that does not, at the same time, make a profit for them. That’s what really lies behind this agreement. It is just one more of the incremental steps that are being taken to transform our economy from one based upon the needs of the population as a whole, to one that only serves the interest of profit.
More on the agreement
- Deconstructing the agreement Part 2
Weve been reading through the text of the agreement to see what it reveals. This technique of close reading of a text is sometimes called deconstruction and is usually reserved for literary analysis….
- Private companies are Royal Mail\’s real enemy | Roy Mayall | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
Roy Mayall: The postal industry’s greatest problem is not modernisation, but unfair agreements with private mail companies
- Royal Mail deal is junk | Roy Mayall | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
Roy Mayall: Royal Mail’s deal with the CWU is not just bad for postal workers it will leave our postboxes stuffed with junk mail
- Not the Deal of the Century London Review Blog
- Roy Mayall: The new agreement | Post & Parcel
The new agreement between the Royal Mail and the CWU is out as Im sure youve heard. Im looking at a copy now. Its called in a phrase which is both ominous and bland at the same time Business Transformation 2010 and Beyond.
From the LRB.
Read more here.