Saturday, October 17, 2009

Miners' Strike repeat?

You probably haven't heard of Billy Hayes. He heads the Communication Workers Union which is in charge of the rolling strike action at Royal Mail. He's digging his heels in saying "I'm stronger than Arthur Scargill" according to an interview in The Times.

He says this is because he does have a balloted mandate for the strike (unlike Scargill who opposed secret ballots so standover tactics could be used to intimidate miners who wanted to work), and while coal can be stockpiled and sourced elsewhere, mail delivery is more difficult to replicate.

However, it is not impossible. Royal Mail is financially on its knees, partly due to the recession, but mostly because it remains in the dark ages with technology and work practices, and competition in the postal market has seen the private sector take a good chunk of the business mail market. Meanwhile, online communications eats into the private individual market for letters.

My own experience of the Royal Mail has rarely been inspiring. The postman who wouldn't bother to ring the bell to deliver a parcel, but rather place a card in the box so you have to go to the central delivery office to pick it up - presumably because he was too lazy to carry parcels. How about the one who wouldn't enter the premises to go upstairs because "he wasn't insured" to climb stairs. Funnily enough neither am I, and there is a lift, but he was having none of it.

This sort of communist-bloc attitude to service is helping kill it off.

A union led by a man on a salary that is anything but working class.

The response, I suspect, is that Royal Mail's competitors will have even more of a bumper time. The main gap in the market is the more difficult service for the general public, not helped by the unnecessary layers of regulation for the "deregulated" postal market.

Anyone should simply be able to collect mail, establish post boxes and deliver as they see fit. Removing as many barriers as possible to this sort of competition would help drive a thriving postal sector, bring benefits to entrepreneurs, prospective employees and consumers, and give more reason to privatise the Royal Mail.

However, the likelihood this moribund Labour Government could offer any inspiration to take on the CWU is little beyond zero.

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