Royal Mail faces new strikes, and begins to earn my sympathy…

For what that’s worth. The latest in the ongoing Royal Mail/strike story

A two-week campaign of staggered strike action across the UK postal service has been announced by union officials.

The rolling programme of walk-outs, to begin on Wednesday 25 July, will affect every aspect of the Royal Mail. It follows two earlier 24-hour strikes.

Well, shit. I was mightily impressed by the very next line in this story:

“This is designed to hit Royal Mail harder at minimum cost to our members,” the Communication Workers Union said.

Which to me says these guys have as much hope of coming together peaceably as those folks at the WTO. The issues are the same as they’ve been since the beginning: the 2.5% pay offer, working conditions, and this ‘modernisation’ bit – the one that will kill 40,000 jobs. For example:

One of the initiatives it is fiercely opposing is the use of more automation in sorting post, which is currently one of the duties of postal delivery staff before setting off on their rounds.

But I don’t see how Royal Mail can afford not to do this. At the rate they’re losing customers – a rate no doubt picking up, with this level of industrial action – they haven’t a chance of competing. Moreso still, if/once rival TNT gets moving with their plans to have their own postal workers delivering mail to English doors. Royal Mail’s last advantage will disappear with their effective monopoly over mail slots.

I’m sympathetic to picket lines – not for nothing am I Australian, but the CWU needs to get at least a little real on this one, surely. I don’t see Royal Mail giving ground when it’s at the edge of the cliff:

The company said the action amounted to a 24-hour strike each week for two weeks from next Wednesday, hitting different centres at different times. Royal Mail said it had contingency plans in place to deal with the action, adding that it remained willing to meet the union to explain the “realities of the marketplace”.

“Royal Mail is losing business because its costs, and therefore its prices, are too high and our business customers are choosing to go elsewhere,” said the statement.

Another perspective on this, of course, is the one where we mention something about chickens coming home to roost. Where were the modernisation plans when Royal Mail had it all? Why has it suddenly realised it has 40,000 people too many, at just the right time that it cannot afford to pay them off, or even pay those remaining more than 2.5% more? Sadly (Dave), “fair” and “not fair” have no place in this debate. There is only “feasible” and “not feasible”. Royal Mail cannot be made to invent a solution, or buy one with debt, as punishment for the smart things they did not do when they had the chance. Presumably the executives that cocked this up remain executives, if they haven’t already moved on while the getting was good, and the semi-skilled workers at the bottom will have to try like hell to find another secure job or be trapped among the downwardly-socially-mobile. And no, it’s not fair.

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