Solidarity Magazine » CWU/Post Office http://solidaritymagazine.org Fri, 01 Mar 2013 19:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.8 The Unsorting Office http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/10/the-unsorting-office/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/10/the-unsorting-office/#comments Sun, 17 Oct 2010 12:00:40 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=915 Continue reading ]]> Roy Mayall 13 October 2010

It’s been a bad few weeks at our delivery office. First of all Vince Cable announced that the Royal Mail was going to be privatised. Then, at one of our weekly ‘Work Time Listening and Learning’ meetings, the line manager announced that our delivery office is going to close. We are going to have to move to the main sorting office in the next town, seven or eight miles away. He couldn’t say when this was going to happen. All he could say was that ‘plans are underway’.


We didn’t have time to ask him any questions about it, however, as two ‘lead planners’ from the region had come to tell us about the review of working methods they are undertaking in our office.

First up, our bikes are going to be scrapped and replaced by lightweight trolleys and shared vans: two posties to a van, working an enlarged round between them.

Working hours are changing too. Nine Byzantine schemes are being suggested for us to choose from, varying from nine-day fortnights – four people to work three routes, working eight hours, forty minutes a day – to a four-day week in a three-week rotation, with a nine-hour, forty-five minute day, using three people to cover two deliveries. Er…?

They will also measure the speed at which we slot the mail into our frames before setting out on our rounds, giving us targets to make us do it faster.

The planners were quick to point out that the main purpose of the review was to take man-hours out of the office, and to make rounds bigger. In other words, the new, shared rounds will be larger than two old rounds, meaning more work for posties, and less time to do it in.

One of my colleagues said: ‘Surely if the office is going to move, then journey times will have to be added in and we’re going to have to go through this all over again?’

Yes, the planner said. Once we move there will be another revision.

What about privatisation?’ I said. ‘We are going to be privatised soon and TNT are going to move in and will want to do things their way.’

I can’t comment on privatisation,’ the planner said.

Part of the revision process will involve one-to-one meetings between the planners and postal workers. The new rounds are being drawn up using a piece of computer software called Pegasus/Geo-route, which depicts a two-dimensional world. The aim of the meetings is to factor in the terrain and other hazards. Every hill, every footpath, every short cut, every gate, every stairwell, every block of flats, every back door entrance is to be recorded. This is valuable information. It is being collected now, at public expense, but it will be inherited by whichever private company takes over. I wonder if they will be charged for that?

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The mood in the Royal Mail sorting office http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/09/the-mood-in-the-royal-mail-sorting-office/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/09/the-mood-in-the-royal-mail-sorting-office/#comments Thu, 16 Sep 2010 20:29:52 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=844 Continue reading ]]> Vince Cable has spoken: Royal Mail is to be privatised. My colleagues wonder whether things can possibly get any worse. Roy Mayall

    I heard about the proposed privatisation of the Royal Mail on Saturday. One of my work mates sent me a text. It was my long weekend, so yesterday was the first chance I’d had to gauge the response in the office. It wasn’t very good.

    People are in two minds about the news that Vince Cable has decided to start selling off the service after Richard Hooper’s report calling for “urgent action”. A common quip was “well, it couldn’t be worse”. We’ve seen a marked reduction in the quality of service in recent years, and the general view of the management is that it is worse than useless. That’s not the term most posties would pick: the usual word is “shit”.

    We were all out in the smoking shed, having a last break before heading out on our rounds. Dennis said: “Are we a business or a service? The public still think it’s a service, but the management treat it like a business. If it’s sold off it will just be a business and the service won’t count at all.”

    Bob said: “The only way to modernise is to go back. We’re handing the business over to the competition. We have to start earlier. It used to be people would get their mail in the morning while they were eating their breakfast. Soon it’ll be coming while they’re eating their tea.”

    Jim said: “I knew this was going to happen. They’ve been winding us down just to sell us off. It’s been on the cards for years.”

    Bill said: “I can’t wait to be taken over by Mothercare.” Everyone laughed.

    But there’s real gloom. People are worried about the future. We all know – regardless of what Hooper or Cable might say – that our workload is increasing. We have more junk mail. More brochures. More magazines. More bulk-mail advertising addressed to “The Householder” or “The Occupier”. Most of all, more packets – 30 to 40 every day on most rounds. Online shopping has really taken off, and a large percentage of it is being lugged around on our shoulders.

    We also know that the main drain on the Royal Mail’s profit base is us subsidising the private mail companies by carrying their mail for them. They’ve extracted all the profitable trade from the banks and utilities, but once it comes to actually sticking it through letter boxes, that’s our job. It still lands on our frames for sorting and carrying. What chance do we have? We do the work, they take the profit.

    Yet the last time I tried to call a meeting about the future, only three people turned up. We’re a soft office. After the last strike, a deal was reached between the Communications Workers Union and Royal Mail that caused real anger. Quite a lot of the guys saw it as a sellout and left the union then. They felt so betrayed. If the CWU call for a strike over privatisation, a large number of people in our office at least probably won’t come out again – even though the main worry is privatisation might mean a reduction in our terms and conditions.

    Jerry said: “My first thought was it might be better. But then I think it’s really down to job cuts, and to slimming down the business. It’s going to be a worse service and more expensive for customers.”

    Jim said: “They want us all to be on the minimum wage. Give it 12 months. They want a casual workforce. They’re moving towards dropping the bags off at people’s houses for them to deliver and no more fulltime jobs.”

    George said: “That’s the end. They’ll terminate the contract. We’ll be given the option: change the contract or leave. The younger ones will leave because they’ll be able to find other work. The older ones won’t be able to leave.”

    My work mates know who I am. I told them I was writing a story for the Guardian. What did they want to tell readers about the mood in the office? “It’s suicidal,” said Jerry. “It’s already a shit job and it’s about to get worse.”

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    "Privatisation is politically motivated" http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/09/privatisation-is-politically-motivated-2/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/09/privatisation-is-politically-motivated-2/#comments Sun, 12 Sep 2010 15:17:19 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=836 Continue reading ]]> Union says Royal Mail is successful and modernising while privatisation is unpopular and politically motivated to get hands on pension cash.

    The Communication Workers Union condemns plans announced today to privatise Royal Mail and vows to fight the politically motivated move by all means.

    A YouGov poll last month found a majority of voters of every party oppose privatising Royal Mail with support at only 15 per cent. At the same time, Royal Mail is a market leader and the company’s profits rose by 26 per cent to £404 million in 2010. A fully funded modernisation programme agreed by both management and unions is in place bringing stability to the company. Royal Mail’s pension scheme assets total around £26 billion.

    Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said:

    “Privatisation is old politics. It’s the failed politics of history which brought disruption to Britain’s utilities and railways and astronomical prices for consumers. Dangerously in this case, we fear the government may also be plotting to seize the pension assets.

    Privatisation would be devastating for Royal Mail and the whole country’s postal services. The universal service has been a key part of the UK post for 170 years but because it isn’t the profitable element of mail, the privatisation will put it at risk. This could damage the service for all customers including millions of small business and potentially harm the UK economy. Privatisation will also mean separation of Royal Mail and the post office network, putting the very existence of many more post offices that play such a key role in Britain’s communities at risk.

    Closures, cuts and profit will rule while customers, small businesses, communities and tax payers lose out. This report is politically motivated to please the ideology of the coalition. People who work in the industry know that privatisation has no positive role in this public service. Richard Hooper’s report of 2008 was flawed and his vision was proved to be unachievable. He still doesn’t have the answers to the challenges facing the postal service but faithfully trots out what his political masters request.

    Royal Mail has always been a privatisation too far and there is a public majority out there who will vote this government out for flogging off our national assets and breaking our public services.”

    Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said:

    “Everyone’s a loser if you privatise the Royal Mail. Jobs and services will suffer and customers will see prices soar.

    We’ve put in place a detailed and fully funded modernisation programme which is dramatically transforming Royal Mail. Why does the government want to threaten the stability and capital of this programme when it’s proving a major success?

    We fear the pensions of our members will be at risk under privatisation. Everyone hears about the deficit, but there’s over £26 billion in assets which belongs to the postmen and women who have paid their contributions every week of their working lives. We will never let the government get its hands on that money for anything other than what it’s intended – to pay for the retirement of hard-working postal workers.

    Postal workers have invested in the modernisation of the service by fully supporting the business transformation agreement signed earlier this year. The company and its employees are working hard to transform the business together. Rather than reverse the progress, the government needs to show the same support for this key public service.”

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    Call on TUC to scrap Cameron invite http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/07/call-on-tuc-to-scrap-cameron-invite/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/07/call-on-tuc-to-scrap-cameron-invite/#comments Thu, 08 Jul 2010 10:38:08 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=664 Continue reading ]]> The following motion was passed unanimously at last night’s meeting of the Bristol and District Amal. Branch Central Committee.

    The general policy-ie. not specific to the CWU Executive Council-was overwhelmingly passed at Saturday’s South West TUC Regional Council, in a motion moved by the RMT and seconded by Bridgwater TUC. Please see the text of this after the CWU Bristol motion below.

    In your trade union branch, could you use the terms and format of either motion to help us get this invitation withdrawn?

    Thanks,

    Dave Chapple

    Bristol and District Amalgamated CWU motion:

    “This Central Committee supports the motion overwhelmingly passed at the meeting of the South West Region TUC on 3rd July, which calls upon the TUC General Council to rescind its recent decision to invite David Cameron to this year’s TUC Congress.

    We resolve to write to the CWU President and General Secretary, calling upon the CWU National Executive Council to rescind any endorsement of the decision of the CWU TUC General Council representative(s) to support the decision to invite David Cameron.

    If the NEC hasn’t yet discussed this subject, then we ask that the decision of the TUC General Council representative(s) be NOT endorsed.

    Further, that the CWU writes to the TUC General Secretary, asking that the General Council decision be re-considered as a matter of urgency.”

    South West Region TUC motion:

    “The South West Region TUC deplores the recent decision of the TUC general Council to invite David Cameron to address TUC Congress 2010, and asks the General Council, in the urgent interests of trade union unity against this government’s austerity measures, to reverse this invitation.”

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    Royal Mail's plan for junk deliveries http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/04/royal-mails-plan-for-junk-deliveries/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/04/royal-mails-plan-for-junk-deliveries/#comments Fri, 30 Apr 2010 13:51:22 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=597 Continue reading ]]> Postal workers will soon be under pressure to deliver junk mail to every household

    Roy Mayall

    Postal workers have voted overwhelmingly to accept a deal to end the long-running dispute with the Royal Mail.

    The deal, called Business Transformation 2010 and Beyond, was hammered out in extensive negotiations between the Communications Workers Union and the Royal Mail, following strike action last year. The result of the ballot was 2:1 in favour of the deal.

    Meanwhile preparations for implementing the agreement are already under way.

    In a new document, seen by this writer, Royal Mail has laid out its plans for introducing door-to-door (D2D) into the workload. “Door-to-door” or “household” is the technical name for the unaddressed leaflets and flyers customers usually refer to as junk mail.

    D2D is not currently counted as part of the workload. Postal workers are paid separately for it and are expected to insert the material into their sorting frames in their own time. In practice what this generally means is that D2D items are “thrown off” into the frame on less busy days and then delivered along with the rest of the mail over the week. The usual practice is to leave the D2D in the frame until there is live mail to deliver with it.

    The Royal Mail document, Planning the Introduction of Door-to-Door into Workload, sets out the new working arrangements. D2D is to be inserted in the frame on a daily basis at the rate of 1/6th per day over a six-day week. Currently no D2D is delivered on a Saturday. All mail is then to be taken out, including D2D to households without live mail. This is referred to in the document as “cold-calling”.

    The usual calculation for the number of houses with live mail is 85%. This means that, on average, 15% of households will be “cold-called”, that is, will receive piles of D2D without accompanying mail on a weekly basis. It also means that delivery span times will have to be extended to accommodate the extra deliveries.

    The document then goes on to calculate the amount of time that it will take to insert D2D into the frame, as follows:

    1 contract – 4 mins per day

    2 contracts – 8 mins per day

    3 contracts– 10 mins per day

    4 contracts – 11 mins per day

    5 contracts – 12 mins per day

    6 contracts – 14 mins per day

    This is truly frightening. 1/6 of 500 is 83. So we will be expected to throw off 83 items in four minutes. You can try to imagine this if you like. The frames are about six feet across, from waist high to just above our heads, and contain all the slots representing all the different addresses on a round. The D2D will be inserted last, once the frames are already full of mail, and we will be expected to load this at the rate of 83 items in four minutes. This is almost certainly impossible.

    I know from experience that it takes about 30 minutes to fill my entire frame of 600 slots with one item of D2D in the form of a standard-sized letter. Standard letters are easy to handle, but D2D comes in all shapes and sizes: from small postcard-sized leaflets, to large glossy A4 sheets which flop about. It always takes much longer to load these into the frame as they tend to stick together.

    The document also makes it clear is that there are plans to absorb up to six items into each round. Currently the limit is three. This means not only extra time for delivery, but also extra weight. More bags will be required to carry all the additional items: more visits to drop-off points to collects bags, more time out on delivery.

    You will also see that, while four minutes each is allowed for items 1 and 2, item 3 will only be allowed two minutes and item 4, one minute.

    The document lays out in detail how this is to be done:

    Position one pile of D2D on bench for each contract

    Take item from top of each pile and place collated items in slot for each delivery point on that day’s schedule

    Tidy away D2D

    Clear down D2D with ordinary mail from slots containing live mail

    Translated into ordinary English, what this means is creating little bundles of D2D consisting of all of the separate items, and then shovelling these, collectively, into the frame. For six items of D2D we will be given 14 minutes a day to make up these bundles and then to stick 83 of them into the frame.

    You wonder how the Royal Mail has gone about making their calculations? I guess there may be some experienced sorters able to keep up this kind of rate, but they are rare. And what happens then if postal workers fall below the requirements? This is almost certain to happen. Will we be penalised for it? Can we be disciplined? Will managers be paid bonuses to enforce this arbitrary and unfeasible work rate?

    Royal Mail already has a culture of overbearing managers who will use any excuse to pressurise staff in order to maximise their bonuses.

    This new agreement seems to give them carte blanche to extend the practice.

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    Union deal lets postal workers down http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/04/union-deal-lets-postal-workers-down/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/04/union-deal-lets-postal-workers-down/#comments Tue, 13 Apr 2010 21:17:08 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=579 Continue reading ]]> If the agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU is accepted it will be another weapon in the armoury of bad-natured managers

    Roy Mayall

    Up to 35,000 delivery workers will be worse off if the deal between Royal Mail and the CWU goes through.

    We’ve just received our ballot papers for the agreement which was negotiated between the Royal Mail and the CWU following last year’s strikes. Obviously this isn’t the ballot that is on most people’s minds at the moment, but the outcome of it could have serious implications for your postal delivery service, regardless of which party comes to power in the general election.

    The negotiations took over four months, and it has taken another month or more to prepare the ballot.

    The overwhelming mood among delivery staff – at least if you read the forums – seems to be one of rejection. Up to 35,000 delivery workers will be worse off, having to take an immediate pay-cut in the abolition of door-to-door payments, and their replacement by a flat-rate supplement.

    Part-time workers will be the worst affected by the changes, as the supplement is pro-rata. A Royal Mail employee working a four-hour shift will only get half the money of a full-time employee for doing exactly the same amount of work.

    The agreement commits the Royal Mail to a 75-25% split between full-time and part-time jobs. This was clearly one of the strategic aims of the union in the negotiations. In some postal services in Europe the proportion is reversed, as full-time staff lose their jobs in favour of their part-time rivals.

    But the fact is, part-time staff are being discriminated against here. Many part-timers work virtually full-time hours when overtime is taken into account, and it is only the terms of the contract that are different.

    There is already a two-tier workforce in the Royal Mail. What this agreement does is to reinforce the gap by making the pay-structure different, too. The union appears to have made a deliberate calculation: to risk the loyalty of part-time staff in the interests of its full-time members.

    Again, if you are to believe the forums, there is likely to be a mass exodus from the union if the result of the ballot is positive.

    One of the aspects of the agreement that will most affect the public is the new work plan, which it lays out in some detail. This includes a six-day week and later start times. Something very strange is going on here. The ostensible purpose of the agreement is something loosely described as “modernisation”: that is, the introduction of new technology to speed up processing. And yet, when it comes down to it, we are all going to be starting work an hour later. In order to speed up processing we have to put back delivery times, inconveniencing the public and threatening many small businesses who are reliant on the post. Why would that be, do you think?

    There is no explanation for this in the text, but we can make an educated guess. The reason that start times have to be put back is in order to allow the private mail companies time to process their mail and then get it to us. It’s a strange kind of business indeed that holds up its own workers and inconveniences its own customers in the interests of its rivals, but that is what appears to be happening here.

    Another aspect of the agreement worrying postal workers is the question of productivity. As it says: “We want to bring everybody’s actual performance up to the level of the top 10% performance …”

    Postal delivery is intensely physical work. It involves working at top speed for up to four-and-a-half hours at a stretch for five days a week. Imagine four-and-a-half-hour workout sessions and you have some idea of what this means. The younger you are the better. I’m 57 years old, and very fit, but there’s no way on earth I could work as fast as the younger members of staff in my office.

    What makes that “top 10% performance” doubly worrying is the fact that it is a moving target. The top 10% is always the top 10% no matter how fast everyone else is working. It gets relatively faster as the workrate as a whole goes up, meaning no matter how hard you work you can never catch up.

    There is already a culture of bullying within the Royal Mail. This looks like one more weapon in the armoury of bad-natured managers who – bullied themselves – tend to take their frustrations out on their staff.

    Expect later delivery times, unhappy posties and an all-round poorer service if this agreement goes through.

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    ‘You Can Take the Time from Your Break’ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/04/%e2%80%98you-can-take-the-time-from-your-break%e2%80%99/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/04/%e2%80%98you-can-take-the-time-from-your-break%e2%80%99/#comments Thu, 08 Apr 2010 13:15:45 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=572 Continue reading ]]> Roy Mayall

    There’s a Tannoy system in our office. It’s very rarely used. Most people just shout when they want to get our attention. The people with the loudest voices tend to gravitate towards the jobs where the most shouting is required.

    Pretty well the only person who uses the Tannoy is the manager. He doesn’t have a very loud voice and doesn’t play a significant role in the daily life of the office. Usually he is hiding behind his computer in his little office, keeping out of everyone’s way. So when the speakers crackle, and an uncomfortable voice starts to mumble into the microphone, we always know it’s the manager, about to announce something out of the ordinary. ‘Hello everybody. Can everyone hear me out there?’

    Peals of laughter from the shop floor. He has the air of a secondary school teacher addressing a class of hyperactive teenagers.

    OK, this is just to say that your union rep is here to talk to you about the agreement, and that if you want to meet him in the recreation room you can take the time from your break.’

    There’s a sudden eruption of noise. Pardon? Did he say we were to take the time from our break? This is the most important agreement between the Royal Mail and its staff for the last ten years. It contains the blueprint for our future for the next three years at least. It’s written in such dense and convoluted language that hardly anyone has a clear idea of what it’s supposed to mean. We have our union rep here to explain it to us. And they want us to go without our lunch, to pay for this in our own time, and to squeeze a multitude of questions from up to fifty delivery staff into the 20 minutes that are available to us in our break time.

    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.

    The agreement itself states that it intends to foster a ‘culture of mutual interest between managers, union and employees’, so it doesn’t bode well for the future that, even before the agreement is implemented, the manager’s need to squeeze every minute out of our working day takes precedence over our need to know what is going on.

    Needless to say, no one went to the recreation room. Most of our questions had already been answered by that announcement.

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    More reflections on the agreement http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/more-reflections-on-the-agreement/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/more-reflections-on-the-agreement/#comments Wed, 24 Mar 2010 16:53:48 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=537 Continue reading ]]> By Roy Mayall

    Money

    I don’t know about you, but I didn’t go on strike for money. I went on strike so the management would know that they couldn’t push us around, that we were willing to take action to defend our jobs and the quality of our 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. I’ve been in the job for thirteen years now, and what I’ve found is that the management always gets what it wants.”

    You see, 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 a voice resonant with resignation and defeat, “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.

    That’s 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 DSA mail, we could kill it off instantly.

    There would be no need for Dave and Billy to go grandstanding around the country trying to sell an unpopular deal to a sceptical membership.

    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 ludicrous trade in fleecing the public? 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?

    Value

    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 current use of the word.

    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. Malthus used it. It dates back to the thirteenth century, perhaps even further. It was the traditional measure by which value was estimated.

    It goes like this. Where does value come from? It comes from labour. What’s the difference between the hide of a cow and a pair of shoes? What’s the difference, come to that, 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 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.

    Traditional 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 created the wealth by their 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.

    Work

    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.

    Pardon?

    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 sessions” – that means they will be expected to pass the propaganda on to us.

    God help us! WTLL is 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.

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    More junk from Royal Mail http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/more-junk-from-royal-mail/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/more-junk-from-royal-mail/#comments Sun, 21 Mar 2010 21:23:10 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=532 Continue reading ]]> A London Postal Worker calls for rejection of the CWU/Royal Mail agreement

    Four months since the national postal strikes were called off, the leadership of the CWU and Royal Mail management have finally come up with the long-awaited agreement they were supposed to reach back in December. As if to show how hard at work they have been, the document stretches to 80 pages.

    The good news is that maternity pay would increase from 18 to 26 weeks and paternity pay from one to two weeks. And ……. er that’s it. Everything else is tied up in strings linked to cutting jobs and increasing workloads, or at best, attempting to sweeten the pain.

    Thus the media has been trumpeting the fact that we would get a 7% pay increase. Yes, but even the document says this would be over 3 years, with the 3rd increase open to renegotiation depending on circumstances (quite what might hold them to that is unclear). But, anyway, this increase is over 4 years if you take into account that we got no increase last year. Currently inflation is running at 3.5% and expected to rise, so 2% this year and 7% over 3 years are pay cuts.

    The media also says we are to get £2,400 in lump sums. But hold on. £1,000 of that was due to us anyway under the sham Colleagueshare scheme. We would be paid that over 3 years if we agree to this package of proposals. So what was ours anyway now comes with strings. The other£1,400 is also spread over a couple of years and dependent on the “successful” introduction of new technology (read job losses and greater workloads).

    A cut in the working week of 1 hour to 39 hours (union policy is 35 hours). But not for 3 years, and then not for everyone, with some getting (not even pro rata) pay increases instead.

    

    In a new departure, differential (non-pensionable) payments are to be introduced for workers in different sectors of the business (deliveries, processing, distribution etc). For delivery workers this would be a £20.60 per week payment, replacing the “early start” payment and the “per item” payment for unaddressed Door to Door” (aka junk) mail. But hold on, many delivery workers around the country already get more than this between these two payments – another pay cut. And to add insult to injury the current limit of 3 items per household per week of junk mail is to be removed, with no new limit. Oh, and junk mail would also be delivered in the run up to Christmas, unlike at present. So, in exchange for delivering lots more stuff that no-one wants, many workers will take another pay cut.

    There’s more – delivery workers would start and finish later, Saturday’s would be of the same length as Monday to Friday, and the current limit of 3½ to 4 hours on delivery would be lifted, with no new limit.

    Although the document puts no figures on jobs to be lost or mail centres to close (why?), estimates of between 12,500 and 25,000 jobs to go over the 3 year period and 50% of mail centres to close have not been denied. There is a commitment (of sorts) to no compulsory redundancies, and to keeping a 3-1 ration of full-time to part-time workers. There are frequent references to consultation with the union over closures, but not agreement and several passages imply the national (and local?) union would be expected to help Royal Mail police the agreement.

    Given its length, there are massive gaps in the document, so there is no joint appeal to the government to address the £10 billion deficit in the pension fund or the arrangement by which Royal Mail subsidises its competitors by charging them less to deliver their mail than it actually costs.

    Benefits for the customer? On top of more junk mail your deliveries will also be later.

    The document is not without its touches of humour, constantly referring to Royal Mail’s commitment to the safety of its employees and to good industrial relations. It’s just that none of us had noticed.

    What the media hasn’t pointed out is that this is not a done deal until it has been agreed in a ballot of union members. Contrary to the expectations of some (including this reporter), the CWU has not gone for a snap ballot of the membership on the deal, rather they are arguing there are issues to be resolved first, with rumours of them even waiting until after the general election. What is true is that both management and the national union are desperate to get endorsement for this deal, management so they can get back to cutting costs with union consent and without strikes in response, and the union because they know that the alternative to this managed decline is not only industrial action well beyond what they were prepared to contemplate last year, but also a political strategy which challenges the idea that workers should pay and takes up the battle for the full restoration of the postal service to public ownership. And that is the challenge facing those of us arguing for rejection of this deal.

    The danger is that many postal workers will be cynical that a leadership that negotiated this will not do any better if it is rejected, feeling they might as well take the money on offer, even if they are aware of the strings. At the time of writing, the good news is that the Branch Committee of Bristol CWU branch, one of the largest in the country, has voted unanimously to recommend rejection of the deal.

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    Deconstructing the agreement Part 2 http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/deconstructing-the-agreement-part-2/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/deconstructing-the-agreement-part-2/#comments Tue, 16 Mar 2010 21:12:16 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=525 Continue reading ]]> By Roy Mayall

    Interpretation

    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?

    The Work-Plan

    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!

    Productivity

    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.

    Door-to-door

    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.

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