Friday, 17 July 2009

Striking mail

It has often seemed to me that many Trade Unions have a death wish when it comes to businesses in deep trouble, though, perhaps, Public Service organisations are hardly 'businesses' regardless of how the idiots at the Treasury and in the Civil Service see them. The Royal Mail, a key 'Public Service' has been a flagship delivering millions of pieces of mail daily and 'losing' or misdelivering very little - except in the minds of the Mandarins who have demanded 'efficiency' and 'profitability' from a service that was provided in the 19th Century to make communication a 'universal' right rather than something only the wealthy could afford. The Mandarins seem to suffer from a form of lunacy difficult to catagorise since it involves looking at a service they are supposed to deliver and which is subsidised by the taxpayer because it is something that, at best, will 'break even' and try to turn it into something it can't be.

They destroyed the government's Maintenance Department by turning it into the "Public Services Agency" - and then demanded that it must, without the benefit of a Capital Fund to underpin it, compete for the "business" of doing what it had always done with outside contractors who could, and promptly did, undercut the prices forced on the Agency by the Treasury. The result? The PSA vanished from the landscape some 15 years ago and the cost of maintaining the government's buildings has quadrupled as the "competitive tenderers" have been able to form a cartel with the Treasury through the "Preferred Bidder" system.

Around 10 years ago they turned their attention to the Royal Mail. First they carved it up and sold off to people like TNT, Group 4 and others the 'profitable' parts such as long haul parcel delivery and bulk mail. Then they made the remnant, the normal postal delivery, an Agency and passed laws setting targets and demanding 'efficiencies' that meant the Royal Mail had to push up the prices, lose its envious sorting and delivery trains and aircraft and cut back on staff. Even so it has managed to deliver in the order of 90% of all First Class mail within 24 hours as required by law. (Where in the world is there another Postal Service with that record?) But the Mandarins are determined to destroy this so they have saddled the 'new' operation with a Pension Deficit of over £100 billion. Recognise the pattern?

OK, now enter the Unions. I have to say I can see their frustration for their members. No matter how well they do or how much pain their members take, the constant drip feed to Parliament and Ministers from the Mandarins of how bad the service is, how much more efficient their partners in the commercial world would be, has had the effect of persuading the politicians that "the Royal Mail is failing." How do you protect your members, the sorters, postmen and women and others who make the whole operation possible? How do you save their jobs in the face of the Whitehall Mandarins determination to destroy them?

The Unions only answer is to strike and foster, in the 19th Century mindset that fuels so much of the Socialist thinking that pervades the Unions still, a confrontation with the Management of the Royal Mail. Frankly, this will only play into the hands of the Whitehall Mandarins who have engineered the situation from start to finish. It's easy to blame the Managers of the Royal Mail for the situation but they are caught between the unreasonable and utterly impractical demands and restrictions of Whitehall and Westminster and the 'rights' of their employees as set out in the legislation written and bullied through against advice, by the same Mandarins who have created the situation that will see Royal Mail cease to exist. The Union needs to rethink its strategy - they need to make the Mandarins and the Ministers feel the anger, and they need to work with the Royal Mail's Managers to do it. The enemy is not their management, it IS the Civil Service.

All the strikes will do is guarantee the triumph of the Whitehall W*nk*rs.

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