Strike-Out: The Public Cost Of Union Workers Under Protest

by Mikaela MacKinnon

Royal Mail vans grind to a standstill earlier this week.

With thousands of postal workers on strike nationwide in disputes over pay and modernisation at the Royal Mail, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) is no stranger to industrial action. Further walkouts are due to take place at the end of the week involving up to 121,000 Royal Mail staff across the sector.

These strikes are evidently on a much greater scale than those previously held, where Royal Mail staff would walk out for periods of 24 hours in department rotation – organised as such to make sure that the postal service would not simply grind to a halt.

As reported across the UK this weekend, the Royal Mail is to face a legal injunction imposed by the Communication Workers Union in order to prevent the use of over 30,000 agency workers whilst the Royal Mail staff remain on strike.

Whilst industrial action may be deemed by many as needless, the Communication Workers Union is not alone where mass staff walkouts are concerned.

In the past few months, employees of the Underground transport network in London, and rail staff under the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) have resorted to striking over a series of disputes, bringing public transport to a crashing standstill.

Council employees have also been affected by job grievances resulting in walk-outs – leaving schools and local public services understaffed. The need for workers to stand up for their own entitlements is clear, but should this be at such a widespread effect on the public?

With pre-Christmas hype already beginning to grip Britain, the last thing the postal service needs is a backlog of undelivered mail further delaying the pre-Christmas postal flurry. Are temporary workers, in this case, really a quick-fix solution to the staff problems of any union, particularly the Communication Workers Union?

Whilst the use of temporary workers is evidently not an option to replace the absent staff in the teaching and transport industries, why is the Royal Mail so eager to draft in relief workers who are, in the words of a spokesperson, ‘entirely in line with all employment law’?

We are, undoubtedly, merging into a techno-nation – the growing popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, and the rising readership of internet news websites combined with relatively new technological concepts such as digital banking, clearly speak volumes about how quickly we now wish to communicate with others and exchange information. What place could the growingly outdated ‘snail-mail’ possibly hold in a society so seemingly reliant upon the power of the instant email?

A place of great importance, so it would seem. The Royal Mail is far from obsolete and whilst staff continue to strike over their as-yet unresolved pay issues, mass walkouts are last thing the postal service needs in anticipation of the busiest month of their year.

Clearly the CWU is amounting a notorious reputation for strike action, but what effect does this actually have on the general public? Small business owners are amongst the groups which will be most affected by the strikes, but is all the blame really being shifted onto the union?

‘The Labour government has been running down the Post Office for a long time,’ argued retired worker Luke Joseph, 76. ‘They want to run it down so they can privatise it.’

In line with the closing of hundreds of Post Offices across Britain in recent years, perhaps our reliance on technology is not without good cause. The only advice shining clear? Don’t think about sending that Christmas card just yet…