Royal Mail dispute – some thoughts…

The Royal Mail workers’ impending strikea are not – as the CWU would love us to believe – simply a case of put-upon workers defending their jobs against a malign and oppressive management. There is fault and intransigence on both sides.  Royal Mail management insist the have a right to make changes, union disagrees. Bottom line – who runs the company any anyway?

The newspapers are full of people urging the government to intervene, but in what way? What, exactly, is the government expected to do? Bang heads together? OK, fine, what then? Everyone is keen to tell us that the government should fix this, but when it comes to the how of it, they’re oddly silent. So, for better or worse, this is my take on the situation.

The CWU leaders are bent on confrontation, not least to justify their existence for once. That they, and their members, are too short-sighted, to see that, by their actions, there’s the risk that they will destroy the Royal Mail in the process, frankly beggars belief.

A way needs, to be found not just to end this dispute, but to avoid similar disputes in the future, because the days are gone when a union can force its will on management (the company I once worked for was once brought to its knees by a dispute over whose job it was to twang a piece of chalked string across a steel plate, to mark it out – like it fuckin’ mattered who did it!), just as it is improper for management to enforce unreasonable demands and conditions on its workforce. The long-term solution to this, it seems to me, is the imposition of legally-binding – on both sides – contracts of employment. If either side breaches the contracts, punishment should be severe, and enforced by government, without the need for costly and time-consuming litigation.

That should ensure that management can’t force unreasonable demands, or conditions on its workforce, nor can the workforce deviate from what they have contracted to do, other than through natural flexibility, or in the manner in which they have contracted to do it. Only by mutual agreement can changes be made. There is a role here for unions, but not the traditional them and us confrontational role, but one of mediators, favouring neither side – independent arbitrators, if you like. In my experience, though – see next para – union officials will have a hell of a job getting their heads around the idea.

Hell, it’s worth a try – what we have now isn’t working, and the day of militant unionism is past (and I say that as a lifelong trades unionist, former workplace rep and branch registrar for my union, back when I was able to work).

But getting back to the Royal Mail dispute, enforced mediation may provide an answer, and that the government can do, even to the extent of jailing members of the Royal Mail and CWU leaderships if they refuse to co-operate, which might focus the attention of the rest on finding a mutually acceptable solution.

On the other hand, even if CWU and Royal Mail leaders wound up sharing a cell, the union movement will undoubtedly interpret it as an assault on them all, even when it’s quite obviously nothing of the sort, and a general strike might result. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, you’ve never been a member of a union.

However, industrial relations, here and elsewhere, will never improve until we get rid of the confrontational them and us attitude – management and workforce are both sides of the same coin, and until they realise that, insanely suicidal disputes and strikes like this will continue.

And please, resist the temptation to post comments pointing out flaws – I’m fully aware of them – this is just me flying a kite.