Winter of Discontent II? Royal Mail's Strike-fest

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 10/22/2009 07:06:00 PM
It surprises me that the rest of the world's press has paid very little attention to the ongoing series of just-extended strikes by the Royal Mail here in Blighty (some footage here). The Royal Mail is, of course, the national mail carrier. While there have been moves to privatize it like most other state industries, such efforts have only gone so far with the Royal Mail. Over the past few weeks, the Communications Workers Union (CWU) has called for a series of debilitating roving strikes across the nation, crippling what is an important service for practically throughout the UK. The greatest fear is that the strikes will continue into the Christmas season, when greeting cards and gifts are sent en masse. To our American friends, that's not going postal.

There are several uncomfortable resemblances between current events and the "Winter of Discontent" of 1978-79 . To wit: an unpopular Labour government is in power; unionized public sector workers are furious over plans to limit wage increases; a Conservative opposition seeks to capitalize on popular discontent to win at the next elections. The "Winter of Discontent" was famous for extreme incidents like rubbish piling on public roads and corpses left to rot out in the open as even the gravediggers were on strike. (The Brits also like using the term "industrial action.") Substitute "Gordon Brown" for "Sunny Jim Callaghan" and "David Cameron" for "Margaret Thatcher" and the characters and events of 2009 certainly look a lot like those from thirty years ago. Certainly, there is much anger in the air as mail is vital to the function of modern societies even during (or perhaps even more so) in the Internet age.

As an aside, I recently ordered some stuff from This I did after confirming that the Royal Mail had just lost the account--one of its biggest at £25 million--to (the less militant) Home Delivery Network. Considering that I placed the order on a Monday evening and received the packages today despite using free shipping, I am chuffed. However, the continued loss of major clients could eventually cause the Royal Mail to become even less of a viable economic entity than it is now with the current breakouts of industrial action.

Currently being blamed by the union is Lord Mandelson or Mandy for you tabloid readers. In this version, Mandelson is getting back at the Royal Mail for not following through with plans for privatization. The Conservatives, of course, blame both for not pursuing this path much earlier, hence the current situation. Naturally, scabs are already being brought in to help alleviate matters, though this is understandably unpopular among the strikers.

I absolutely recommend that you visit the PBS Commanding Heights website (a thoroughly superb IPE resource I've linked to since the beginning of this blog) and view the unedited footage for Chapter 15 concerning the titular event. There is an informative interview, too. Might changes in the UK portend similar things elsewhere? It's certainly a valid question. Remember, Thatcher preceded Reagan to office, and who's to say that things won't repeat themselves? Perhaps that will cheer up the Republicans come 2012.