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Our posties are going on strike.  No snail-mail.

This appears to be, as everyone says, a disaster for the post office.  It will clearly speed their decline, by driving adoption of the many alternatives.  Letters move online, parcels go to the competition.  Losers are the employees, the users, and the owners (that’s us – taxpayers).

But all that is happening anyway.  The strike may hasten a decline, but that’s not the same as causing it.  The post office is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

In an organisation with history, we can expect to see change, and it’s inevitable that some functions will decline from time to time.  Once upon a time, mail coaches were the heart of our transport system for all but the very rich, then came the railways and sent the mail coach into decline.  We’ve long since got over lamenting the mail coach, but we still agonise over post office closures, and how to deal with universal collection and delivery.

Regarding actual post offices, we have a very confused debate.  My own experience of them is miserable: the last bastion of the forever-long and slow-moving queue to blight our lives.  Laments for them seem to focus on oldies regarding them as some kind of social centre, or post offices that double up as village shop.  That’s not really about the post office: it’s inertia (and a bit of nostalgia) feeding rent-a-quote journalists.

If we allow that the ink-and-paper letter still has a role to play, then letter collection and delivery is more of a genuine issue: the economics of it would seem to imply higher prices and/or a much-reduced service.  That’s something we’re going to have to accept, strike or no strike.  So how about a two-level service: a low-cost service with public service obligations doing, say, weekly deliveries, together with faster deliveries at unsubsidised commercial rates in a free market?  What’s urgent is online, the rest can wait a few days.

As for other laments, they seem to cast the postie in an untrained-social-worker role.  A postie may be a good neighbour and keep an eye on the vulnerable, but that’s an individual matter, scarcely in the job description!

Oh, and for myself I’d love to be able to opt out of paper mail completely.  Most of it is junkmail, and most of what isn’t junk should be online.  The odd personal letter or card is occasionally a nice touch, but I’d willingly sacrifice the delivery if it could rid me of the junk!  Let the post office – or modernised delivery point at a pub/school/church/village hall/etc – hold the letter, and email or text me an alert to go and collect.  And introduce penalties on anyone who sends mass mail to opted-out people!

So perhaps the strike isn’t such a bad thing.  By accelerating decline, it will accelerate change.  Instead of living for years with a lame duck that’s hugely reliant on junkmail and/or in terminal decline, we can move on to something that works in our times.

Posted on October 22, 2009, in rants, uk. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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