Who will suffer if Royal Mail bosses get away with their plan to scrap Saturday letter deliveries?  The press says hardly anyone because, rather like railway ticket offices, “no one posts letters anymore”. 

What nonsense. Royal Mail delivered a whopping 7,961,000,000 letters last year.  Among them will be vital hospital appointments and test results, benefits and pensions decisions – and cards from family and friends.  Many of the most vulnerable people rely on letters because they don’t have, or can’t work computers or smartphones. Printed words help them navigate the world and feel part of society. 

Nevertheless, the Ofcom industry regulator last week bowed to Royal Mail’s requests and announced an inquiry into the Universal Service Obligation (USO). The USO currently requires Royal Mail to deliver to all addresses in Britain, six days a week – and it imposes service targets on the firm. 

Royal Mail wants rid of Saturday deliveries as part of its plan to junk all but the most profitable services–such as tracked parcels and guaranteed next day deliveries. Perversely, its bosses want to stop handling letters altogether. The firm started its campaign the traditional way–by running down the service to the point of collapse. 

For years Royal Mail has deliberately missed the target of delivering 93 percent of first-class post within one working day. But management has now turned failure into an artform, admitting that only 74 percent of letters met the target last year. 

It achieved this feat by slashing the workforce – and especially older and more experienced staff – and replacing them either with casual workers, or not replacing them at all. That meant most offices didn’t have enough staff to cover all their delivery rounds. The firm dished out money to shareholders instead of investing in new technology. In 2021, as profits soared, Royal Mail handed them £400 million in the form of dividends.

Royal Mail’s owners thereby deliberately engineered a financial crisis for the company, hoping that this would force Ofcom to change the rules. And the firm went to war with its own workers, provoking a strike over pay and jobs in the hope of extracting more work for less money. 

To complete their case that “no one needs next day letters anymore” bosses ramped up stamp prices to drive down the number of letters posted. The price of first class mail rose by 16 percent this year taking the cost of a stamp to £1.10. And it’s set to go to £1.25 in October. The CWU understood the bosses’ plan but its leaders failed utterly in their response. The union estimates that between 15,000 and 20,000 jobs will go if the USO is cutback. But rather than plan for a fightback, it has instead signed-up to much of the bosses’ agenda. 

The Business Recovery, Transformation and Growth agreement that CWU leaders endorsed this summer allows the bosses to push through a mass of changes that will slash Royal Mail’s wage bill. And general secretary Dave Ward now does not rule out a switch to a five-day letters service.

“If you have a decline of letters over six days, there’s going to be a moment where you may lose more jobs over six days than it would if you went to five days – condensing letters into those five days,” he told members in a video posted on the CWU’s Facebook page.  “Providing there is a commitment to sustain the USO, we may have to consider the five-day scenario.”  He added, “We want to keep the USO… But we’re going to have to look at a five-day option.” 

That massive retreat doesn’t reflect the feeling in delivery offices and mail centres across Britain. During the strikes this year and last, union members showed their commitment to the fight by repeatedly voting for more walkouts. But by then, the leadership was only using those votes as a bargaining chip. The power to save a vital service—and thousands of jobs—was frittered away in the belief that the union’s primary role was to “save” Royal Mail.

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