Tuesday, October 20, 2009


When Postal Strikes and NHS Bureaucracy Collide

Everyone has their own reason for being completely pissed off with the postal “service”. Is it missed birthdays, post simply dumped, your business suffering (I’ve lost count of the apologetic calls I’ve made asking for undelivered subscriptions when I know it’s not the companies’ fault) or simply lying posties stealthily delivering ‘Sorry you were outs’ while you’re in because they can’t be arsed actually bringing your parcels, so you have to wait extra days and go extra miles instead of them doing their jobs (yup, I’ve also had to complain about that recently)? Well, they’re bad for your health, too – and I don’t just mean giving you apoplexy with all the complaints and lost post thanks to the selfish indulgence of all those local strikes.

Regular readers may have noticed that there’s regularly been nothing for them to read recently; I’ve been more unwell than usual over the past few weeks, and – like many people who rarely get out – I depend quite a bit on the post (thank goodness for e-mail). Am I a big fan of the Post Office management? No. I’m sure they’ve got a lot of things wrong. But I know, and so does every other person who glares at the letterbox, who’s been causing so much misery. The CWU may have a case against some of the Royal Mail’s actions… But months of insufferable strikes before they even treat us to this week’s ‘official’ one have shot away every vestige of public sympathy. ‘You can’t deny us our right to strike!’ they bleat. That’s not what complaining we hate strikes is, fuckwit – it’s you who are trying to deny the rest of us our right to tell you all to fuck off for doing so.

What new self-deluding cant will the CWU come up with this week? Complaining that just because they’ve been doing no fucking work for months and actively boast that millions of items of post will never, ever be delivered, it’s “provocative” that bosses are getting in extra help over Christmas? When you’ve already said that we all have to post for Christmas in October, but that you probably won’t ever deliver any of it anyway? Gee, what an inducement! Is the CWU actually taking enormous bungs from private postal companies to destroy the Royal Mail?

Incapable of Simple Humanity Towards the Poor and Sick

Many of the people that all the many postal strikes have been hurting have been the weakest in society – people far, far worse off than the comparatively rather cushy terms and conditions of postal workers. People for whom a lost or even late piece of post can destroy their life chances through poverty or ill health. Let me give you just a couple of examples from personal experience.

A favourite big fat lie from despicable right-wing toe-rag politicians in both Labour and Conservative politicians is that there are too many people on incapacity benefit living the life of Riley (go on, let them take a sixty grand pay cut to try it) that nobody ever checks up on. As I’ve said before, despite the media reporting it uncritically*, this is a big fat lie. Everyone on incapacity benefit annually gets a twenty-page questionnaire to fill out every aspect of your illnesses in excruciating detail, followed by a medical check-up from a government-appointed dodgy private company (which no doubt has targets for removing people from the list).

If you don’t send back your questionnaire, and if you don’t turn up for your medical appointment, you will be struck off incapacity benefit – and these days, it’s now impossible to get back on. Yet both the questionnaire and the appointment are sent, just once, by post.

Imagine how petrified seriously ill people are that the postal strike could remove their benefits, with no appeal, and the first they’d know about it is when their poverty-line money suddenly vanishes.

I’m on incapacity benefit. A couple of years ago, my twenty-page form – and it’s quite daunting for me to fill out, despite being pretty intelligent and able to string a sentence together – went missing in the post, and it was only because I realised it should have arrived that I rang up and was able to get hold of another from a disapproving minion before the deadline. And that wasn’t a strike, you understand, with millions upon millions of items left to rot, just ordinary incompetence. Last month (a couple of months since sending off my latest depressing questionnaire in which every part of my health had either stayed the same or deteriorated since the last one), worried sick that I’d missed the appointment letter, I rang up and was told that they were running late this year – but how do I know how late, and when to ring again just in case? And how many people do you think will be doing what I did and making sure?

So, do you reckon the CWU are getting bungs from the Benefits Agency, too, to aid in kicking people when they’re down?

My current fun involves a hospital appointment. I have lots of them, so I’m aware of the bureaucracy that’s designed less to help sick people than to kick as many of them as possible off the waiting lists. Just like with benefits. Again, you get a single letter in the post, and if you miss an appointment, “Your co-operation is most appreciated. Failure to do so will result in patient discharge”. Yes, just like with benefits. Two and a half years ago, ringing to say I couldn’t make an appointment because I was ill led to my being discharged and told I could try and get on the list through my GP again when I was better. I could only use the hospital if I was completely well. No, you couldn’t make it up, could you?

As it happens, I had an appointment at the beginning of August for two of the bits of me that had up until now been in that rare category of ‘working’, and have now joined the more common ‘painful and not working properly’. I was told a follow-up appointment would be sent to me, usually for a fortnight or so’s time but, as the bloke responsible would be on holiday, probably more like the end of August.

I got the letter yesterday, telling me that I have an appointment today at 2 pm and “Failure to do so will result in patient discharge”. And, of course, not only have I been more ill than usual, but I spent much of yesterday – unusual one for me, this, and not my favourite – vomiting. So today I feel particularly ghastly, and I have to ring and tell them I can’t make it. But if I ring after two, I’ll automatically be discharged.

Was it the NHS bureaucracy sending out a letter very late? Or the posties delivering it a month after it was sent? I don’t know. But I do know that, after nearly three months of waiting for an appointment, if the letter had arrived a day later, I’d have had my entire case cancelled simply because of the post.

Gee, thanks, either way.

While I’ve been typing this, incidentally, I’ve been ringing the direct line at the hospital every two minutes for the past two hours. It would be a lie to say it’s been constantly engaged: twice, the phone’s actually rung, and rung. No-one’s answered, of course. Well, honesty compels me to correct that, too: after about seven minutes, one routed to the switchboard. They couldn’t take a message (after all, it’s nearly three minutes’ walk from the switchboard to the bit of the hospital I need to contact, and they only have paper and computer facilities: it’s practically impossible for them), and gave me the direct line. Which I’m still ringing.

Again, gee, thanks. Wish me luck for getting through before two o’clock.

And if some of that rant sounded like the Daily Mail, the newspaper that spits on the dead and refuses to apologise, don’t worry, I’ll be hitting them with a bigger baseball bat shortly.

*Almost all the time. The best interview of the Conference season for me (better even than mine) was Teresa May on The World at One just after she and David Cameron had prated that a quarter of the people on incapacity benefit (handy number, no scientific method) would have it cut easily by introducing medical check-ups, being asked in what way, precisely, these would differ from the medical check-ups that already take place. I wish I’d been up to writing about it and linking to it at the time, because her utter and total failure to have any answer deserved more than a swiftly-forgotten two-minute slot on Radio 4 when the Tories were making it the key to their new policy of kicking the poor and ill in the face.

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Hope you're feeling better soon. And while I'm slightly more on the postal workers' side than you (thanks to this and the apparent lies being used to justify 'modernisation', I have to agree that the postal system is a shambles and has been for years.

As for the benefits system - it's been a nasty, heartless, cruel thing for years, and I hate the way the Tories and Labour are in a constant battle to see who can be crueller...
Thanks, Andrew – managed to end up very ill indeed in the last couple of days, but trips to doctor and hospital and (I suspect mostly) eleven hours’ sleep seem to have helped a bit, so fresher today.

I’ve read the same articles about the ‘lies over modernisation’, and as I said above, I’m no fan of the Post Office management. The trouble is, though, I don’t live in an idealised small village where we all know our postman, he cares about the “Granny Smiths” and only takes part in a national postal strike with the utmost reluctance. We have a different postie most days – and I say most days, because for the last two months and more we’ve just about had deliveries on a bare majority of days, but we never know which days to bother waiting in and on which they’ll have yet another random local strike, let alone know if anything sent to us will arrive weeks late, or never arrive at all.

So when I hear union leaders talking as if the national strikes are a last resort and act as if they’ve been reasonable up until now and been pushed to it, I just roll my eyes. Where I live, since August the posties have been leaving the “Granny Smiths” to rot.

Last week I found myself exceptionally pissed off at the BBC when wild union accusations that everything was down to three men in either the management or the government, with union leaders and members bearing no responsibility at all, were the top news story for the day, with no-one to answer that this personal abuse might not be a “fact”… Then, a couple of days later, when it emerged that both management and union negotiators had reached an agreement before last week’s (bigger than usual) strike started and the union leaders vetoed it, that only crawled to fifth billing in the headlines. Call me old-fashioned, but shouldn’t something that sounded like an actual news story (though it could just be made-up spin, even if the union leaders noticeably didn’t contradict it) be treated at least as of equivalent news value to something that sounded like infantile name-calling (though it could have been true, despite the complete lack of evidence)?

And what is striking achieving? Other than letting union leaders stride around and boast that they’re like Arthur Scargill – and you know what happened to him (his industry died, but he remained incredibly well-paid, so he was OK)? Surely it’s just destroying the industry – and if there really is a conspiracy between three people (who smell, according to the union) to destroy the Post Office, doesn’t it look like the union are in the pay of this conspiracy, as destruction of the Royal Mail’s the only thing they’re currently delivering?

The union might try, if they have a case and want to expose the management’s terrible practices, to whip up a campaign, instead. To get their message across, like other people trying to affect public opinion do. What a shame they have no people who could be part of some, oh, what might you call it, delivery network to give everyone in the country their campaign materials…
Sorry to hear about the troubles. Some quite familiar-sounding experiences. Do you ever get the feeling of *being* the problem, rather than the victim of NHS processes and postal service practices?
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