I am sitting in a hotel in Birmingham, watching the live press conference where the CWU is announcing that the planned UK postal strike will go ahead from tomorrow (Thursday, 22 October 2009). There is the typical bluster of Unions to Employers rhetoric, and I have little interest in the details of the strike.

The point I want to make here is that the parties involved – specifically the unions – have failed to understand that the world has changed. I was speaking to someone earlier this week who lived through the postal strikes in the early 1970s. He was at boarding school, and the postal strikes effectively cut them off from the world. There were very few private couriers then, and they were hugely expensive (he remembers the first class stamp cost 4p, and a courier would charge over 40p!). Postal strikes in the 1970s could cripple the country and devastate the economy.

Today, strikes will do little more give the economy a kick in the shins and a slight bruising. But, the ageing dinosaur that is Royal Mail has not been trusted for some time now.

I certainly don’t begrudge the posties the right to have better working conditions, and better pay. My postman is a friendly, efficient chap – I have no issue with him. But his industry is out of date. The company he works for is stuck in the past. And although they have the right to strike, I think that this strike might just push some people over the edge and away from Royal Mail forever. Small and medium companies that sell over the Internet will start using private courier companies over the next few weeks (many have started already). And why should they come back again?

And I’ve heard at least one person from the older generation say that although emails are good, they have resisted sending emails for thank you notes – preferring hand written and posted letters. But, with the looming postal strike, they’ve gone to email, because making sure the thank you letter actually arrives is more important than how it is delivered. I wonder if they will ever go back to written letters when the dispute is over?

At TomorrowToday, we have a presentation entitled “After Shock” that looks at the five drivers of disruptive change that are shaping the new world of work. One of these is institutional change – which talks about changes to the fundamental structures and rules of industries. This strike in the UK is an example of an industry that does not understand the fundamental changes in the very foundations of their industry!

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