Postal Strike in the Seventies

Dorothy Davies’ memories of the longest postal strike in UK history

Post was sorted by hand in 1971On the 20th January 1971 negotiations broke down between the postal workers union, headed by Tom Jackson and the Royal Mail. On that day the longest strike in postal history began. Officially it lasted seven weeks, in reality it lasted up to three months, all told, as the mountains of mail had to be shifted and many items were delayed that long.

The strike was devastating for many reasons, not least for the ‘average’ person waiting for birthday cards, giro cheques, all the minutiae of everyday life.

It was critical to me at that time. Late in 1970 I answered an advertisement for two young solicitors requiring a secretary. When I met up with them, I found they planned to set up offices in Temple, the very heart of the legal profession. Solicitors depend on getting deeds, contracts, searches, you name it they need it, to deal with conveyancing and all of the other aspects of legal life.

The first thing that happened was the Law Society swung into action and introduced an internal postal method that has carried on, in much the same form, to today. We were able to go to the Law Society and collect our mail. We used many other methods of getting mail to people, including hailing a London cab and asking the driver to deliver a letter for the same fee as a passenger, that worked very well within London’s limits. Outside London, we used couriers and, for addresses in Essex where we lived at the time, I delivered the mail at weekends, with the help of my new husband.

A few enterprising people set themselves up in ‘business,’ taking letters across on the ferry and posting them in France. That was a help, no matter the cost, I was able to send letters to my parents who lived in Spain at that time. (Life without emails!) It’s surprising what can be done when people are faced with such a dire emergency. For the profession as a whole, it was a dire emergency: summons remained unserved, court cases were disrupted and telephones were a lifeline!

The strike collapsed because the Union ran out of funds to pay hardship money to its members. They were forced into a settlement that was highly unpopular with the members but in the circumstances, was the only way out. People could not be allowed to starve.

The irony of all this is: four years later my husband later went on to join the Royal Mail as a postman …


Dorothy Davies’ website is www.oneinspecyal.com

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