The 1971 Postal Strike
IntroductionThe first full national strike in the history of the British Post Office took place from Wednesday 20th January to Sunday 7th March 1971. It took place against a background of increasing inflation and worsening industrial relations over the preceding decade, both in the Post Office and in the country in general. On 15th January a pay offer from the Post Office Board was rejected by the executive of the Union of Post Office Workers. An "all-out" strike was called to start at midnight on 19th/20th January.
Although local mail deliveries were possible in some areas, either where the postmen did not go on strike or as some gradually returned to work, the bulk of the country's postal services came to a complete halt.
The Government announced that the Post Office's monopoly on carrying letters would be suspended for the duration of the strike. Several hundred private posts were set up throughout the country; some of these were of course "philatelic", but many operated with efficiency and transported significant quantities of mail, although normally at a much higher price than the normal first class rate. A number of these posts linked up in an "Association of Mail Services" which provided for transmission of letters from post to post across the country, and also to overseas destinations. Considerable use was also made of the existing alternatives, and of course the Armed Forces had their own postal arrangements.
The strike dragged on for seven weeks as the Union and the Post Office were unable to agree. Eventually, faced with rapidly worsening finances, the Union Executive proposed a public enquiry as a peace plan to Employment Secretary Robert Carr. A ballot resulted in a majority for ending the strike, and postmen were told to return to work at 9am, Monday 8th March.
The disruption of services caused by the strike produced a wide range of interesting material. Much is rarer than a "Post Office Mauritius" – and while it may not have the same 'philatelic pedigree', arguably it has much greater postal significance, as these items represent the only services available for a major country for a seven week period, longer than the Uniform 4d Post!
This exhibit gives an overview of the background to the strike and its progress, and looks at the postal and social aspects of the ways in which the UK kept communications going in early 1971. It won a large vermeil and the Social Philately Trophy at the Torquay 2006 national exhibition.