Postmen's Federation.

The inter-departmental committee on post office establishments: being a verbatim report of the evidence given before Lord Tweedmouth and committee online

. (page 1 of 93)
Online LibraryPostmen's FederationThe inter-departmental committee on post office establishments: being a verbatim report of the evidence given before Lord Tweedmouth and committee → online text (page 1 of 93)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

,_, . _ ,_, ii^;-









Printed bt ALEX. MALCOLM «& CO., 34 Ann Street, Citv, Glasgoav;
AND 1 & 2 BouvEEiE Street, Fleet Street, London. E.C.













Jab. C. Bkow'x,

Editor "PcBtman's Gazette,"


The histon' of the birth and growth of the movement for an
ameHoration in the condition of that important body of Civil
Servants — the Postmen of the United Kingdom — is con-
tained in this volume, and constitutes a magnificent record of
what may be accomplished by steadfastness of purpose and
unity of forces. The events which led to the formation of
the Postmen's Federation, and the labours of that body when
established, compelled the abandonment by the higher officials
of the Service of that old-time Conservatism — and here we
speak not of politics, but of policy — which treated the rank
and file as mere machines, with no power to think or act for
themselves, and no right to combine in order to secure the
redress of their grievances. But the old order of things has
now almost disappeared. The advance of democratic senti-
ment has gained for all working men — be they State servants
or in private employment — the right to join hands for the
common good. Combination has, in fact, been legalised, the
claims of manhood have been recognised, and the English-
speaking working man to-day stands proudly before the whole
world the possessor of privileges and the holder of an in-
dependent position which mark him out for the envy of his
ilass in all foreign countries. The accompanying volume con-
tains a faithful record — reproduced in larger measure from
the "Postman's Gazette" — of the work done by members of
the Federation, jointly, as well as individually, on behalf of
the Postmen of the United Kingdom. It will constitute a
peimanent memorial of the painstaking and unwearied efiforts
of the witnesses who were selected to lay before Lord Tweed-
mouth's Committee on the Post Office Establishments the
various Branches of the Postmen's case; it shows with what


unexampled care facts were collated and marshalled so as
to enable the witnesses to successfully withstand the searching
cioss-examination of the highly-skilled Treasury and other
permanent officials who were associated with Lord Tweed-
mouth in the Inquiry ; and, above all, its pages contain ample
■proof of the justice of the claims put forward, and of the
necessity of the investigation in those columns which are
devoted to the Evidence of the Departmental Witnesses who
felt it their duty to recommend many alleviations in, and im-
provements of, tlie Postmen's lot. Time alone will show the
real extent of the success achieved. Much, however, has
undoubtedly been gained, and in this should be found an
incentive to even greater effort in the future. It is in th*
hope that every Postman — old and young — will acquire a
copy, will read, mark, leaiTi, and inwardly digest its contenti^
and will benefit by the morals to be drawn therefrom, that
the Editor of the "Postman's Gazette" has prepared this
book for publication.

19th September, 1896.





So far back as 1860, the Times gave a dismal account of the
condition of the Post Office Service, and warmly espoused the
cause of the London letter-carriers. It said : — " Hard-worked and
ill-paid, these men are / all discontented and sullen ; they are
ir.different to the proper performance of their duty, and hold the
threat of dismissal in utter disdain, feeUng sure, as they say, that even stone-
breaking at the roadside would not be harder work and scarcely less re-
munerative." Through lack of data, however, we are unable to follow up
closely the various movements that have been afoot since th^n for the
amelioration of the conditions of service of the postmen's class Many of
these movements would appear to have partaken largely of a local character
— that is, the different offices attempting separately. The earliest traces of
united action of which we have any record date from 1879, when the estab-
lished letter-carriers of certain offices were threatened with a reduction of
2s. a week. It appears, in June, , 1874, when for a time wages ruled high,
a pro\dsional allowance of 2s. a week was granted to each established post-
man in certain large towns. As far as can be ascertained, this allowance was
given to all appointed postmen — to those at the maximum and intermediate
figures, as well as to those at the initial wage. The allowance appears to
have been given to new entrants till the end of 1876, or the beginning of
1877. Those who had been in receipt of it, ho->>'ever, were allowed to retain
it till 1879, when for aj few weeks it was withdrawn, but only to be re-
newed very shortly, in consequence of the widespread dissatisfaction caused
by its withdrawal. In defending themselves against loss of allowance, ex-
tensive correspondence took place between the letter-carriers of the principal
towns in the United Kingdom. In addition to being successful in getting
the allowance restored, this correspondence served to awaken the letter-car-
riers to the fact that their conditions of service were not what they might
be. That there wag reasonable ground for complaint may be gathered from
the naive admission contained in the Budget speech of Mr. Gladstone on
24th April, 1882. Speaking on the Post Office, he said: —

" I think I ought to state, in justice to all parties, that great care appears




to have been taken by the late Government in restricting the extension of
the establishment. The pressure since we came into office has i-eached a point
which is extreme, and although, I hope, the Post Office will go on increasing,
yet the percentage of the cost for collection of revenue, I am afraid, will
show some increase also."

By 1881, the disaffection in the ranks of the letter-carriers began to find
vent in petitions to the Postmaster-General. The general petition of the
London letter-carriers was dated 26th April, 1881, and petitions from other
towns came pouring in about the same time. After considerable waiting,
without signs of an answer, the matter was taken up in Parliament by
friendly M.P.'s, amongst whom the memory recalls with gratitude the fol-
lowing names : — Schreiber, Summers, M'Culloch-Torrens, MacLiver, and

In the House of Commons, on 10th July, 1882, the Right Hon. H. Faw-
cett, Postmaster-General, said, in reply to a question by Mr. Summers,
M.P. : — "Without troubling the House as to detail, I may state generally
that the effect of the decision will be, as regards the majority of letter-car-
riers employed in London, to raise their scale at the maximum by 2s. a week,
and to substitTite an annual increment for a triennial one. In the country
the scales will be reduced from 27 in number to 7, and these are in every case
higher than those they supersede. The system of good conduct stripes,
carrying with them allowances of Is., 2s., and 3s. a week, will be extended
to the country (provinces?), and in this respect the suburbs of London will
be pla(Ced on the same footing as London proper is now. In the case of
the auxiliaries in London whose time is only partially occupied by their
official duties, their pay for the early morning delivery will be raised from
lOd. to Is. a morning, and after they have served five years as auxiliaries, it
is my intention, provided that they fulfil the conditions prescribed by the
Civil Service Commissioners, and are eligible in other respects, to promote
them to the establishments as opportunities occur."

In reply to a further question, Mr. Fawcett said : — " The revision will
date from the time the decision was arrived at — that is, from the end of
last week."

Mr. Callan, M.P., wanted to know "why the new scale \for letter-carriers
was not retrosrjective, the same ais in the case of the sorters and telegraph-
ists." In reply, Mr. Fawcett said : — " I halve to state that, having fully con-
sidered the memorials of the letter-caiTiers, I procured the assent of the
Treasury to the scheme, and which, I trust, without retrospective payment,
meets the merits of the case."

In connection with the Fawcett Revision, the following points are worthy
of note : —

(1) The postmen in receipt of the 2s. provisional allowance did not really

get " their scale increased at maximum by 2s. per week." They simply
got the j)rovisional allowance converted into permanent wages.

(2) From 1882 to October, 1891, the number of good-conduct stripes al-

lotted to each locality was limited; so that many men who had duly
qualified for stripes haJd to wait a further indefinite period for vacan-
cies to occur.

A Chapter of Postal Service History.

(3) By the Fawcett Revision the boon of a.nnual holidays was extended to

rural postmen for the first time — ^but only a week.

(4) The intention of Mr. Fawcett with regard to the London auxiliaries

does not appear to have been given effect to in its entirety.

The movement which culminated in the Fawcett Revision originated with
the large towns — those towns that were affected with the loss of the 23.
allowance. After the movement had begun a few of the smaller towns
joined in. At that time the necessity for a letter-carriers' society became
apparent. Partly through fear of victimisation of its leaders, the proposal
to form a society fell through. Doubtless the soothing effect of the Fawcett
Revision also helped the proposal to fall to the ground ; for revisions, even
of a moderate character, go to allay discontent.

The Parcel Post was commenced in August, 1883. Originally, town post-
men were to have been exempted from parcels work ; but the extortionate
charge exacted by the railway companies for the carriage of rail-borne par-
cels was such that it seriously threatened the success of the new venture, as
the Post Office would have to work it at a big loss if they carried out the
original intentions. As a mode of economy, the Parcel Post delivery was
saddled on to the ordinary letter-carriers without any extra payment. At
this juncture it once more became apparent the mistake which the letter-
carriers had made in not forming a society to watch over their interests.
The existence of a well-equipped letter-carriersi' society at this period could
easily have compelled the authorities to have matde better arrangements for
the Parcel Post than obtained during the first few years after its introduc-
tion. To prevent the regular letter-delivering force from having grounds
to object to do Paxcel Post work, the class designation was changed from
letter-carrier to postman. Tliis change of nam.e was approved of by a meet-
ing of Surveyors, and was put in operation in October, 1883.

For the next few years matters were drifting from ba'd to worse. The
rates of postage had meanwhile been reduced and popularised. This re-
sulted in a great increase of work, but there was not a corresponding increase
of force. The result was that all over the country postmen were over-
worked, and had very bad hours of attendaince. The employment of un-
established labour was systematically and extensively resorted to. In this
way the postmen did not reap the benefit they expected from the Fawcett

A Royal Conmiission on the Civil Service, under the chairmanship of Sir
Matthew White Ridley, was appointed in 1886. (?)

The order of reference of the Ridley Commission was in the following
terms : — " You will state whether in your opinion the work of the different
offices is sufficiently and economically performed ; whether it might be simpli-
fied ; whether the method of procedure catn be improved and the system of
control is deficient or unnecessarily elaborate. As ten years have now
elapsed since the adoption of the scheme of organisation recommended by the
Playfair Commission, the time has come when the working of the scheme
may with advantage be reviewed. You will therefore report whether the
scheme has been fairly tried ; whether its provisions have met with the


approval of the Service ; and whether modifications are needed to give it
complete development."

In common with other branches of the Civil Service, the Post Office ser-
vants were invited to submit evidence. Accepting the invitation, the post-
men of many towns prepared a statement of postmen's case, and applied for
an opportunity to give oral evidence, and even going to the extent of
nammg their witnesses. But the Commissioners got tired of their work
long before the " manipulative branches " of the Post Office Service could
be. reached. So the postmen had no innings before the Ridley Commission.

About this time a society known as the United Kingdom Postmen'.s Associa-
tion was formed. Its affairs were managed by an Executive Committee of
London postmen, with Tom Dredge (of N.W.D.O.) as general secretary.
For some time this society showed considerable vitality, and it had branches
in the principal towns throughout the country ; and in connection with it
was a fortnightly journal called the " Postal Service Gazette," which enjoyed
^considerable vogue.

In axidition to the sunmiary dismissal of Dredge, some of the other men
who had taken prominent part in the agitation suffered jwrsecution through
espionage and consequent trumphed-up charges. The success of the great
Dock strike, however, suggested new possibilities for trade unionism among
postmen. If the dockers could be led on to victory through the instrumen-
tality of the "nasty outside agitator," why not postmen? A postmen's
society, officered largely by outsiders, could act with greater boldness than
a society on the so-called constitutional lines, for at that time the conditions
of service were so irlcsoms as to cull for a bold advocacy of the postmen's cause.
As a result the Postmen's Union was formed. This society was a child of
tlie "^SiTew Unionism." In its rules and constitution it more closely re-
sembled the lecent labour tmions rather than the older and more staid trade
Societies. The General Secretary, Mr. J. L. Mahon, was an engineer to
trade, and received his trades union education in the Amalgamated Society
of Engineers, one of the most complete in all the trades unions. The majority
of the Union Executive were also men connected intimately with the
"New Unionism" movement. Hence the policy of the Union was modelled
on regular trades imion lines, looking towards a strike as an ultimate weapon
to force its claims. That these were altogether wrong lines to conduct a
postmen's movement is now pretty well admitted. But with all its faults
and shortcomings, the Union movement did immense good service for the
postmen. Even as remote from the centre of the agitation as Glasgow the
postmen were much more considerately treated since the Union movement
loomed large. Formerly human flesh was scarcely a factor to be considered
at all by the Department. At the conunencement of tlie Postmen's Union
Dredge was a member of its Executive, but he soon had an opportunity to get
re-instated in the Service, on writing an apology, which he did. From his
re-instatement he would appear to have severed his connection with the Union.

In his capacity as general secretary, Tom Dredge convened a mass meet-
ing of the London postmen to take place in the Memorial HaJl, Farringdou
Street, for the purpose of discussing their grievances. This action was re-

A Chapter of Postal Service Histoiy. 9

garded by the authorities as a breach of the old rule which prohibited the
holding by officers of the Department any meeting beyond the walls of the
Post Office for the discussion of official questions. This rule was made by
Lord Stanley of Alderley so far back as 1866, and. its existence was entirely
unknown to many in the Service. Even those who knew of its existence re-
garded it as a dead letter, seeing it had been promulgated twenty years
previously, and had since been allowed to fall into disuse. Dredge was dis-
missed the Service. About this time, also, the " Postal Service Gazette "
got into trouble. It had become involved in an expensive libel action, and,
as a result, ceased publiaition. With Dredge's dismissal and the stoppage
of the " Gazette," the U.K. Postmen's Association gradually collapsed.

The following article, written by a well-informed and — on the whole — an
impartial writer, is culled from the 1891 issue of "Hazell's Annual."' Aa
it is admitted by competent authorities to be the best history of the Union
movement written, no apology is made for quoting it pretty fully : —

"The Postmen's Union was formed in October, 1889, with a man named
Mahon as secretary and an Executive, including a man natmed Donald.
When the Union took a workable form it was freely joined by the postmen.
. . . The programme laid down by the Union was- — First, that the rule
prohibiting the right of postal employees to meet and discuss their griev-
ances in public be cancelled, a^nd that the Postmen's Union be recognised by
the authorities in matters of dispute as to wages, working hours, etc. ;
second, that the normal eight hours' working day shall be worked as nearly
continuous as possible, and in no case shall it be spread over more than
twelve consecutive hours ; third, that all time worked over eight hours per
day be paid for at the rate of time and a half; fourth, that the auxiliary
staff be added to the established staff, that the wages for all men starting
shall be 24s. per week, and that an annual increment of Is. 6d. should be paid to
all men until 40s. 6d. be reached. Meetings were frequently held, and the
Department soon made it known that its policy was not to recognise the
Union, and to enforce the official rules as to the non-discussion of Depart-
mental matters in public. Men were punished for attending meetings of the
Union, and this action gave impetus to the membership. But it was not till
June that the agitation assumed a serious aspect. Meanwhile, it should be
stated, the sorters had formed themselves into a Fawcett Association. The
first meeting was held outside the Post Office, and without official sanction,
and took place at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, on 10th February,
1890. It was a meeting of sorters, whose special grievances were set forth
ia detail. They .claimed that they were entitled, on the basis of the Faw-
cett scheme, to insist ujjon such a classification as would ensure payment of
work according to quality. Resolutions were passed regretting that the
Postmaster-General had not given consent to the -appointment of a Com-
mittee to inquire into the Fawcett scheme, threatening that if the usual
methods failed to secure them the fulfilment of that scheme they would
communicate with the Treasury, and forming an association for mutual
benefit of the sorting force, called the Fawcett Association. The action of
this body was subsequently of first importance, as will be seen later on;


but it is sufficient now to state that there were two organisations within the
London postal ranks — one known as the Postmen's Union, which was
officered and worked by outside agitators; and the other, the Fawcett
Association, consisting of sorters and officered by men within the Service.
When postmen were suspended and had their pay reduced for attending meet-
ings, the Union became more aggressive. On June 20th, the Union issued
an appeal to the public, setting forth that the Postiii aster-General had re-
peatedly stated that they were entitled to form in a trade Tinion ; that for
six months the rule forbidding postmen to afttend meetings for discussion of
questions of work and wages elsewiiere than in the Post Office itself
had been allowed to remain a dead letter ; but that an order had now been
issued allowing outside meetings, only on condition (1) that notice was given
to the postal authorities ; (2) that none but postal employees be present ;
(3) that an official shorthand writer be admitted. The Union claimed that
these conditions made combination impossible. On the occasion of the
Guildliall Banquet to celebrate the Jubilee o;f the Penny Post,
a procession of postmen had been broken up by the police,
and had held a meeting at Clerkenwell Green. At this meeting the
representatives of the authorities had taken the numbers of men
attending, and these men had been suspended until they gave an apology
for attending the meetings of the (Union, and promised, not to repeat the
olfence, and had been punished by deprivation of pay and by reduced wages
consequent upon the cancelment of good conduct stripes. The Union de-
nounced this conduct of Mr. Raikes as tyrannical, and appealed for support
to Trades Unions and the public, on the principle that the postmen had unre-
stricted right to attend public meetings of the Union for the ventilation of
their grievances.

Up to this point the public had not taken a keen interest in the quarrel,
which was, however, brought prominently to their attention by a riotous
meeting in Hyde Park on Sunday, June 20th, when men who were supposed
to be Post Office spies, attending for the purpose of taking the numbers of
men for further punishments, were mobbed and ill-treated by the crowd.
Nine men were suspended for aittending this meeting, and asked to say why
they should not be dismissed the Service, the reply bemg that when they
were off duty they could attend what meetings they liked.

"On July 7th, a mass meeting of about 2,000 postmen was held in the
Holborn Town Hall, w'hen the following demands were unanimously formu-
lated : — (1) That all Departmental limitations as to the right of meeting be
cancelled; (2) that all men reduced or suspended shoiild be reinstated and
their stoppages of pay refunded ; aind (3) that in matters affecting the rate
of pay the Department should deal with the Postmen's Union. It was also
decided that the intervention of the London Trades' Council be accepted,
and that no further action be taken — if the result was reported within twelve
days, and if the Department took no steps with a view to supplanting the
labour of the men then in the Service, in the event of failure of negotiations.
In preparation for a strike the authorities had called in much of the reserve
labour of the Dei^aj-tment, and as the agitation developed, it was seen that

A Chapter of Postal Service History. - 11

the non-union and the union men were fairly equally balanced in the jwint
of numbers. The Union made strenuous efforts to increase its membership,
and succeeded in many districts, although they were unable to induce the
" blacklegs," as they called them, to retire. Mr. Raikes, who was at this
period often questioned in the House of Commons by Mr. Conybeare, M.P.,
who was associated with the Union, stated in the House that the question
would never have assumed its then proportions had it not been for the un-
called-for interference of professional agitators ; that the disaffected men were
not indispensable to the Department, and that he was fully prepared to
efficiently maintain the Postal Service in the Metropolis. He declioed to
receive a deputation from the London Trades' Council. On the morning of
the 9th, the authorities having still further strengthened their position by
drafting non-union men into the Service, there was a free fight in the Parcel
Post Depot at Mount Pleasant, Clerkenwell Green, and the unionists succeeded in
driving the non-unionists out of the building. Their success prevented an
immediate strike at the General Post Ofl&ce. The work of delivery was,
however, seriously delayed ; and, with the object of averting a crisis, the
authorities intimated to the men of the E.G. district that if they would
sign a declaration not to strike, they would undertake to dismiss the relief
men. The postmen wanted, however, to fix a date (July 21st), and the pro-
posal fell through. On the evening of the day a mass meeting was held

Online LibraryPostmen's FederationThe inter-departmental committee on post office establishments: being a verbatim report of the evidence given before Lord Tweedmouth and committee → online text (page 1 of 93)