A strike would be a blow…

Royal Mail: The spectre of a Communication Workers Union strike in Britain in the run-up to Christmas is front page news daily at present. That, and the action of Royal Mail in advertising for twice as many temporary seasonal workers as usual, which is suspected of being an attempt by them to offset the impact of an all-out strike on their business and future revenues.

Now, being the nostalgic leftie that I am, I am largely sympathetic to striking workers. I don’t say that this is blackmail, I believe in the power of a union of workers to take action as a last resort. I can’t believe they take it lightly, being villified by the public and putting businesses and services at risk. Let’s face it, they are consumers of their own service as well; they will suffer from their industrial action along with the rest of us.

And these things aren’t a major inconvenience to me, normally speaking. I have holiday in hand at work so I might enjoy taking some time off for some physical Christmas shopping this year, instead of the usual leisurely online clickfest. Friends and relatives can manage without Christmas cards. If I need to get something out in desperation I can always pay for Mailboxes etc. While a mail strike will undoubtedly be a major smack in the chops for some people, it is at most, for me, a bit of a pain in the arse. Or would be ordinarily. But this year, I spy on the near horizon a different kind of impact.

As a Lifelines letter-writer, the thought of not hearing from my penfriend for weeks on end makes me more than a little melancholy. I am determined that any strike won’t get in the way of me getting correspondence over to HIM. You see, letters to Death Row prisoners are often quite literally a lifeline. In the majority of cases, these men and women have no other form of communication or friendship with the outside world. Becoming accustomed to the ebb and flow of news and updates is something which we both appreciate and daren’t take for granted.

My husband pointed out early on in my Lifelines membership that each and every Death Row penfriend takes on a huge emotional risk in beginning a correspondence relationship. And similarly that I was taking on a massive responsibility to my penpal. Indeed, the organisers of the charity go to lengths to remind members that prisoners are in many cases dependent on this hand of friendship from acrosss the Atlantic. We are urged to let our coordinators know if for some reason we decide not to write or are unable to for any period of time; that way, the emotional need of the prisoner can be accommodated, to some extent, by a reserve or replacement writer.

I am fortunate enough to have a reasonable income. So I will not be letting a mail strike get in the way of getting mail over to my friend; I will use whatever postal service is within my reach to ensure he gets something to lift his week. But other Lifelines writers are not in the same position and will feel the effects of this strike in both directions. Plus, I know for sure that both my penpal and I will regret a throttle being placed on my inbound mail. Getting a letter written by a friend is so exciting in these days of ready electronic communication. Somehow the thrill of a handwritten address on a DL envelope, a stamp and a postmark is so much greater than a (1) symbol next to the word ‘Inbox’. True, the prison mail service can be tricky and fickle at the best of times, but in my experience so far, outbound mail through their mailroom has been OK, with delivery to the UK within 4 or 5 days on average. Under normal circumstances, without a letter in the post for weeks I would be very troubled indeed, given the understandable number of possible reasons for concern.

So if the Communications Workers Union and the Royal Mail fail to reach a rapid resolution this season, I’ll be at a loss. I would miss him, worry about him, and be itching for the service to ramp up again. Fingers and everything are crossed the guys can sort things out.

If you are interested in finding out more about becoming a Lifelines correspondent, please visit

October 19, 2009 - Posted by | "Royal Mail", Christmas, letter, mail, penfriend, penpal, strike, writing

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