POSTAL STRIKE OF 1979
One of the longest and most economically destructive strikes in Irish history was the Postal Strike of 1979. The basic problems were wages, working conditions, modernization. Postal clerks, postmen and women, and telephone workers felt they had been forgotten in the period of high inflation, a time of economic prosperity (The Celtic Tiger), combined with the lack of cost-of-l iving adjustments over the years. The demands were between 35 and 50 percent in basic pay and increases for those workers who had maximized their pay brackets. The strike began on February 19, 1979.
The government was concerned that increasing postal salaries would trigger an overall increase in government employees pay, and did not negotiate seriously. It was initially expected the duration would be two or three weeks, and that the increases would be significantly less. This is not what happened.
Unlike a similar strike in Great Britain, the Irish government did not waive their right to be the sole deliverer of mail. This effectively put Express companies out of the game. Figure 1 shows a British cover from their 1971 Postal Strike bearing a copy of the letter waiving exclusivity for the delivery of first class mail for the duration of the strike. (Figure 1A) The Irish Post Office DID NOT waive the applicable legislation, thus none of the commercial express companies would carry mail.
This does not, however, mean that no mail at all was being moved. Two enterprising stamp dealers created a courier service to move packages between stamp stores in Dublin and Belfast which was legal. The fact that the packages contained mail for store customers was conveniently ignored. (Figure 2). Other individuals did likewise to move mail to Northern Ireland for transmission. The ferries to England and The Isle of Man also carried mail from entrepreneurs who set up accommodation addresses at the English ports. Mail to the US and Canada was couriered by air for overseas posting. (Figure 3). Local delivery services appeared in Dublin, Cork, and Wexford.
Overall, the strike was effective, and the public, government, and private businesses suffered. After eighteen weeks, the government was forced to negotiate seriously. The strike was concluded on June 25, 1979. This strike was partially the cause of the fall of the government of Taoiseach Jack Lynch (Figure 4) later in the year.
The effects of the strike were seen in many areas, and they were long-lasting. Although deliveries resumed on June 18, first-class mail was backlogged. Parcel post was so frustrated that packages from the strike period took over 2 months to clear. After the strike, first-class mail was not accepted until July 9, and parcels were not accepted until July 18. An immediate rate increase created certain anomalies in the rate structure. For example, airmail was cheaper than surface mail, and mail to the Vatican was cheaper than mail to Rome although it was the same air terminal. Over 50,000 telephones were out of order in the Dublin area.
A final result was that this strike was in a large part responsible for the 1984 privatization of the Post Office and the splitting the responsibility for Posts and Telegraphs (Telephones) into two independent private for-profit companies, An Post (Figure 5) and Telecomm Eireann (later Eir). The stock for these companies is held solely by the government; however, Parliament has no say in their finances since they are private, and not dependent on the government for funding. An article in Irish Stamp News describes the change (Figure 6).
This conversion allowed for some long-delayed actions to make the company viable. Post rates increased; smaller post offices and agencies were closed. Today there are about 1100 post offices and 100 postal agencies - a massive decrease from the earlier 2500. Little used services were discontinued (for example, how many people go to the Post Office to make a long distance call?). Branch banking eliminated the need for the Postal Savings Bank. The Post Office started advertising. Controversial subjects were aired as stamp topics. (The highest volume stamp, “Che” Guevara, would have been previously unthinkable). (Figure 7) New equipment was introduced to eliminate manual sorting. New buildings or extensive renovation was done on facilities, some which had been in use since the 1840's. Work was begun on a postal code for every habitable building in the country, and finally implemented in 2015. New vehicles were purchased. Today, 94% of the in-country mail is delivered in one day. More mail is handled with fewer workers.