The present dispute is probably the worst industrial dispute in the postal industry since that of 20 January - 8 March 1971. In 1971 200,000 postal workers spent seven weeks flat out on strike. The strike completely paralysed the system, with post offices, then part of Royal Mail, also mostly closed. Postal workers went without wages throughout the strike, many being supported by 'hardship payments' from the union. Like many industrial disputes of the 1970s the dispute centred around pay rather than allegedly poor management decisions and the threat of redundancy. While inflation in 1970 ran at 6.4%, rising to 9% in 1971, in January 1971 the Royal Mail offered workers an 8% rise. The union had asked in late 1970 for a somewhat inflatory £3 a week, or 15-20% rise, which not surprisingly, management refused as it would cost the firm an extra £50m a year. As the strike wore on the union reduced its demand to a still somewhat high 13%, while management increased their offer to 9%, but mostly stood their ground despite the lack of postal deliveries, and £25m's worth of lost revenue. By early March the union was running out of funds and encouraged workers to return to work, without even the 8% rise originally offered, making General Secretary Tom Jackson unpopular among the membership. Instead the union was forced by the Department of Employment to accept an independent enquiry into efficiency in the post office which would then set a pay award.
While today's postal workers are not striking for the entire week, it remains to be seen how long their resolve will hold as they still stand to lose one day a week's pay from the strike. With Royal Mail again looking unlikely to climb down, the CWU might do well to consider the humiliating climb-down forced upon their predecessors. Strikes in the modern era rarely do workers much good in the long run, with the employer affected often loosing business and being weakened financially. If people are forced to find alternatives to Royal Mail for the time being, they may just find they prefer them even when the service returns to normal.