Technological Change and Industrial Relations in the British Postal Service 1969-1975

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This is a history of the mechanisation programme in the British postal service in the 1960s and 1970s, providing a record of the first six years of the network restructuring project known as the Letter Post Plan. This involved the introduction of automated sorting and coding machines and the creation of large, mechanised sorting offices. This brought fundamental changes to mail operations and was the subject of much disagreement and discussion within the industry. The key groups involved were unions, management and engineers, and their roles are considered through planning, negotiation and implementation of the plan. The central theme of the thesis is the interrelation of new technology and industrial relations. The main issues addressed include: the reasons for commissioning the plan in 1969; the preparations made for organisational change including R&D, financial modelling, training and consultation; the effects of the political and economic troubles of the 1970s; the introduction of new consultation arrangements following an embargo on new technology by the Union of Post Office Workers in 1972; and the course of negotiations which led to agreement upon a revised plan in 1975. The Post Office has been criticised over the introduction of mechanisation in this period, including charges of naive management, inadequate engineering and union obstruction. The limited attention the subject has received from historians has echoed this. This thesis contests this interpretation by arguing that the Post Office deserves more credit for the design and implementation of the plan, and that its problems were largely caused by external political and economic forces. It offers a detailed account of the workings of the postal service and the political and technical challenges faced in changing its operations, documenting several progressive and constructive aspects of this process. This therefore contributes to a historiographical reinterpretation of 1970s industrial politics and questions the negative portrayal of the nationalised industries in this period. The research is based primarily on the archival holdings of the British Postal Museum & Archive in London, including policy papers and board minutes, scientific and technical reports, union newspapers and publications, diagrams, photographs and correspondence. Other resources include the Modern Record Centre in Warwick, the National Archives, the works of modern postal historians and literature in the history of science, technology, labour and twentieth century public enterprise.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • King's College London
    SupervisorPatricia Thane (Supervisor) & David Edgerton (Supervisor)

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