THE 1971 POSTAL STRIKE by Rodney Gudger



The strike commenced on 20 January 1971 and ended on 7 March the same year, straddling the introduction of decimal currency on 15 February 1971. The dispute, which was principally about pay and conditions, was bitterly and publicly fought with the chief protagonists being Tom Jackson, General Secretary of the Postal Workers union, and Bill Ryland, deputy Chairman of the Post Office.




Prior to the start of the strike, when the government realised that the lack of a postal service could cause severe hardship to individuals and disruption to commerce and industry, the government announced the suspension of the Post Office monopoly to deliver mail.


During the period of the strike the Post Office licensed a great many firms, organisations and individuals to carry out various types of postal services and deliveries. Licenses were either verbal; simply registration with the appropriate Post Office Department; or were given in writing by way of letters of authority. The style and wording of these letters varied between areas but there were two basic requirements:


1) The Post office would bear no responsibility for any mishandling or loss of mail by the individual or organisation that held the license.

2) The “Private Mail” service would cease immediately the Strike was over and the monopoly restored to the Post Office.


Examples of the granting and withdrawal of the licence are shown below.



The Strike provided a new collecting opportunity and my own collection is in three parts:


1) Delivery companies.

2) Mail handled by Post Offices which remained open during the Strike.

3) Delay cachets applied to the new decimal First Day Covers.





This cover bears the stamp of the Middlesbrough Relief Post, organised by Louis Smollan and also a hand drawn portrait of Tom Jackson, the union leader.

This cover is an example of a UK strike post cover reposted abroad to complete its journey.

This North Hertfordshire Stamp Club cover travelled by Vauxhall Viva.

The N.W. London Postal Services was organised by Mr A. Bhawan of the Immediate Stamp Company, 81 Walm Lane, Willesden Green, London NW2 and was authorised by the Post Office. The service commenced on 12 February and ceased on 12 March. It covered London and overseas and the vast majority of covers seen are of the souvenir type shown here. Although addressed covers are known and claimed to be commercially used it would be easy to address a blank cover. Two sets of stamps were issued, a sterling set on 12 February and a decimal set on 15 February. A miniature sheet was also issued for the decimal set.

During the period of the Strike over 400 delivery companies were set up and it is estimated that during the 47 days it lasted some 20 million items were delivered whereas the normal volume that Royal Mail dealt with was 35 million items per day..​


The ingenuity of the British when confronted by these problems was demonstrated by the various methods by which Mail was transported and delivered. Car, foot, taxi, hovercraft, bicycle, horse, milkman, paper boys, bus, plane, courier were all used and international service was offered by transporting mail to other countries and reposting in their mail service.


Copyright: Rodney Gudger 2010