Monday, 26 October 2009

Flash mobs disrupt postal strikes

Industrial action by Royal Mail staff left millions of undelivered letters and parcels around the UK last week - but this backlog was unexpectedly cleared by spontaneous flash mobs forming at depots around the country.

Postal workers staged two 24-hour walk-outs last week, over proposed job cuts and other disputes with management, and a further three-day strike is expected to begin this Thursday if negotiations are not successful. However, bands of activists - members of the public independently participating in an informally organised event - turned up suddenly at mail centres nationwide on Saturday morning, and began sorting through the waiting packages and arranging appropriate delivery.

A spokesman for Royal Mail management described their actions as vandalism, trespassing, and improper tampering with government property and resources. However, no criminal damage has yet been reported.

Participants in a flash mob typically learn and spread news of the event via social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and gather in apparent spontaneity at some pre-determined time and location, dispersing quickly after some planned group activity has taken place. On this occasion, thousands of people are estimated to have got involved, most of them staying for several hours. The backlog of deliveries is now mostly cleared, the remainder consisting almost solely of packages with an unclear address or insufficient postage, which the group was reportedly unprepared to handle.

This is the second instance of a flash mob standing in for workers engaged in industrial action, and acting for the public good. In 2007, a 24-hour tube strike failed to significantly disrupt London businesses, after the trains were taken over by amateur volunteers who successfully ran the service with only minor delays.

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