The scheme to curtail home mail delivery is part of a plan to gut the federal public sector, to shrink postal workers’ pensions, to break a progressive, democratic union, and to sell-off lucrative remnants of Canada Post Corporation (CPC) to private sector vultures.
This attack must be stopped. It is a watershed moment for the workers’ movement across the Canadian state. The need for mass resistance is urgent.
The first step is to expose the many lies of the Stephen Harper Conservative government and CPC management.
One lie concerns the present postal service. CPC disingenuously claims that the further shift to community boxes is no big deal because only 25 per cent of residences now get their mail at home. The truth is 58 per cent do. Denis Lemelin, President of the 55,000 member Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), set the record straight. Citing CPC’s own 2012 report, he told a House of Commons committee on December 11 that one third of the population gets mail delivered to their doors, 25 per cent to their apartment lobby mailboxes, 12 per cent at general delivery counters, and 5 per cent at rural mailboxes. That means 25 per cent rely on the outdoor super-mailboxes, which is already far too many. CPC proposes to double that number by 2018, to deprive over five million people of home delivery. It would make Canada the only industrialized country to abolish door-to-door mail service.
CPC President Deepak Chopra is not a geriatrician. But he actually stated that seniors would benefit from the exercise of walking a distance outdoors (regardless the weather) to retrieve their mail. The danger this poses to people with mobility challenges is no joke. And in addition to the gross inconvenience, there is the garbage. Disgusting piles of litter accumulate around these boxes. Canada Post profits from delivering junk mail but won’t put paper-recycling bins at its mega-box locations. And instead of improving postal security, the outdoor boxes are known to attract thieves and vandals.
Soon to be sorely missed is the essential role postal delivery workers play as part of the social fabric that keeps people safer and in touch with one another.
Canada Post announced, also on the eve of the holidays, a whopping increase in the price of stamps—up 35 percent for booklet purchases or a 59 percent hike for individual stamps (it will cost $1 to mail a letter). The impact on small businesses will be severe. Paying more, for less service – that seems to be the formula designed to make the postal service increasingly unpopular and seemingly expendable.
Another lie is about the burden of postal workers’ pensions. CPC claims that the problem is that “people are healthier and living longer,” and that “long-term interest rates have been chronically low.” A much bigger factor is that CPC, like many other public and private corporations in Canada, grossly underfunded its employee pension plan – to the point that it is $6.5 billion under the water line, according to the Toronto Star. Twice over the past six months, Canada Post unilaterally raised the pension contributions paid by its workers.
The federal government has condoned the decisions of many of Canada’s major public and private corporations to violate their legal obligations to fund their pension plans. General Motors and Air Canada are among the many firms that have received special dispensation. The government is now intervening to ease Canada Post’s obligations. CPC spokesperson Jon Hamilton said the intention to cut door-to-door delivery is part of a plan “to transform the company and transform the pension plan”.
Then there is the cost of running the post office itself. Its letter mail volumes may be shrinking. But it has posted a profit every year, except one, since 1994. It still has more retail outlets across Canada than any other company. Why has CPC spent more than $2-billion in the past few years to modernize mail processing and delivery if the post office is failing? The opposite is the case. The profits of UPS, FedEx, Pitney Bowes and other giant corporations in the communications sector have been steadily rising. (Deepak Chopra was recently a top executive at Pitney Bowes.)
The demand for the privatization and deregulation of Canada Post is not due to its failure. To the contrary, the elimination of the public post office is a potential source of super profits for the private sector.
CPC is moving into new areas of business. CUPW argues that one of those new areas should be banking. A research paper published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives last Fall shows that postal savings banks are money makers world-wide. New Zealand’s postal banking system, which was revived eight years ago, now accounts for 70 per cent of the profit earned by that country’s post office. The comparable figure for Italy is 67 per cent. France’s postal savings bank accounts for 36 per cent of its postal service’s pre-tax earnings. Even though Britain is privatizing mail delivery, it is not privatizing its system of post offices and postal savings banks. They’re too lucrative.
The present assault on the postal service occurs in a broad anti-worker context. The disappearance of thousands of full time, decent paying jobs puts pressure on unions to grant wage and benefit concessions. The layoffs at Electro-Motive Diesel and the planned closures of the Heinz and Kellogg’s plants in southern Ontario, add to the malaise – as will the elimination of 10,000 letter carrier jobs if home delivery is cut.
Laws hostile to the rights and conditions of education workers, Bill 22 in British Columbia and Bill 115 in Ontario, roused student protests and broad public dissent, but union leaders gave way to the governments’ will.
In 2011, the first year of the Stephen Harper majority government, there was a flood of back-to-work legislation against postal workers, Air Canada service workers, flight attendants, ground crew and pilots, and Canadian Pacific rail engineers. Wild cat actions by Air Canada ground crew in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec City in March 2012, and the following month when Air Canada pilots organized a “sick-out” not sanctioned by their union, did not generate an anti-worker backlash, despite the best efforts of the business media.
The Canadian Labour Congress, confronted by a staggering array of legislative attacks, responds with feel-good TV ads (the Fairness Works campaign). But the assault continues and deepens: the restrictive changes to Employment Insurance; the expansion of the highly exploitative, racist Temporary Foreign Worker program; Ottawa’s ongoing resistance to Canada Pension Plan reform; and the punitive anti-union Bills C-377 and C-525, and C-4 with their arbitrary rules on financial disclosure to harass unions, their obstacles to union organizing, and a dramatic rollback of federal health and safety regulation.
Desperately needed is a cross-country rallying cause to be the pivot for turning back this tide of reaction. Defence of postal services can be that pivot. Here’s why.
CUPW is renowned as one of the most militant and democratic unions in the Canadian state. By means of an illegal wildcat strike in 1965 it won the right to collective bargaining for all public sector employees. It won above average wage increases with strikes and walkouts in 1969 and the early 1970s. Further strikes in 1974 and 1975 succeeded in gaining job security in the face of new technology at the post office. In a 1981 strike it won the right to maternity leave for its members, a gain that eventually spread to virtually all organized workers.
CUPW has been in the forefront of solidarity campaigns with workers’ struggles domestically and internationally for generations. It has legions of social allies, and a personal presence in every city and town.
Now is the time to return the generous and exemplary solidarity of postal workers, and to stop the onslaught against public services and workers’ rights. It is also a golden opportunity to chase the Harper Conservatives from office, and to bust up the employers’ offensive.
The dire need, and the very real possibility of turning this attack around on the corporate elite is posed. This is the occasion to convene meetings across the country, in every work place, school, labour union, NDP district association, social justice movement, neighbourhood and community. Urgently needed is a massive information campaign. It should be accompanied by mass rallies, picketing at federal buildings, petitioning at public squares, the occupation of government MP offices, walk outs at work places and schools, and rotating strikes, leading up to a general strike.
The choice is stark: Defend home mail delivery and public services, or watch the descent into the hell of capitalist austerity accelerate.