Postal Workers Confront Canada Post

Excerpts from an article that appeared on by Evert Hoogers, Donald Swartz, Rosemary Warskett
A major confrontation is in the making at Canada Post. On the one hand, post office management is seeking to extract a series of far ranging concessions from its workers. On the other, those workers and their union, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), are not simply prepared to resist these demands, but are determined to use the opportunity to negotiate a new collective agreement to pursue an agenda that advances equality within the workplace and the expansion and renewal of vital public services. The importance of this struggle lies in the fact that its outcome will be of enormous significance not only to the lives of postal workers, but to all public sector workers and indeed to future workers as well….
….It would appear that we are in the midst of the ‘calm before the storm’. There is little likelihood that CUPW will acquiesce to Canada Post’s demands without a fight – not least to the demand for an inferior pension plan for future, younger, workers. Two-tier pay systems that require workers with different pay and/or benefits to work side-by-side offend most workers’ sense of justice and solidarity and many will go to great lengths to avoid this situation. In 2009, for example, steelworkers in Sudbury and Port Colborne struck for almost a year in an unsuccessful bid to block Vale Inco’s imposition of a two-tier pension system.
CUPW, with its commitment to equality between male and female workers, as well as full and part time workers, that goes back to the 1970s, is unlikely to act any differently. Indeed, when faced with an attempt by management to create a new lower classification in conjunction with the introduction of new technology back in 1974, they struck illegally to block it. For the same reason, CUPW is unlikely to simply abandon its demand for equal pay for rural carriers (most of whom are female, and who earn 30 per cent less than urban male carriers – editor).
How this will play out remains to be seen with the Federal government being something of a wild card, albeit a crucial one given its ability to invoke the law and the power of the state. Much will depend on the support for CUPW of those who are committed to social justice and equality, expanding public services and spaces and ecological sanity.
In this respect, the grassroots coalitions of union, student, anti-poverty and environmental activists that have already sprung up in cities such as Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver are encouraging. However, it will be necessary to engage the major public and private sector unions with their much greater resources and potential mobilizing capacities – all of whose members have a real stake in the outcome. This is so clearly the case for unions in the federal public sector whose members will be next in line if Canada Post succeeds in imposing a two-tier pension system on CUPW. But it is also the case that unions in the private sector, many of whom are struggling to overcome the divisiveness created by having accepted two-tier wage and benefit systems, have a real stake in the outcome. A CUPW defeat would only strengthen the forces pushing them into the race to the bottom.
It is urgently necessary that the union leaderships take the initiative in building the requisite mobilization, in concert with CUPW. Unfortunately, past experience reveals that this can by no means be taken for granted. For example, meaningful efforts by USW, let alone the CLC to build support for Vale Inco workers in 2009 were noticeably absent. As for the PSAC, its efforts to build support for a strike by a small group of its members working for the OLG [Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, operates gambling in the province of Ontario] near Ottawa where pension issues were central to the dispute were inadequate and failed to prevent a significant defeat.
Activists need to find ways to put pressure on the leaders of both public and private sector unions, insisting that they go beyond perfunctory statements of support, and even promises of financial assistance, to communicate the importance of the issues to their members and to commit significant resources to mobilizing concrete solidarity with postal workers.
We also need to communicate support for postal workers to the government. Messages from individuals and groups to the government and individual MPs should not only call on the government to press the post office to drop its demands for concessions and respond positively to CUPW’s demands, but also express support for CUPW’s proposals for the future of the postal service. For details Equally important, we should communicate support for expanding postal services directly to the Task Force on the future of Canada Post
Evert Hoogers is a former CUPW National Union Representative. Donald Swartz and Rosemary Warskett both taught at Carleton University in Ottawa for many years.