By TONY SEED and CHARLES SPURR
HALIFAX (December 24, 2001) – MUCH HYSTERIA has been circulating around North America since the September 11 attacks. Much of it has had little basis in fact, but one threat that has made postal workers justifiably wary is the anthrax scare. Already at least five people have died from this disease in the US from exposure to anthrax delivered through the mail. It is entirely reasonable that Canadian postal workers should be concerned about handling mail in suspicious packages from the United States.
Despite this concern and the well-known right of workers to refuse work which they consider hazardous, Canada Post has refused to allow testing for possible anthrax contamination or to take adequate precautions such as gloves and masks at its postal sorting station on Almon Street in Halifax. Instead the corporation’s manager of letter mail stated that since there has not been an anthrax related death in Canada, the mail is safe to work, and since November 9 it has arbitrarily suspended three Halifax postal workers who complained about this potential hazard.
The Nova Scotia Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has responded with a series of pickets, and other actions to defend the health and safety of its workers.
More than 100 postal workers demonstrated in Halifax on November 21, followed by a mass picket on December 18 outside the Nova Scotia Department of Public Health. In addition to postal workers, representatives of several other unions participated in the picket, including Rick Clark, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and a local book publisher. The union’s message is being brought to the Health Department to try to put more pressure on Canada Post to allow tests.
Participants stressed that the right to refuse unsafe work was being violated. One speaker pointed out that the government is spending millions on such things as armed sky marshals on airplanes but does not bother about the safety of workers. They view the workers as expendable like office computers, one said. If there was a suspicion of anthrax in the Prime Minister’s Office, he said, every possible precaution would be taken immediately. Speakers also denounced the anti-terrorism bill, C-36, as an act to take away the rights of workers while government refuses to guarantee workers’ security.
Similar concerns have been raised by postal workers and other mail handlers across the country.
On October 25 and 26 postal workers at the Scarborough depot were sent home early after mail contaminated with some unidentified powder was received, but none of the workers were given medical tests at the time. Canada Post also resisted demands for rubber gloves and other appropriate safety equipment on the grounds that extra costs would be incurred which it did not want to pass onto its corporate clients.
Postal workers at the South Central sorting station, also in Toronto, were evacuated for three hours on October 15 when several improperly addressed envelopes were discovered. One was leaking an unidentified powdery substance. Again there were no tests for any potential health hazard, and workers still do not know what that powdery substance was.
In a press dispatch on November 29 the CUPW reported that national director Wayne Mundle offered to pay for independent testing of the Halifax plant to determine if there had been any cross-contamination of anthrax spores. Canada Post has ignored this offer saying that unless a government department of health says that testing is necessary they will not allow it.
At the same time the Daily News in Halifax reported that “Canada Post security officers are hand-delivering ‘suspicious’ letters in metro, even though the Crown corporation is refusing to get a Halifax mail-sorting plant tested for anthrax.”(11/29/01) Letters which have no return address and no postal code fall into the category of “suspicious” and are wrapped in plastic before being hand-delivered.
It seems that at a time when the federal government is waxing eloquent about “collective security” in hunting down real and imagined terrorists at the expense of civil liberties, the real concern, represented by Canada Post and others, is protecting its corporate interests and finding ways to criminalize dissent. Canadian workers are vigorously opposed to double-standards which treat the Canadian working class as second class citizens whose rights and peace of mind can be trampled under foot at the convenience of the owners of capital. The workers are the creators of all the wealth in society and the essence of its being. Together, they have to step up the work to put the full weight of their numbers and organization in defence of their rights.
On the occasion of the New Year, workers everywhere are pledging to make decisive headway in this regard in the coming year. TML Daily vigorously supports this just cause and is at the disposal of the workers to smash the silence on their living and working conditions and to unite their ranks from one end of Canada to the other.
Source: TML Daily, December 24, 2001 – No. 232