Veteran postal worker LOUIS LANG, former president of the Ottawa Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, in a sobering analysis of the tentative contract and the pressures exerted to force this collective to accept concessions and severe roll-backs by eliminating the active participation of the workers, raises the question:
Where do we go from here?
AFTER MORE THAN A MONTH of ratification meetings across the country, postal workers voted 57 per cent in favour of accepting the proposed tentative contract. The details of the vote are yet to be released but all indications are that the turnout was very low. In fact, one of the most important issues (other than the concessions and roll-backs) that needs to be discussed is the significance of the number of workers who didn’t participate in the ratification votes.
If we are concerned with the kind of organization we need to mobilize and lead the workers to defend their rights, we must deal with the reality that during the last two rounds of negotiations (not including the latest one) the participation rate has gone down to the lowest levels in the history of the CUPW. In 2003, out of a total membership of 44,264 only 18,959 voted or 42.8 per cent. In the 2007 ratification vote, there were 16,384 votes out of a total membership of 43,512 for a participation rate of 37.7 per cent.
Some estimates based on the votes in certain locals indicate that the vote and participation rate in this year’s ratification vote is even lower.
This has brought to the fore a serious failure of the organization which needs to be addressed. In each of the last three rounds of negotiations, which all contained serious roll-backs and failed to protect workers’ wages from the rising cost of living, the fighting strength of the vast majority of workers was never brought into play. Instead, in each case, the workers were told to accept roll-backs for various reasons including: “the political climate was not favourable,” “mail volumes were down,” “threats of privatization if we went on strike,” and many other disastrous scenarios. Each recommendation to accept concessions and roll- backs came with the severe warning that fighting back was not an option and we would “certainly end up with less.”
In a letter to CUPW members in November 2012, National President Denis Lemelin stated:
“The membership can either choose to accept the tentative settlement or we can place our destiny in the hands of a government appointed arbitrator who will likely impose a collective agreement which includes many more srious negative changes that will impact upon our pensions, benefits and job security.”
Faced with such gloom and doom scenarios and the ultimatum that fighting for our rights is not an option, it is not surprising that workers stayed away from ratification meetings in such large numbers. Furthermore, in many locals, workers were faced with the dilemma that the recommendation of local leaders and activists was diametrically opposed to the recommendation of the National Executive Board.
This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. We know that the corporation and the Harper government are escalating their attacks against postal workers and all Canadian workers so it is essential that we strengthen our organizations and our ability to fight for our rights. That is the only way to ensure that we keep our destiny in our own hands.
In October 2010, when negotiations began, the corporation stipulated that the main theme of negotiations would be, “Some things have to change so that others don’t.” This was a clear threat that the workers must accept a two-tier wage system, loss of sick leave benefits and the gutting of the contract or even more would be lost. The corporation’s theme was intended to impose their agenda on the negotiations process that “protecting the financial viability of the Corporation” was a shared responsibility with the Union.
Their document “Canada Post’s Opening Comments and Proposals” in October 2010 states; “the individual security of each and every one of our employees is intimately tied to the success of the company.” Postal workers through, their experience know that this is not only false but hypocritical as well. We have seen over the years that Canada Post not only made profits each year but also handed over hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends to the government and at the same time closed hundreds of postal stations and cut back many services that are important to all Canadians.
Clearly the corporation intends to carry on its plans to streamline and further privatize the most profitable parts of the Post Office in the service of the international monopolies. Instead of security, workers know that this agenda has imposed the greatest insecurity on the workers. Every day, whether through contract concessions or under the guise of Postal Transformation, there are new attacks on workers’ wages, benefits and working conditions in order to seize a greater share of the profits produced by the workers.
Postal workers must reject this perverse logic that if there is a reduction in mail volumes or the pension plan is underfunded or any other fairy tale invented by the corporation, the solution is to attack the security and livelihood of postal workers and even workers who have retired. These are not solutions but excuses invented to make the workers pay for the irrational and reckless actions of the CEO and Board of Directors.
The right to security and livelihood are not gifts from the corporation. Those rights are ours because of the service we provide through our labour and because we fought under the most difficult conditions to defend them.
Now we are facing even more difficult conditions. A contract with severe roll-backs, imposition of a two-tier wage system which reintroduces wage and benefit discrimination against new hires; the same battle that was fought in the ’70s and ’80s for pay equity; also Postal Transformation, which the corporation refused to negotiate, is being used to eliminate jobs and increase the exploitation of letter carriers and inside workers with an alarming increase in workplace injuries.
The battles against these unbearable and unjust working conditions must be waged at the local level by involving the vast majority of workers. The corporation has made a mockery of negotiations, consultation and even the grievance procedure. We cannot rely on these old structures which have been scrapped. The Union and all its members must act in a new way by concentrating their efforts and resources to organize the most important force, which is the vast majority of workers in the fight to defend their rights. This means taking up every health and safety violation, unjust discipline, inhuman extension of letter carrier routes or any other contract violation by providing information on the shop floor and involving the workers in discussing the problems, finding solutions and making decisions about taking the appropriate actions. Workers involved in discussing and making decisions about how to fight and when to fight is the key to building the organization that we need at this time.
It is this fight, waged in every local across the country, which will turn things around in our favour and show the corporation and the government the united strength of postal workers which they have not seen for some time.