Negotiations are taking place between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. The contract of the Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMC) expired on December 31, 2017, and the contract of the Urban Operations group expires on January 31.
Postal workers’ defence of the public Post Office is a good example of their defence of nation-building and the rights of all. Amongst other thing, their struggle defends the principle of universality. In Canada, one of the principles of nation-building since its founding was the principle of universality. It was one of the reasons given for why each separate British dominion should become part of Canada. It was said that, by uniting, everyone would enjoy the same standard of living and protection irrespective of their specific conditions. There would be no “have” and “have-not” provinces. Regions far from urban centres would not be deprived of the universal standard of health care, or services of any kind, due to their remote location, smaller populations, colder climate, topography or economic circumstances. In this context, a national postal system was established to provide service at a uniform price to all Canadians regardless of location and this has been essential for the development of Canada right from the beginning.
Of course, one of the reasons for the uniform prices was to facilitate the circulation of necessary business information. A public postal monopoly owned by the government was the most effective way to pool enough capital to create a system of communications vast enough to connect business addresses throughout the country and send out their catalogues and bills.
Abiding by the principle of universality means that the price to send a letter across the street in Toronto is the same as mailing it to Chicoutimi. To guarantee universality, Canada Post shifts some of the added-value postal workers produce from delivering a letter across the street in Toronto towards the transporting of a letter from the city all the way to Chicoutimi. A universal price and service to all Canadians regardless of location affects the overall rate of profit. In the case of mail, the added-value workers produce in relation to the total value decreases as the distance increases. This lowers the overall rate of profit for the corporation.
Canada Post is still a Crown Corporation, not a private business. However it is privatizing the most profitable sections of the enterprise and this negates nation-building. Through the privatization and deregulation of postal services, the ruling class seeks to eliminate the principle of universality both in words and in deeds. This means the added-value workers produce from delivering mail shorter distances will not be used to subsidize the transporting of mail greater distances. Private companies would deliver mail, including packages, in the large urban centres and this production would be separate from the still-public delivery of mail in the rural and outlying suburban areas of the country. To build their empires, the private companies seize for themselves the entire added-value urban postal workers produce rather than have that value go towards nation-building for which, in Canada, it is necessary to provide the principle of universality with a guarantee.
At Canada Post, privatization and deregulation has been going on for many years. As a result of the deregulation of the delivery of parcels by the Liberal government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau in the early 1980s Canada Post has lost its state-mandated monopoly on package distribution to the global monopolies FedEx, UPS and DHL, which deprives Canada Post and Canadians of much needed added-value that could go both into renewing the post office and to general state revenue for investments in social programs.
The fact of the matter is that both Liberal and Conservative government appointments to head Canada Post – Moya Greene by the Liberals and Deepak Chopra, (past-President of Pitney Bowes Canada) by the Conservatives – were appointed to oversee the chopping up of the universal postal service.
In 2005, when Moya Greene was appointed CEO of Canada Post by the Paul Martin Liberals, she made it clear in one of her first speeches that the exclusive privilege and universal service obligation were “restrictions from the past” that needed to be eliminated through deregulation. She said, “In order for deregulation to succeed it has to happen gradually. In the places where it was successful, it gave postal administrations more freedom to compete and adjust to the economic environment.”
With the appointment of Deepak Chopra by the Harper Conservatives, Canada Post stepped up its systematic selling off of postal franchises to Shopper’s Drug Mart and other retailers located near retail Postal Stations.
With Bill C-9, a federal budget bill in 2010, the Harper government succeeded in taking international letters out of the exclusive privilege of Canada Post. With this bill the government legalized the already existing illegal operations of businesses known as “remailers” that were handling letters bound for international destinations. By sneaking deregulation into a budget bill to avoid debate, Harper enabled large private mailers to take millions of dollars of revenue from Canada Post each year.
The direction of the Trudeau government now is no different. In their so-called new vision of Canada Post, they have replaced the need for a public post office and a universal postal service with some vague promises that all Canadians are entitled to “high quality postal service at a reasonable price.” They have kept the final decision about what is “high quality” and what is a “reasonable price” in their own hands.
The backward trend towards privatization and deregulation is accompanied with constant downward pressure on the claims of postal workers on the value they produce in the form of wages, benefits and pensions. The main weapon in the attack on postal workers is the government use of legislation to criminalize the class struggle of the working class to defend its rights and improve its terms of employment – the direct claim on the value it produces, which makes up a large part of its standard of living. Within this the workers face the problem of misuse of negotiations to get concessions which are unsustainable. In fact, limitations are often imposed by both employers and governments which dictate parameters within which the workers are permitted to negotiate. The parameters are based on realizing neo-liberal objectives which harm the workers’ interests but the workers are given no say in the matter.
The other claim of the working class on the value it produces is through the defence of social programs, which are also under attack and being reduced, not improved through needed investments.
All this shows that the struggle of the postal workers for their rights is a matter which concerns all Canadians, not just postal workers. When the postal workers fight to defend their rights and a public post office, it is an integral part of nation-building, which in Canada includes the affirmation of the principle of universality.
*Louis Lang was twice president of the Ottawa local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
Workers’ Forum, January 25, 2018