Fifty thousand postal workers could be out on picket lines in a matter of days, as Canada Post management is doing everything they can to provoke a showdown. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) offered to extend the July 2 deadline for a lockout by a period of two weeks, but were rejected out of hand by Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra. With that rejection, the tension on the shop floor is at its highest as workers brace themselves for either a strike or a lock out. Either way this could turn out to be a very sharp struggle.
The union and management have been in negotiations since January, and during the last three months both sides were holed up in a hotel in Ottawa bargaining around the clock. But they might as well not be meeting at all, as the latest - and only - offer from the Corporation was a far cry from what the workers deem reasonable. The 350-page draft contract put forward by the Canada Post Corporation is an austerity package with significant rollbacks. It effectively cuts the wages of the workers. The proposed four-year contract stipulates a zero percent increase in the first year and a meagre one percent increase in each of the next three years. Taking inflation into account, this would mean a reduction in the purchasing power of the workers.
Furthermore, the proposed contract will also deepen the divide between new hires and existing workers. New hires would get a less generous pension package than the one offered to existing workers. The union cannot accept such a proposal, as it would weaken the unity of the workers. This is especially true, given that after the last round of bargaining and the lock-out of 2011, the union suffered a significant defeat and had to accept a two-tiered wage structure in which new hires make $7 less per hour.
All indications point to an inescapable conclusion that management is hell-bent to provoke a strike or lockout. The Corporation is still headed by Harper appointee Deepak Chopra, who was also the face of management in the 2011 dispute. But the workers are ready to take on this challenge. With a strike vote of over 90 per cent, the union possesses a strong mandate from its rank-and-file members to step up its struggle should the negotiations reach an impasse.
The spectre of back-to-work legislation is in the air should any work stoppage occur. After all, the government has imposed this draconian measure on CUPW numerous times. Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives legislated postal workers back to work in 1987 and again in 1991. Six years later, it was the Liberals’ turn – under then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien – to remove the right to strike from postal workers. The latest back-to-work legislation was tabled by the Conservatives during the previous round of bargaining in 2011. But CUPW is not the only union that has faced such state repression of their democratic rights. CP Rail workers also suffered this predicament four year ago. Air Canada workers faced three back-to-work orders in the last five years.
A couple of months ago, the Liberal government announced that they would not intervene to legislate an end to any labour dispute. But when Global News tried to contact Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk on Monday to confirm that the government would not table back-to-work legislation in the event of strike or lockout, there was no response from her office. The Prime Minister’s Office was also silent on this matter when contacted by the media. What this means is that the workers cannot rely on promises from the Liberals. They can only trust their own strength, and class solidarity from their brothers and sisters all over Canada.
After scoring a significant victory five years ago against CUPW, Canada Post management is confident they can deliver another blow. The past leadership of CUPW came under significant rank-and-file criticism for this defeat and a new union president, Mike Palecek, from the militant left of the union was elected one year ago. The union has highlighted the fact that Canada Post has been posting significant profits over the past years. It is therefore clear that it is not a question of whether or not Canada Post’s book is in the red or in the black. It has become a political crusade on the part of management to crush CUPW, one of the most important unions in Canada. It is up to the workers who possess enormous strength in numbers to stop the Harper appointed apparatchiks in their tracks, and kick them to the curb. The new union leadership faces a significant test as to whether they can fulfill the promise of their mandate.
To win, the workers and their leadership have to be ready and willing to go beyond what is considered a “normal” trade union struggle. It is not enough to just take a strike vote and organize strong and militant picket lines. These picket lines have to be ready to defy back-to-work legislation if and when it comes. If the bosses can defeat the struggle of workers by passing a piece of paper through parliament, as they did in 2011, it will simply pave the way for further attacks and concessions.
Furthermore, it is in the interest of the whole labour movement that CUPW wins, beats back Canada Post Corporation, and is able to resist any back-to-work legislation imposed on them. It is this belligerent management that should face downsizing, not the postal workers and their families. A victory by CUPW could reignite the labour movement and inspire other workers to fight back against the continuing assault on their standard of living. For that very reason the labour movement has to be ready to mobilize flying picket squads and take whatever solidarity actions are necessary. Mere verbal support just doesn’t cut it in times like these – an injury to one is an injury to all. All around the world bosses and governments of all political stripes are demanding cutbacks from the workers, and they have become more and more vicious and unforgiving in their methods. Workers have no other option than to fight back with a relentless spirit. Victory to the postal workers!