I have been an employee at Canada Post for almost 33 years. I have been on strike, locked-out and legislated back to work numerous times. I have been witness to the many tactics and attacks that Canada Post and the Federal Government-of-the-day have tried, but this all started before my time at Canada Post.
In 1965 it was an announcement by the government (unilaterally) that postal workers would get a wage increase of $360 a year. This did not sit well with workers and this was the start of our first strike and union. At the end of three weeks on the picket line workers went back to work and after negotiations postal workers had gained higher wages than what the government was offering. Mail handlers received $510 not the $300 that was offered and other workers received $550 not the $360 that was originally offered.
In the mid-seventies there was continual interference by government(s) that lead to several strikes, legal and illegal. Also in that period of time was when we first encountered technological change. In 1976 there were 21 notices of technological change. With the move to implement Modern Post, I could not tell you the number of notices of technological change that the union has received in the last 3-4 years.
The 70’s was also a time when Canada Post would disregard and violate our rights under the collective agreement and pretty much do what they wanted without meaningful consultation and without regard for the workers…..sound familiar yet?
I found a booklet from 1979 “Postal Workers’ Struggle Continues” in the office and on the cover was the following:
Confronted with an employer who wants to mechanize the post office at their expense, who refuses to honor their collective agreement, who refuses to acknowledge their right to negotiate, and who resorts to any number of repressive measures to impose his will upon them, the 23,000 postal workers in Canada are in the midst of a long struggle to win the right to negotiate the effects of technological change, defend their job security, improve their working conditions, ensure compliance with their collective agreement, and win back the freedom to bargain. The consequences of their success or failure will be felt throughout the whole labour movement. To win they need the solidarity and concrete support of all workers.
I found this very ironic and inspiring at the same time. Inspiring because the struggles that we are facing today are so much like the struggles those workers before you and me faced. Ironic because the attacks the CUPW and labour as a whole are facing under the Harper government are unprecedented. In the last month in the news there have been several stories about the following anti-labour legislation: Bill C-377, Bill C-60 and finally Bill C-525 (the hat trick)
Bill C-377 was passed in the House of Commons and is now before the senate. It is a Bill that will restrict what unions can do with the union dues they receive and will also force unions and every Labour organization in Canada to file detailed financial information, including the names and addresses of companies and individuals paid more than $5,000 cumulatively in a year. This information would be posted publicly on a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website. The government tells us that this is about union transparency. In fact, it is more about helping employers, the Conservative Party and special interest groups with close ties to them. The government seems determined to ram C-377 through, even though legal and privacy experts have testified the Bill is likely unconstitutional. It is estimated that it will cost the Harper government anywhere from $32 million to $45 million a year to set up a regime and oversee compliance of Bill C-377. As for Bill C-60 this bill would insert the federal government-of-the-day, through a Treasury Board representative, into the collective bargaining process at Canada Post and other Crown Corporations. The government would approve the employer’s demands, and would make the final call on whether the employer can sign a new collective agreement. At Canada Post we already know what it is like when the government interferes at the negotiating table. In 2011, the Harper Conservative government decided to impose even lower wages on postal workers than what Canada Post had put on the table. Under C-60, the government’s offer would be the only offer on the table. Bill C-525 would make it more difficult to organize workers in the federal sector into unions and easier to decertify workers. One way this is possible is by moving to a vote-based certification system. This gives employers a greater opportunity to scare and pressure workers to vote no. A card-based certification system works. It requires a majority of all workers in the bargaining unit to sign a card in favour of the union.
Bills C-377, C-60 and C-525 are attacks on unions. The Harper government is intent on reducing the power and strength of workers’ collective voices. The aim of these Bills is to subject all levels of our union to outrageous government regulation and control. Postal workers know the Harper government is not our friend. As workers, we need to stand united against these attacks on our rights.
I was inspired by the quote on the cover of the booklet because is showed me that those workers before us had the same kind of struggles and challenges that we 54,000 postal workers face today, I for one know that I have benefited greatly from the struggles of those before me. I would hope that my efforts as a union activist will result in benefits for future postal workers and other workers. The workers of the past had enough and took a stand. They were successful and we have benefited. I think today we may have more to lose but I am not sure if we can get past our complacency and take a chance like the workers before us did.
Will we have to go back to the 12 or 16 hour day with no compensation before we fight back?
Will we have to quit our jobs to raise our children before we fight back?
What will Canada Post and/or the Harper government take away from workers (not just postal workers but all workers) before the workers say enough is enough and take a stand against these attacks? If you are truly interested in seeing the similarities of the postal worker from the 70’s and the postal worker of today you should read” My Union, My Life” by J.C. Parrot. It will give you something to think about ……
Cathy Furtak, Secretary-Treasurer