By Cindy McCallum Miller
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
CUPW commenced negotiations for its urban bargaining unit in October 2010. Within hours of presenting their demands to the union's bargaining committee, management representatives met with members at work, promoting the corporation's proposals in a well-coordinated campaign to cause confusion and division among the membership. Canada Post Corporation (CPC) intends to roll back decades of progress and introduce a new category of more highly exploited workers into the urban workforce. They are overtly encouraging existing employees to sacrifice their future co-workers in the name of management's "Modern Post" scheme.
Everywhere we look we can see how corporations and governments are attempting to force concessions on workers and attack fundamental principles of workplace safety, job and economic security, reducing wages and benefits to an unacceptable level. What's happening at Canada Post is no exception. CPC wants to gut our collective agreement for the next wave of workers as they plan for a future where workers have weaker rights, benefits and protection.
With sixteen consecutive profitable years for CPC and the Modern Post as the backdrop to negotiations, CUPW's demands are simple. They fall under the themes of respect, equality and the right to share in the benefits of technology. In contrast, CPC wants to roll portions of our collective agreement back to the 1970s.
Another important goal of CPC is to change the collective agreement so that employees hired after the signing of the new contract would be paid at a much lower rate and be required to work seven years to reach the same maximum rate that current employees earn. New employees would also have to work longer before seeing an increase in vacation leave, and would have an inferior pension plan. CPC also plans to reduce the maximum amount of vacation time for postal workers from seven weeks to six weeks for workers with 28 years of service. These concessions violate CUPW's fundamental principle of equality.
The stakes are high for CUPW, the labour movement and the future of public services, including the post office. During recent minority Tory governments, Harper's ministers said they had no plans to privatize the post office, but allowed partial deregulation, preparing for the future. CUPW's diligence in working with communities has been an important strategy to counter attempts by capitalist think-tanks to diminish the importance of postal service. Now that the Tories have a majority, we will see what they really want to do to postal services.
On May 17, CPC presented a new proposal showing negligible movement. CPC appears ready to gamble on whether or not the members will act on the record-high 95% strike mandate to fight for our future. With the election of a majority Conservative government, perhaps management believes there is an opportunity to achieve their goals by having parliament impose them through legislation?
Unions are the only entities capable of blocking the dismantling of our rights and social infrastructure but in order to do that we have to mobilize our membership to take on the government's agenda. At what point does labour say enough is enough and really mean it? This is the first pan-Canadian labour confrontation in post-election Harper Canada. If CPC obtains the concessions they seek, who is next? CPC anticipates an immediate flood of retirements and many militants of the 1980s have already gone. The leaderships of other unions are supporting CUPW in this struggle but the test will be to see how that support will manifest itself.
CUPW faces many challenges. The majority of members have never experienced a lengthy strike, and in many cases have never taken strike action. The combination of inexperience at the rank and file level of the union, the virulent animosity demonstrated by CPC management and an anti-labour government create an unpredictable situation for the union. This round of bargaining will make an indelible mark on the future of the post office. The determination and strength of the membership will be the key to what that future looks like.
Cindy McCallum Miller is a long-time union activist and former National Director for the Prairie Region of CUPW who is currently a rank and file postal worker in Castlegar, BC.