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June 23, 2011

Postal Workers: Retreat or Occupy?

SS Editorial

Postal Strike

The Harper Conservative government has introduced a punitive back to work bill for postal workers that virtually forces the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to negotiate with Canada Post on the employer’s terms.

Bill C-6, likely to be passed in the coming week if CUPW doesn’t sign a new agreement, will impose a lesser wage settlement than what is being currently offered, some $875 less over four years. All other issues will be settled by an arbitrator, who will pick one side’s final offer, i.e., there will be no compromises.

There will also be very serious penalties if the union defies the law: $1000 per individual; $50,000 per union officer; $100,000 for the union per day will be levied.

The Conservative claim that the rotating strikes from June 3 threaten the national economic recovery is nonsense. What is threatened are Canada Post’s profits from which the corporation is going to fund cutting 7000 jobs with new technology, establish a two tier wage system for new hires, and dramatically worsen benefits in eliminating sick banks and defined benefit pensions. That is why Canada Post moved to a lockout and why Harper’s Tories are prepared to lend a helping hand.

Postal workers have responded with rallies and occupations of Conservative MP’s offices. Letters of support and community leafleting, pioneered by the Halifax District Labour Council, have been organized as well.

But more can be done. Rallies and symbolic occupations – and what about occupying Labour Minister Lisa Raitt’s office – make important statements about the blatant class war character of Conservative interventions. One has only to look at the Air Canada strike to see how the Tories contributed to the making of a strike and to forcing arbitration that puts concessions about pensions to the fore.

But what about occupying Canada Post – one’s workplace – now before the penalties of C-6 become law? And how can the CLC organize solidarity actions, and a solidarity fund to deal with the penalties, if postal workers choose to defy the legislation?

A powerful message is being sent by the new Conservative majority government that they are prepared to use state power to coerce favorable employer outcomes in collective bargaining. This is especially true in singling out postal workers who have been in the vanguard of militant labour actions in the past.

One response by organized labour will be a call to vote for the NDP. But there are four long years until the next election. Relying on our own economic power will have to be explored as more and more private and public sector workers face the brunt of a conjunction of employer greed and austerity politics.