Spartacist Canada No. 190
Defeat Canada Post Assault on Jobs, Pensions!
The Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste statement below was issued on July 9, just before Canada Post withdrew a threat to lock out the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). For the next seven weeks, the postal bosses stonewalled. However, the union held firm in its demands and on August 30 a tentative two-year agreement was announced. Importantly, CUPW was able to push back—for now—the attack on the union pension plan. Meanwhile, pay equity for rural mail carriers has been referred to a “third-party report.” As the union noted in an August 31 statement, “Many of our issues are unresolved. Members should not believe for a second that we will win without a fight.”
It is clear that the Liberal government intervened to push through the settlement, overriding Canada Post’s hardline Tory-appointed management. The Liberals wish to maintain their current links to the trade-union bureaucracy and thus seek for the moment to avoid a frontal attack on the unions. For their part, many key labour leaders continue to foster illusions in Justin Trudeau as a “friend of labour.” This was evident at the late August convention of Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, which welcomed Trudeau with a standing ovation while the union’s president Jerry Dias sang his hosannas. As our leaflet emphasizes, the workers can only go forward through class struggle against the capitalists and their governments, whether represented by the openly labour-hating Tories, the Liberals or indeed the NDP social democrats.
The capitalist rulers have long worked to set workers against one another along national as well as racial, religious and other lines in order to block and defeat their struggles. Against this, labour’s battles need to be infused with the understanding that the working class must champion the interests of all the oppressed, including the national rights of the Québécois.
The “illegal” postal strike of 1965, which was crucial to public sector workers winning the right to strike and form unions, began in Quebec, where opposition to national oppression was then fuelling an increase in class struggle. As we wrote in an earlier article: “Instead of solidarity, the struggles of Québécois workers in this period often met with chauvinism from the NDP and the Canadian Labour Congress misleaders. This in turn pushed Québécois workers into the arms of their own class enemies, represented by the bourgeois-nationalist Parti Québécois. We advocate independence for Quebec in order to fight Anglo chauvinism and lay the basis for making clear to the workers of both English Canada and Quebec that their enemies are their own respective capitalists, not each other” (“All Labour Must Stand With CUPW!” SC No. 169, Summer 2011).
The leaflet below was distributed at CUPW work locations and rallies including in Montreal, where more than 1,000 workers marched to Trudeau’s constituency office on August 6.
All Labour Must Stand with CUPW
Canada Post’s threat to lock out 50,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) is a declaration of war on the labour movement. This is the first major countrywide labour confrontation since the election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, which was hailed by prominent union leaders as a harbinger of “progressive” change. This concerted attack by a federal crown corporation on one of the largest public sector unions demonstrates the futility of such illusions and underscores that the Liberals, no less than the Harper Tories, are class enemies, not allies, of working people and the poor.
The Canada Post bosses want steep concessions on job security and benefits, especially pensions. They want to bar all new hires from the existing defined benefit plan and force them into a bogus “defined contribution” scheme. Instead of getting a guaranteed monthly amount in retirement, such workers would be completely at the mercy of the stock market. This is a typical capitalist ruse to divide the workers, which CUPW has vowed to resist. The union is also demanding pay equity for the largely female rural mail carriers, who make on average 28 percent less than their urban counterparts.
CUPW’s fight is in the immediate interest of all working people. Pensions in the private sector have been under sustained attack for decades. Now Canada Post has taken the opening shot in a drive to dismantle public sector pensions. The anarchic capitalist system is incapable of providing financial security for working people who face increasing immiseration. It is outrageous that there aren’t full pensions for everyone!
If Canada Post gets away with its assault, the results will hit the struggles of all workers, especially in the public sector. Already the Liberal government is demanding concessions in its contract negotiations with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), leading union president Robyn Benson to comment, “We thought we would get something new from the Liberals, not the same old.”
Canada Post’s current offensive is a continuation of its longstanding drive against CUPW. In 2011, facing demands to surrender hard-won gains, the union carried out rotating strikes. The corporation responded with a lockout, after which the Harper government enacted back-to-work legislation that set out a settlement worse than management’s offer and threatened heavy fines. In the end, union negotiators accepted an agreement that included previously rejected concessions like a two-tier wage scheme for new hires. Despite opposition in many CUPW locals, it was reluctantly ratified by the membership. CUPW also waged a legal challenge against the back-to-work law and in April of this year the Ontario Superior Court declared it unconstitutional.
The union’s legal victory has not, however, reversed decades of defeats that have buffeted this workforce. This was aptly captured by a 31-year-veteran postal worker who told a National Post reporter that “with every contract I have lost something.” Management’s attacks have resulted in more and more temporary, contract and casual workers with poor benefits and job security. Thousands of non-union, low-wage workers now staff postal franchises across the country.
While opposing Canada Post’s current onslaught, the CUPW leaders have accepted the framework of seeking corporate profitability, including through their campaigns for reforms such as a postal bank. But advancing the interests of workers and the poor requires mobilizing the social power of labour, not relying on the bosses’ courts or being in thrall to their profit motive. Labour has won its victories through the methods of class struggle—strikes, mass picket lines, factory occupations and hot-cargoing (refusing to handle) struck goods.
The “illegal” postal strike of 1965 was key in winning public sector workers the right to strike and form unions. Over the decades, strikebreaking injunctions and state repression have been repeatedly wielded against the postal unions. Cops have busted up picket lines and raided union offices. In 1980 CUPW president Jean-Claude Parrot spent two months in prison for defying strikebreaking legislation by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau. The Ontario NDP government jailed the president of the CUPW Toronto local, Andre Kolompar, and other union members for defending their picket lines during a 1991 strike. This points to how the NDP, when it gets a chance to rule provincially, always serves the interests of the capitalist class.
Lockouts are a tool of the bosses to tear greater concessions from the unions or to outright destroy them. With the proliferation of electronic communications and private couriers, CUPW faces an objectively more difficult situation today than in the days when Canada Post had a virtual monopoly of mail distribution. But this battle can be won. For a start, the other unions at Canada Post, like the clerical workers organized by PSAC, must stand with CUPW. Picket lines mean don’t cross!
Active solidarity across the labour movement, particularly by the Teamster-organized workers at Purolator and UPS, could put wind in the sails of the postal workers and serve notice to Canada Post that CUPW does not stand alone. And it’s not just the unions—students and other youth who face a grim future of lousy jobs and no pensions have every interest in joining CUPW’s fight. A struggle that beats back Canada Post’s attack would also lay the basis for organizing the non-union postal franchises and the merger of all postal workers into one industrial union.
On top of its other attacks, the corporation has threatened to scrap up to 8,000 jobs including through mechanization schemes. Under capitalism, technological advances are always used to beef up profits with workers being thrown onto the scrap heap. In a rational society, technology would be put in the service of working people, allowing for reduced workdays, higher pay, better working conditions and more leisure: a world where the wealth of society would be used for the benefit of all. But that requires a struggle to sweep away the irrational capitalist system and replace it with a society where those who labour rule.
For the capitalist exploiters, the bottom line is primary. However, mail (including parcels) is a service necessary to the functioning of society, like garbage collection, running water, public transit, education and medicare. Across the country and on all levels, such public services—and the people whose labour makes them run—are under attack. Ever larger numbers must struggle for the necessities of life: jobs, health care, affordable housing. To defend gains already wrested from the bosses and fight to extend them will take hard struggle centred on the power of labour. In this way, the unions can give a lead to those hit hardest by capitalist austerity: low-wage and temporary workers, Native peoples, immigrants and other minorities, students drowning in debt.
For years the labour tops have strangled the enormous potential social power of the working class, negotiating givebacks and concessions and gravely weakening the unions. Reversing the cycle of defeats requires an understanding that the workers have no common interest with the capitalist exploiters, regardless of whether they are represented by the frothing Tories or the smiling Liberals. In the course of hard-fought battles union militants will be able to forge a new, class-struggle leadership throughout the labour movement—one that stands for the complete independence of the working class from the capitalists’ government, parties and politicians.
This is not simply a question of militancy but of arming the workers with an understanding of the nature of capitalist society and of their own power and historic interests as a class. This requires a revolutionary workers party whose purpose is not simply to defend the working class from devastation and ruin, but to expropriate the capitalist class and build a planned socialist economy.