President’s report on the 2022 regional conference (revised version of Dec. GMM President's report)
There were many CUPW members attending the prairie region conference in November. Each and every one bringing their own experiences, beliefs and values. This diversity of experience is the strength of a democratic organization. But by the end of a very long stressful week this diversity felt as if it had become confrontational rather than complimentary.
While the conference itself ran from Nov 24th – the 27th, the other full-time officers and myself participated in the resolutions committee that took place the proceeding four days. The objective of the entire eight days was to debate and pass resolutions. These resolutions are the proposed changes to the constitution and policies of our union. They had been sent from locals throughout the Prairie Region, and any resolutions that passed the conference will be sent to National Convention, to be voted on at the national level.
These resolutions ran the gamut from something as benign as the mileage rate we pay to those doing union business, to something as emotionally charged as a policy regarding gender affirming surgeries. After many twelve- and fifteen-hour days, for some of us at least, the conference floor became pretty charged.
Even with nearly two hundred delegates, all bringing their own views and experience, there were only a few different categories that stuck out to me. Of course, there was a strong voice for change and organizing, with the Edmonton Local contributing many of those voices. Then there was the more conservative group seemingly concerned with protecting the proceduralism within the union. The last group I’d like to discuss is a very small group of individuals that decided to speak against some of the more “socially progressive resolutions”.
Let me start with this small group. Of them, only a few individuals were willing to step up to the microphone and share their views that run very contrary to the values of our union. Although being able to hold a space open for conflicting views is a corner stone of a democracy, many delegates felt that some of the comments made crossed over to hate. I encourage you to read the reports from some of the other Edmonton delegates for more perspectives regarding this situation. At no time can we as an organization tolerate hate speech, we need to address it immediately and firmly.
We need to be able to have those hard conversation with people. Confronting these ideas head on is important because we have to realize that these ideas exist within our membership. If they go unchecked, they can spread unnoticed. Outside of the obvious reason why I’m addressing this is that we need to understand this is a tool of the ruling class to suppress the working class. These dog whistle topics are used to stir up anger and fear on “both sides”. As long as workers spend more energy fighting amongst themselves, those in power that are actively repressing workers will remain unthreatened.
The second conference group up for discussion are the proceduralists. It would be easy to observe this group and think that they are more concerned with the rules of order than they are with the progress of our Union. This would be a wrong assessment, in most cases anyways. Another false sentiment is that those that seem protective of the grievance/arbitration/rule can be defined by age. There has been a number of comments along the lines of “the old people”. Comments like this do nothing but erode any solidarity within our union. Over the week it became more apparent to me how wrong both these two assessments are.
To start with there is no age restrictions either way. Those that hold these views could have been at their first conference or their sixth. The other false appraisal, being that they only care for the rules of order, is completely unfounded. Having spent a significant amount of time with them I can assure you that they genuinely want to make our union stronger. They deeply and passionately want to improve and protect the jobs and lives of postal workers.
With that said, I do need to address the weaknesses of this proceduralist mentality. Often times throughout the week the discussion would get completely sidetracked from the resolution on the floor. For example, everyone in the room would acknowledge that the Local(s)had put forward a resolution to help temporary workers out by waving their dues unless they work a certain number of hours in a month. Instead of focusing on this we would get sidetracked and spend an hour discussing the wording, grammatical or punctuation errors in the resolution. Again, this was done from a good heart. But the result was half the resolutions sent to the committee not being heard on the conference floor.
Strangely the resolutions that were asking for more funding or workers for the grievance system, didn’t get sidetracked as much. It’s as if the organizing models being proposed are threatening to them. The reality is that we need both. I think of it as a football team. With the grievance and arbitration system being the defensive team. The organizing being the offensive team. We need both! But we keep asking for more defensive linemen hoping to score a touchdown. We already have a world class defensive line, what we need is to score some touchdowns.
Which brings me to the last group at the conference. A very vocal group, standing up and speaking for change. Both new and more seasoned members, hungry for progress. But it wasn’t a hollow cry of somebody to “do something”. Instead, it was members from across the region speaking up for a plan. A plan for our union to take member engagement seriously. To shake off the cobwebs from regional and national offices, forcing them to be more accountable to the membership.
This third group made it clear that we need to adopt a bolder response to the attacks that the working class have been under for the last number of decades. The resolutions that they supported ranged from predatory real estate practices, to a drastic increase in strike pay, to a national organizing campaign to prepare postal workers to confront back to work legislation. These delegates spoke with passion and a dedication to actually make gains for working people across this country.
They boldly stood up to confront the hate being shared at the microphones. They we're quick to question the mentality of this is the way it's always been done. They realize, to be truly progressive one has to speak up for change whether that change is to mindsets or to an organization structure.
It was inspiring to see these voices coming from not just Edmonton but from locals across the region. voices from Red Deer, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Regina, and probably a few more that I'm forgetting. It was clear to me in that room that there's every day postal workers ready to fight. They're ready to fight for significant and lasting change in the Post Office and in Canada. The reason why I felt so encouraged was because we were speaking as if they knew that this wasn't going to be easy. That it's going to take a lot of work.
The vast majority of the delegates are rank and file members. They're P04’s and RSMC's and Letter Carriers. They're chosen by the membership to represent their locals. Ideally, we elect them long before it's time to send them to conference. This is so that the members know who's going to be representing them. After conference when they return it's their reports that inform the membership of how well they did. These delegate reports, that are a requirement within our bylaws, are very important feature in our democratic process. As they allow the membership to see if their voice is being heard.
It's imperative in a representative democracy to have the right people in the room.
Every member in good standing has the right to attend general membership meetings and seek nomination to be a delegate. On January 7th our local will be electing 24 delegates to go to national convention later in the spring. These 24 will be selected from the 31 that went to regional conference. It's the memberships responsibility to make sure that those elected will be the right ones to represent the local. Of our 31 delegates there were members from each of those groups that I described. Is that who we want to send to national? Is that who we want to be the voice in the room?