An excerpt from my last update on C19 bears repeating: After months of pretending everything is fine, the Kenney government was forced to acknowledge our escalating public health crisis by announcing improved safety measures and declaring a state of emergency on Nov 24. The question now is: will the measures be enough, soon enough, to prevent a full-scale collapse of our health system? This is of dire relevance to our members because, as the provincial government gambles with our health and cases keep rising in Edmonton, the probability of more of our members getting infected, drastically increases. Over the past three weeks around 30 our members tested, or are presumptive, C19 positive.
With reports of a vaccine on the horizon we need to remain vigilant for just a little while longer. The health measures established have been effective at preventing internal outbreak but reports indicate that fatigue is creating gaps in protocol. As tired as we all are, we must remember to always think, and act, for the collective well-being of our workfloors. Delivery commitments are suspended and our office is receiving zero resistance when acting on member complaints of CPC falling asleep at the wheel. There is absolutely no reason for any postal worker, regardless of classification, to rush, or allow themselves to work in a situation where health protocol is not being maintained. We have visible activists and stewards everywhere in our local that are there to help you with your concerns or organize a group response, and our office is always here to support you in asserting your rights. No one has to face this crisis alone.
On Nov 20-22, all local presidents, full-time officers, and Regional officers met with the National Executive for the National President’s video conference meeting. These meetings are mandated in our constitution to follow every new contract coming into effect. It would make sense for our members to assume a once-every-four-years meeting like this would be the ideal opportunity for our organization to lay out a strategy on how to avoid repeating the decades long cycle of defeat we find ourselves in. Instead, out of the 24 hours we met, 23 of those hours were committed to reiterating, and discussing, contract changes already released in bulletins after the McPherson arbitration, and how to grieve them once CPC violates them. Only one sentence was given to how we might strengthen our union outside of the bureaucratic procedural maneuvers of the consult-grievance model. To paraphrase Jan Simpson in her National President’s report: “We must mobilize our members to win a freely negotiated collective agreement.” No explanation of what that means, or any details of a plan on how to get there even though we are less than 18 months away from bargaining talks.
Presentations given by our National Executive during an event like this are not fundamentally different from the report I am giving right now: it is an opportunity for elected leadership to offer an analysis of what challenges our organization is facing followed by advocating a direction how those challenges can be confronted. What isn’t said can be just as meaningful as what is said. Instead of exploring how our union might tangibly earn back credibility in the eyes of our members and organize our workfloors to meaningfully fight CPC and government offensives, the dominant perspective advocated by our National Executive at this meeting was how unfair it was that the arbitrator ignored our arguments and witness testimonies. If we only look at the world through the eyes of a lawyer, of course everything begins to look like a courtroom. Here’s an honest question that every union worker should ask themselves: how well has this individualised procedural approach served a movement that draws its fundamental strength from its ability to muster collective action?
This analysis is not shared for the sake of negativity or criticism; it is shared so that we may realistically evaluate a way forward to actually improve our lives as workers. It is a waste of energy to expect our current National leadership to be anything but what they have already shown us to be: people who see the struggle as mostly taking place in a courtroom instead of on a workfloor or picket line. If our current leadership was capable, or willing, of advocating an organizing programme they would have simply already done so, or at least amplified the efforts of those, like our local, who have persistently asked it of them. Of course, we should always demand this change of our leadership, but that is very different from actively investing our hope in that expectation. If they miraculously change for whatever reason, we will welcome that change, but it would be foolish of us to remain idle waiting on it.
Where does that leave us then? As devastating as this pandemic has been from a public health perspective, it has also crippled our local’s ability to travel to other locals to help train them on how to build capacity to organize their own workfloors. Facebook posts, tweets, websites and zoom calls are fine for sharing information, but they can never substitute physically training groups of people to take on the intimidating and difficult task of building collective power, and organizing our workfloors. No one would expect our grievance officers to successfully navigate an arbitration without training, why would successfully organizing groups of people afraid of repercussions be any different? Inoculating people to successfully confront power in a sustained manner is one of the hardest things to do; if it was easy, the world would not be the unjust, corrupt, place that it is. Deliberate organizer training is essential to our success as a union. The only power I have as an office bureaucrat is to dismantle gatekeeping and use my influence to encourage members to embrace collective empowerment. Beyond that, the only meaningful power we can draw from rests in the hands of wherever the working class is united to fight for their own interests.
The next round of negotiations is only a year and a half away. National will not be mentoring other locals on how to organize their membership despite our local giving them a detailed plan on how to do so, and even begging to help. We need to find ways to effectively do this kind of outreach ourselves until we can get back to a physical training model post-pandemic. We are running out of time and need to adjust accordingly.
On an uplifting note, a powerful display of workfloor direct action has emerged in Winnipeg over the past couple of weeks. For years and reasons unknown, CPC management in Winnipeg refused to implement an equal opportunity list for overtime assignments despite union requests and grievances. This obstinance led to CPC relying mostly on egregious favoritism and improper staffing. Finally fed up, almost the entire McDermot depot coordinated a full OT refusal for the entire past week. Now, after ignoring them for so long, it only took a few days for management to agree to use an opportunity list and beg the workers to start doing overtime again.
Other than the obvious difference of efficacy between workfloor organizing and grievance proceduralism, this inspiring example highlights how much easier it is to coordinate actions, and how much more leverage we have now that overtime is no longer mandatory for the overwhelming majority of our membership. CPC is operating well over capacity, and is trying to squeeze more work from an already overburdened labour force. If all any of us did was work safely, not rush to get done, and brought back undelivered product at the end of every regular shift, CPC would be forced to bring in more staff to make sure operations wouldn’t collapse on itself. They know how strained the system is, which is why they are sending out tone-deaf care-packages with psychedelic-themed stamps emblematic of their dissociation from how frustrated postal workers actually feel.
The existence of the pandemic does not change our primary goal of arming enough of our union with the tools to mount a sizable resistance to CPC maneuvers and government repression. As long as we continue to do our part in nurturing a spirit of solidarity and supporting any workfloor organizing efforts in CUPW, in our local and beyond, we will be tangibly building towards revitalizing our union. We wholeheartedly commend the efforts of our comrades in Winnipeg and eagerly look forward to resuming our organizer training collaboration with them as soon as that is possible.
President, CUPW 730