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Sincerely, the Working Class

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Issue: 78 Section: Labour Geography: Canada Topics: back-to-work legislation, direct action, labour, unions

June 22, 2011

Sincerely, the Working Class

Postal workers supported across Canada

by The Media Co-op

WINNIPEG—More than 2,500 people rallied in Winnipeg on Monday in support of postal workers' demands for fair, equitable and living wages. Photo: CUPW Winnipeg Local 856

"We want this for all Canadians; that's what this should be about for people."

Nadine Kays, who worked for four years as a casual letter carrier part-time on the midnight shift before she moved up in the ranks at Canada Post, was talking about the strike action taken by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) early this month. The union's actions—insisting on fair, equitable and living wages for postal workers in Canada—are part of a larger labour movement in Canada.

Public criticism directed at the union for its insistence on maintaining a living wage for its workers, she said, is an unfortunate reflection of a society whose expectations as a workforce are too low.

"No-one should live paycheck-to-paycheck. What's wrong with making a living wage coming out of high school or university?" she said.

CUPW began a 24-hour strike in Winnipeg on June 3, rotating the strike to other locations.

In early June, CUPW National President Denis Lemelin said the union had been trying to get Canada Post to deal with service and health and safety problems for more than three years but management refused.

Consequently, the union was forced to bring these issues to the bargaining table.

“We have a dangerous workplace that needs to be fixed but Canada Post won’t listen to us,” said Lemelin in a press release.

“The strike's purpose is to create leverage in order to encourage Canada Post to abandon its dangerous approach to modernization and their many concessions. The goal is still the same. We want to negotiate solutions [but] we cannot accept unsafe and unfair conditions."

CUPW's attempts to negotiate on the issues of pensions, workplace health and safety and sick leave have been blocked by Canada Post. After eight months in negotiations, Canada Post has made no concessions.

On June 14, Canada Post locked out its nearly 50,000 urban postal operations employees after 12 days of rotating strikes organized by the union.

On June 20, Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt introduced back-to-work legislation to force locked-out Canada Post employees back to work.

All the while, community rallies, sit-ins, lock-outs and other public support actions have been organized across Canada in solidarity with postal workers' right to collective bargaining.

“[CUPW] stood next to me and my causes and beliefs in so many demonstrations” said Ottawa activist Kevin Donaghy explaining his presence at a local rally. “The public at large and the public sector is under attack. This is the beginning of the onslaught over the next four years with the Harper majority.”

Guy Laflamme of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 1979 said his union supports CUPW because it has been at the forefront of social justice struggles from maternity leave, to rights for gays and lesbians and rights for immigrant workers.

“This is the first big challenge for social and labour movements since the election of the Harper government. I think it is even more important that we be present and show that we will not let ourselves be trampled,” he said.

The base of public support across Canada for postal workers' right to strike is wide, as these images show. Canadians across the country stand with postal workers and their union's fundamental right to collectively negotiate the terms and conditions of employment on behalf of its 48,000 postal worker members.

SYDNEY—Sydney rallied for postal workers on Saturday, June 18. Support for the labour movement in Sydney is particularly strong; the poignant history of coal mining in the city spurred radical labour organizing by miners who rejected capitalist take-over of their labour. image by Suzanne MacNeil
HALIFAX—Haligonians support postal workers at the picket line on June 14, the first day of the lock-out. According to Dianne Pickering of CUPW Nova Local, "Most of the public is hearing from the mainstream media and they're only getting half-truths. We're not out here fighting because we're greedy or lazy. We're fighting for the public. It's their postal service: they own it, not Canada Post. We're fighting to keep these decent paying jobs in the community." image by Rebecca Rose
OTTAWA—A rally outside the Canada Post Station at Sparks and Elgin in Ottawa on June 4 attracted labour activists representing a variety of unions as well as community activists who are organizing through online networks such as People.4.PostalWorkers. CUPW National President Denis Lemelin called the multitude of unions and community groups at the Ottawa rally “formidable.” image by Sebastien Labelle
GATINEAU—Hundreds of students attending the Canadian Federation of Students' (CFS) annual national conference joined a rally to support postal workers in Gatineau, chanting, “Workers and students 100 per cent united!” “This attack by Canada Post on postal workers is one and the same with the trend that sees the public sector and public services being attacked on all sides” according to Gabe Hoogers, Nova Scotia National Executive Representative for the CFS. image by Sebastien Labelle
FREDERICTON—Students in Fredericton oppose the denial by the Harper government of workers' rights to negotiate through their union. “The rhetoric of austerity measures has led this charge against workers as well as students and we've seen that rhetoric used in increasing tuition fees as well as lowering the amount of funding going to universities as a whole,” said Gabe Hoogers, Nova Scotia National Executive Representative for the CFS, at a rally in Gatineau earlier this month. image by Tracy Glynn
HALIFAX—Students in Halifax rallied on Saturday, June 18, to support postal workers. image by Rebecca Rose
GUELPH—"Harper Stop Bullying Us. That's Our Bosses' Job!" image by CUPW Guelph Local 546
MONTREAL—Banner drop by CUPW Montreal and their supporters on June 20 at the Cavendish overpass on highway 40 in Montreal. image by Claire Nicolson-Hurtig
SYDNEY—Sydney labour organizers and supporters painted placards (and enjoyed the banjo) at a "leftie slumber party," prior to a CUPW support rally that attracted hundreds of people in downtown Sydney. image by Suzanne MacNeil
FREDERICTON—Saint Thomas University faculty association stands in solidarity with postal workers' right to strike. Yesterday, CUPW members occupied MP Keith Ashfield's office, demanding that their representative vote against back-to-work legislation. They were removed by police. image by Tracy Glynn
EDMONTON—Postal workers in Edmonton locked their bosses out of their offices on Monday. Canada Post has locked postal workers out of their jobs since June 14, bringing postal delivery to a halt. Previously, CUPW had organized its workers in rotating strikes to protest unfair and unsafe working conditions. More than 1,000 people rallied on Monday in solidarity with CUPW. image by P. Gage
NORTH VANCOUVER—RCMP briefly arrested four CUPW postal workers who occupied the downtown community office of Conservative MP Andrew Saxton yesterday, refusing to leave until the Harper government reverses its decision to invoke back-to-work legislation. The RCMP said they relayed the group's ultimatum to Saxton in Ottawa, but had to make the arrests on a charge of assault by trespass after Saxton's office staff complained. About 50 fellow workers and supporters held a noisy information picket and drivers were constantly honking to show support for the locked-out workers. image by Murray Bush/flux photo
VANCOUVER—"Postal workers and the communities we serve are united in opposition to any legislation that takes away our rights to free collective bargaining," said Mike Palacek, a postal worker from Vancouver who occupied North Vancouver MP Andrew Saxton’s office. image by an Unknown Postie
HALIFAX—Jugglers Devo and Mike were on hand to celebrate community support for the picketing postal workers at Thursday's rally in Halifax. "This [rally] is what the labour movement is all about," said Donna Mendez, First Vice President of CUPW Nova Local. "It's about acknowledgment and support from the community in our quest for fair and equitable negotiations." Photo: Moira Peters

The Dominion Editorial Collective, along with several other independent Canadian magazines, responded yesterday to a letter issued by Magazines Canada supporting Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt's introduction of back-to-work legislation. The Dominion is a member publication of Magazines Canada, a distributor of Canadian magazines.

For more breaking grassroots coverage of working class issues, visit the Media Co-op. For local coverage of postal workers' resistance to back-to-work legislation and public support for CUPW, visit the Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver Media Co-ops, as well as our sister organization, the NB Media Co-op.

Photo essay compiled by Moira Peters of the Dominion Editorial Collective, with files from Murray Bush, Sebastien Labelle and Melissa Albiani. Thanks to the artists who donated these images. moira@mediacoop.ca

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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