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David Bush is a community and labour activist based primarily on the East Coast. Currently he is finishing his Master's in Labour Studies at McMaster University. His blog will be exploring the theoretical and strategic debates facing left-wing activists who are trying to build a better world.

The battle at Canada Post and the future of our public services

| December 12, 2013
The battle at Canada Post and the future of our public services

The announcement that Canada Post Corporation will end home delivery in urban areas, increase the cost of postage and lay off between 8,000 to 10,000 employees over the next five years is shameful.

Management at the Crown corporation cites the decreasing volume of mail and the losses accrued since the lockout of 2011. Never mind the facts that before 2011 Canada Post was profitable for 16 straight years and in 2012 Canada Post reported a profit of $98 million. It is worth noting the financial woes have occurred precisely when management invested $2 billion in new equipment, instituted a number of structural and operational changes despite the clear signs that letter volume was decreasing.

Even this claim of declining letter volume should be taken with a grain of salt. The projection Canada Post's management is using is based on the decrease of third-quarter letter volumes from 2011 to 2012. If one remembers, 48,000 postal workers were locked out at the end of the second quarter in 2011. Thus, 2011 third-quarter mail volumes were inflated as the mail piled up during the lockout was delivered in the third quarter.

Also, it is worth remembering how the federal government framed the lockout at Canada Post in 2011. The Tories, once they won a majority, painted the lockout as threatening the economic well-being of the country. Lisa Riatt, the then Minister of Labour, when defending the Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act which ordered workers back to work, claimed: "The work stoppage at Canada Post is expected to have an immeasurable impact on our economy, resulting in losses of about $9 million to $31 million per week. Every day that means more jobs at risk, more productivity lost, more challenges for businesses, and more uncertainty for consumers." This public service was deemed so vital that the state had to step in and order the return to service. Now, Canada Post Corporation and its boosters claim home delivery is not only not essential, but a financial burden. The mental contortions required to defend this line will make for many pretzel-brained Tories and big business backers.

This whole saga at Canada Post smacks of something ripped from the privatization playbook. A public service is cut to the bone in the name of cost-saving. These cuts decrease the quality of these services and as a result the public supports wanes. This softens the ground for the right-wing to call for these unpopular and ineffective public services to be sold off at bargain basement prices and privatized.

If you think that this is far-fetched just look at what happened to Royal Mail in Britain, which was privatized by the Cameron government this year. The head of Royal Mail when it was privatized was the former CEO of Canada Post, Moya Greene. During her tenure as CEO at Canada Post she long advocated for the privatization of our postal service. 

Are layoffs and service reductions the only options for Canada Post? The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has long advocated for the expansion of postal services into areas such as banking. This is what happened in countries such as Italy, France and New Zealand. Offering banking services would allow people in smaller communities to access banking services in otherwise unserviced communities. Also, it could create more jobs.

Perhaps it is time to also think about getting rid of the profit motive at Canada Post Corporation and begin to think of our public services as fulfilling primarily social needs. The way Canada Post is running the show these days is putting profits before people, bad management decisions are in effect being subsidized by workers and the public in the form of layoffs, poor working conditions and decreased service. 

This article first appeared on Rankandfile.ca

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