The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has filed notice to strike at 11:59 p.m. June 2, to defend public postal service and stop massive concessions that scapegoat workers for the economic crisis. Postal workers have stood up for many social justice issues, and their strike could trigger broader opposition to Harper’s austerity agenda. They have voted almost 95 per cent for a strike mandate, and here are five reasons why solidarity needs to receive an equally strong mandate.

1) Postal workers are under attack

In its drive to make work more “modern” and “efficient” (i.e. profitable), Canada Post Corporation is imposing working conditions that threaten the health and safety of its workers. According to Bob Tyre, president of the Winnipeg local of CUPW,

“You’re walking with different shapes and sizes balanced in your arm, with another in your hand. It obscures your feet. You can’t see where you’re walking, and you’re up and down stairs all day. You have to hold your arm rigid and balance the load while you’re walking. It’s caused a lot of slip and fall injuries, a lot of shoulder, arm, and neck pain.”

Now Canada Post is trying to roll back the compensation for this dangerous work. According to CUPW president Denis Lemelin

“The Corporation wants to pay new employees 30 per cent less. It wants to reduce their benefits, weaken their job security and provide an inferior pension. It also wants to attack retiree benefits and sick leave, and turn back the clock on many other contract provisions.”

An injury to one is an injury to all, so we need to support the postal workers’ defense of healthy work conditions and decent pay.

2) Postal workers are standing up for good public services

The mainstream media are trying to pit postal workers against those who depend on postal service. But it’s Canada Post Corporation that has been cutting services, closing offices, and trying to privatize postal services; former CEO Moya Greene left Canada Post to continue pushing privatization on Royal Mail in Britain.

Meanwhile, CUPW has a history of linking good jobs with good services, organizing against rural post office closures alongside unionization for rural and suburban mail carriers. During this round of negotiations CUPW wants to regularize temporary employees and increase the number of full-time workers, while increasing door-to-door delivery and increase staffing at postal outlets. If we want a strong public postal service, we need to support those who provide it and those who are taking a stand to defend it.

3) This is part of a broader austerity agenda

Despite making profits for the past 16 years — including $281 million in 2009, and having the highest paid public service bureaucrat — Canada Post Corporation is blaming workers. This is part of a broader austerity agenda to make ordinary people pay for the economic crisis they did not create (For more on this, visit the rabble tv interview with labour specialist Philip Jennins). As Lynn Bue, CUPW’s second national vice-president stated, “This is a fight against an ideology from the government, from banks, that big businesses should make more, and people should live on poverty wages.”

Prime Minister Harper used the G20 meeting last year to push an austerity agenda, and this week is visiting Greece to support austerity there — which includes privatization, massive cuts to social services, layoffs and attacks on pensions. That’s what Harper wants to bring to Canada and the CUPW strike is his first obstacle. A defeat for CUPW will be a victory for Harper and his corporate backers across the country. A victory for CUPW will build unity and confidence for others to resist the austerity agenda. This is a fight for all of us.

4) Postal workers stood up for us. it’s time for us to stand up with them

Postal workers have a long history of standing up for women’s rights, civil liberties, peace and justice. This year is the 30th anniversary of CUPW’s strike for paid maternity leave. Following the lead of the Common Front of public sector workers in Quebec, postal workers struck for 42 days in 1981 and became the first federal union to win paid maternity leave — encouraging others to demand this basic right.

CUPW was the first Canadian union to boycott South African Apartheid, and the first to join the BDS campaign against Israeli Apartheid, in addition to organizing mail for the Canada/Quebec Boat to Gaza. CUPW has also been part of the campaign to oppose secret trials in Canada, and oppose the war in Afghanistan.

More broadly, the labour movement has been central to Medicare and abortion rights, opposing the Iraq War, and standing up against austerity — from the G20 protest last year to last month’s protest against Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Now’s the time for all of us to reciprocate this solidarity.

5) This strike could trigger broader opposition to Harper

There is tremendous ideological resistance to the Harper agenda — from majority support for Medicare, abortion rights, and war resisters, to majority opposition to the war on Afghanistan, fighter jets and corporate tax cuts. May 2 saw this translate into political resistance as people across Canada and Quebec gave a historic mandate to the NDP opposition, marking a surge for the left from coast to coast. But with a Harper majority, the Official Opposition can’t win on its own in Parliament, it needs opposition in the streets and workplaces. The postal strike offers the chance to connect the “orange wave” of political resistance to economic resistance against the Harper agenda. This can lay the foundation for future struggles, as developments in Egypt show.

In 2006 — after years of opposition to occupations of Palestine and Iraq, and the beginnings of opposition to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak — women textile workers in Mahalla went on strike, triggering a wave of economic resistance that amplified political and ideological resistance. This strike wave planted the seeds for the Egyptian revolution that blossomed this year, further strikes by workers in Mahalla and elsewhere finally drove Mubarak from power, and Egyptian workers are continuing the revolution by organizing independent trade unions and continuing to strike for better conditions.

People across Canada and Quebec have been inspired by resistance from Egypt to Wisconsin, and hope for similar resistance here. We’ve seen the beginnings of political resistance against austerity: ten thousand mobilized in Hamilton on January 26, 75,000 in Montreal on March 20, ten thousand more in Toronto on April 9 and then 2 million more from coast to coast voted for the NDP on May 2. Now we have the chance to have our own Mahalla, a strike that can build from previous struggles, deepen solidarity and strength across Canada and Quebec, and take opposition to Harper to a whole new level.

* To send a letter to Canada Post Corporation and find out how else you can help visit CUPW’s site.

* Put support posters in your window or on street posts — copy the image at the top of this article or download others at the solidarity site Support Postal Workers.

* Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, or call your local radio station, to explain why you support postal workers.

* Visit your local picket line to show solidarity.

* Send solidarity messages or strike support funds to CUPW from your labour/student union, community organization or faith group.

Jesse McLaren

Jesse McLaren

Jesse McLaren is a physician, activist and blogger, who like Virchow believes that if medicine is to accomplish its great task, it must intervene in political and social life. He blogs at,...