The Committee in Action
In this article Phinneas Gage describes how workers at Canada Post have organized themselves, and the ups and downs and risks of organizing.
The Committee in Action
by Phinneas Gage
“So let’s talk about what happened in the last month or so”. I said looking over the room full of the usual suspects. Harjit told the story like this: “the supervisors came out on to the floor to talk to everyone about taking forceback (forced overtime), they didn’t think anything was up when they asked the first person and they refused. They just nodded made a note and moved down the row”. He was grinning like a maniac. “The supervisor then asked if it was a group decision, and everyone said no”. Pete continued the story beaming with pride “then the next one refused, and the next one, and the next one until the entire depot had refused forced overtime”. A sister in the back of the room asked what the supervisors did next “they ran back into their office and called upper management in the plant”. All of the workers simply said that mail was heavy, it had been a long day and they didn’t feel that doing overtime that day was a safe decision. This was when Harjit had sent the text out across the city and everyone heard about what had happened at Depot 9.
The workers at Depot 9 built their job action around a core group of workers who had staged a march on the boss action before Christmas. The action was a textbook example of what we taught in our “Taking Back the Workfloor Course”. The course was a single day of workplace mapping, basic strategy and a series of role plays designed to teach workers how to plan and execute job actions. The centre piece was a role play march on the boss where the workers take on a facilitator pretending to be a boss. The carriers were upset because the supervisors were being sloppy in assigning jobs to the workers who cover absences known as relief carriers. Usually this is done based on seniority (how long someone has been at the corporation) but often management will cut corners, either out of laziness or favourtism and assign the jobs based on their own whims. The relief carriers demanded that management respect the seniority list. After this action the supervisors were careful to assign relief positions properly. This gave the carriers the confidence to be more ambitious when the time came for them to stand together again. They were also smart about it, they claimed the victory for what it was and told the other workers on the floor about what they got by standing together and taking action.
Initially some of us thought the campaign around forceback might not go anywhere but supported it anyways as a learning experience; we discussed the initial action at Depot 9 and as one action among many other small actions isolated to a single station. We were very, very wrong on that prediction.
Later the next week scattered reports of workers refusing forceback across the city began to come in. Every time a small group of workers would stand together it would be sent out over the text message tree so everyone could hear about it, this also created a buzz and a lot of talk in the break rooms. Finally at one more depot everyone refused all at once, this was turning into a chain reaction.
The Committee in Action
The Organising Committee would meet monthly and would open every time with each member reporting on their station. This part of the meeting almost always took up half of the meeting. The committee members mostly shared war stories and talked about grievances on the floor and what the workers did to resolve the issues. Early in the committee a lot of work was put into helping each other out with problems and planning small campaigns around small concerns usually based in an individual workplace or shift.
One action had workers at a section in the plant ambush the boss in a “staff talk” (presentation by management) with a list of demands. They planned the meeting out like a march on the boss with a list of demands, a group of workers who were instructed to interrupt the boss so that the workers could speak and a third group that would relate stories about how management’s policies were affecting them. The main militants, a pair of sisters, sat at the back of the room and watched their organising play out in front of them. This was important for all of us in a lot of actions because we didn’t want to be the exclusive leaders; we wanted our co-workers to learn how to plan job actions by doing it themselves. The two sisters then sent a text message out so the whole city could hear about the action and build off of it.
There was also a lot of talk about what we could win based on the support we had on the floor behind a given issue. Up to that point we deliberately kept things pretty modest and planned actions that were scaled to our demands. When we got more ambitious with our demands we began to move up the corporate hierarchy. This wasn’t conscious at first but became extremely conscious further down the line. Demands were issued either verbally with the floor shouting the demands out or chanting, during a staff talk, or even sometimes in writing with a demand letter presented to a coffee break meeting for ratification and then handed in to the boss by a delegation of workers.
Issues like respecting seniority and information from management about the work plan for the day usually came down to pressure on a supervisor but staffing levels and work distribution meant we had to target managers or even directors for the entire city. We would target the level of management responsible for the grievance. This also meant our tactics had to change based on where our support was at, strong workplaces where they had a few actions under their belt were more daring and confrontational, others had to start the escalation chain at the beginning.
The workers would then attend an organising committee meeting, or send a report with someone based on a phone conversation. After every action we tried to encourage debriefing through the committee and ask what worked and what did not go as planned. Eventually this became an effortless part of the direct action process.
Ideally a strong committee should have as clear of a process for dealing with grievances as the “grievance process” in a mainstream union. For us the process went something like this:
1. Worker presents a grievance to the committee (this would either be the organising committee at the early stages or a shop committee or informal workgroup based on the job).
2. The Committee identifies the level of management responsible for the grievance and picks a tactic that pressures the appropriate level of the corporate hierarchy. The organising body that targets management should be built around the territory covered by the decisions that level of management governs. So a city-wide policy will ideally be challenged by the city wide organising committee and target the city wide management officials.
3. Committee members on the floor organise the action and raise the demands from the floor. There is no delegated negotiation; all important decisions in regards to a campaign are made in the shop floor “coffee break” meetings. Demands are issued and we would agitate for concessions. There was little room for management to make counter offers or cut us deals.
4. After the action the committee debriefs on what happened. They identify points on the floor where the campaign was strong and where it was weak. The organising committee identifies leaders and people who would be good for the workfloor mobilisation course and assesses the effectiveness of the action.
5. We would then assess whether the action worked. Part of this was identifying if we got what we wanted. If we didn`t get what we wanted we would go back to step two and try and turn up the heat either by moving up the chain of command or increasing the intensity at the same level of management. We would also assess whether the floor was stronger because of what we were doing or if there were places we needed to build support.
After several actions we learned that a lot of these fights need to be framed in terms of respect, dignity and doing what is right and not just in terms of getting what we want. Of course our motivation for doing a lot of things as radicals is the principle of the matter at hand but we doubted ourselves when we thought that large groups of workers would get on board with this line of thinking. We were wrong. Once we started appealing to people’s sense of self worth even if an action went badly many workers saw it as a victory in itself. Our coworkers won’t fight for a dollar. They will fight for dignity. Sometimes we fight over a dollar because dignity is what’s at stake; we can lose the fight for that dollar but still win back some dignity because we fought.
This process is not something that occupies the space that legal tactics fill in most unions. We would often have grievance forms on hand and encourage members to grieve violations of the collective agreement in addition to our job actions. There were also human rights complaints, health and safety violations and one demand letter made an appeal to the Criminal Code of Canada. However, there are places where direct action can run into conflict with the more conventional union strategy. In these instances we opted to favour a strategy that used direct action on the floor rather than building our militants into full time grievance specialists. This put worker self activity in the centre of our unionism and meant conventional legal unionism was used as a backup. We treated the law as a shield, but not a sword.
The Campaign Develops
Everyone sat on couches in the union office holding pieces of paper, taking notes and relating what happened over the previous month since the last meeting. “Well is the fact that the absent carrier is going to have twice as much mail going to create bad blood on the floor?” I asked. “It might” Pete said. Christine piped up, “I called in sick for a day last week to take care of my toddler and everyone refused forceback on my route, when I came back there was more mail but it was worth it. There were two others in my depot that had undelivered walks that felt the same as me. I don’t think it will create any conflict, at least at our station”.
“Look, this is a crisis, we’ve been trying to address this for years and have gotten nowhere” Christine said. She continued, “the forced overtime clause is supposed to be a last resort but we have depots that are using it three times a week when it used to be twice a year”. She was right, also injuries were up and this was creating a vicious cycle where workers would work too much overtime to cover absences, get injured and then create more absences while they took time off work to heal. This did create bad blood, once some workers started getting doctors notes saying they could not work overtime. After this happened there was even more pressure on the workers that were left to pick up the slack. The solution to the problem was simple of course: hire more staff.
“This month we have four depots that have held the overtime ban for a few weeks, but we still have six depots with no ban in place”. At a mass meeting called by the workers of Depot 9 the workers demanded to meet with one of the managers for the entire city. By all accounts the manager got roasted as angry carriers demanded answers as to why staffing the letter carriers was not a priority. He was furious with the union who he had felt put the workers up to it, when in actuality the union’s relationship to the struggle was much more complicated.
The Mass Meeting
Christine got the meeting back on track: “We seem to be stuck in the same four depots, the Mail Service Couriers, and certain parts of the plant. We need a way to get everyone on board and push the actions into places where we aren’t strong yet.” “Easier said than done” said Keith, we’ve got the depots where folks either have had some fight in them for a while, like Depot 3, or where most of the carriers are lower seniority and younger”. Christine nodded.
“What we need is a way for everyone, not just the four depots where we are strong, to talk with each other directly”, said Pete. “That way the folks that are worried can hear how it worked for us and maybe our attitude will rub off on them”. Everyone nodded. “A meeting!”, Keith shouted in a eureka moment. “We call a mass meeting, where everyone comes and tells each other about what they have done and how we want to spread it to their station”.
“What about the executive though? Will they be in favour of it?” asked Pete. Pete was thinking about how hard it was to get the direct action course going last time. The last time we tried something like this was the course and there was stalling for months before it got through. (For more on this, see “Waves of Struggle”). “Do we need permission to call a meeting?” replied Keith.
Two days later an email went out with a nice clean graphic, a date and a time. We also decided that two sisters from the floor would chair the meeting, and that everyone would get equal time to speak, including any union officials. This definitely upset some people who were used to having the President act as chair at the General Membership Meetings, however it was agreed this was a meeting called by the workers and that it would have no standing under the CUPW constitution. We were clear but firm, union officials were encouraged to attend but they would be in the stack alongside everyone else. When word hit the floor there was overwhelming enthusiasm for the mass meeting. This enthusiasm started to rub off on the entire executive and even those who were worried about it started to think this was a good thing.
Before the meeting Keith stood in front of a crowd of 160 workers, the meeting hall was packed and everyone sat in a huge circle. Christine gave him a slow nod and he read the opening address he prepared. In the speech Keith roasted the union for inactivity and blamed poor leadership for what had happened with forceback. The President of the local was staring daggers at all of us from the organising committee. Some of our coworkers looked pissed too. Many workers were frustrated with the union but the local President was tremendously popular on the floor, she got elected for a reason, and many of us in the committee disagreed with Keith’s argument that this was merely a question of leadership. The problem was with a lack of initiative at the base of the union too, the leadership played a role in this, but we had the same criticisms with the previous two Presidents also. (see On Leadership, On Contracts, and My Introduction). Plus, the meeting hadn’t been billed as one about problems with the union, it was supposed to be about fighting our bosses.
“This is bad, Phinneas”, Ike leaned in and whispered in my ear. I nodded slowly scanning the room, some members were obviously agreeing with what was being said, but at least as many were angry and felt this was an anti union tirade. As soon as Keith finished his speech there was some very enthusiastic clapping, but some members also put their hands up and were waiting impatiently, shuffling in their chairs in a way that only someone who intensely irritated can do. A split was developing. And in all splits there are two small fractions who get heated up and shout at each other and a majority who don’t want to be in a room with either group of shouters, let alone being in the room with both groups shouting at each other. That is, if a polemical argument broke out over Keith’s remarks, it didn’t matter who won because the argument itself taking place that way in this meeting would be a loss.
This wasn’t the time for executive politics so Ike decided to act quickly. He put his hand up and we all saw Christine sigh with relief, Christine knew Ike well and knew he was going to smooth things over. She wrote down his name on her pad of paper, even though Ike was a full time officer in the union he spoke when it was his turn along with everyone else, we were all equals in this meeting.
Before Ike spoke, Hank, a rank and file worker from Depot 3, and member of a charismatic church got up to speak. “I remember the good old days when Canada Post treated its workers well”, he started. “I used to call the supervisor by their first name, if I called in sick they would ask me if I was okay when I was back at work”. He paused for effect and to take stock of the crowd.
“We’ve been very reasonable on this issue, we’ve waited years”, his pace picked up from the calm and thoughtful tone of earlier in his speech. “But Canada Post isn’t listening! The union can’t do anything for us it’s up to us to do this! We can’t wait any longer, our friends are getting hurt, the new people are working in the dark and the overtime just keeps coming and coming and coming!” The crowd was getting really worked up at this point, but still a few people were shuffling uncomfortably, there was still a clear split between a lot of folks who were worried this was turning a little too ‘anti union’ and the passions of the crowd weren’t helping.
Then Ike’s turn came. He was a lot younger than Hank; he had expensive glasses designer jeans and a faux hawk. He stumbled a bit at first stuttering the first words of his speech but he quickly found his feet. “Jean Claude Parrot was one of the greatest leaders this union ever had”, the older members who remembered the years where ‘J.C.’ went to jail for defying back to work legislation nodded sagely. “But we make a big deal out of our great leaders, a big deal that even Jean Claude Parrot wouldn’t agree with. He always said that they couldn’t have any of what they had accomplished without the members taking action themselves, without the wildcat strikes and direct actions those glorious years would be nothing!” I’m a cynical guy but I could feel my own heart singing at this point. “Don’t look to the union for permission they cannot legally give! You are the union, the union isn’t the full time officers or the people in Ottawa, they are just a small part of CUPW; the union is every single one of us! This is what makes us a movement!” The crowd exploded, many started chanting “so-so-so-solidarity!”
The next speaker was Pete. He smiled broadly while re-telling the story about what happened at Whitemud South. “We were really worried when we were only the third depot to refuse forceback, first it was Depot Nine, then Depot Three”, the crowd cheered, “then it was us, and we thought the discipline was definitely going to come”. He shuffled his notes, and beamed at the room. “But we stayed strong and we did it, and that’s why I came to the meeting today, to say you all can do it too, together we can end forceback!”
Keith then stood up and read a motion to form a ‘Workfloor Mobilisation Committee’ to coordinate job actions all over the city. The motion outlined a committee that had broad representation from all the different depots, and sections and shifts in the plant. The committee would be independent of the local executive and would coordinate job actions outside the bylaws. Some of the tension in the room came back, but several executive members who were working on the direct action campaigns earlier spoke in favour of the committee. I was an executive member too, I voted in favour.
The Campaign Continues
The next morning the texts began to roll in:
“Depot 6 is refusing all overtime, management extremely upset”.
“Sherwood Park depot is refusing overtime and standing strong”.
“Depot 3 affirms that they will not do any overtime”.
“Depot 1 refused overtime for today”.
Each one was forwarded out to about seventy of our fellow workers, feeding more enthusiasm across the city.
A series of coffee break meetings began to roll out across the city where depot after depot affirmed that they had all but stopped mandatory overtime. In most depots a vote by a show of hands in a coffee break meeting generally decided it, this helped build the sense of strength and unity on the floor as workers saw how much support there was for the proposal. This pattern followed in about ten different stations and even spread to the plant as the inside workers used the momentum to raise their own concerns over days off and respect from management. Soon the spirit of militancy spread to the plant.
Then there were more text messages.
“Fork lift drivers just turned in their company vehicle operators permits. They are refusing to move mail until issues of health and safety are resolved”.
“In the offsite”, a part of the mail plant operations that were moved to another building, “workers marched on the boss over staffing concerns.”
Actions in one place would spur on actions in other places. They would often leap frog and places that had a lower level of agitation would often start at a much higher level than the first depots to start. Escalation would work on a different scale on a city wide level than it did on the level of an individual station.
At one point a coffee break meeting was as an extremely daring and radical act. Later on many of the stations would be organising a march on the boss as their first job action. The movement coalesced around the issue of staffing and health and safety, inside the mail plant and outside with the delivery personnel. Over a thousand workers at over a dozen different workplaces were involved in one kind of job action or another, either marching on the boss, refusing forced overtime, or participating in mass meetings on the floor. There were also petitions, chants from the floor, noisemakers and even some letter carriers would rock their cases and make noise to celebrate the arrival of Friday morning.
The Workfloor Mobilisation Committee
“Alright folks let`s call this meeting to order.“ Keith sat at the front of the room in the coffee shop and looked across the room. The usual suspects were all present, except for the executive members that served on the local organising committee. There were also some new faces from some of the depots that were brought in to the struggle. The group took turns telling everyone about the job actions at their stations, petitions, noise actions, march on the boss actions, and forced overtime refusals. Keith opened the discussion on the direction of the committee like this:
“The members look to the leadership of the union for direction, these actions can’t continue without real leadership in the local.” Pete looked uncomfortable and Christine shot her hand up. Keith smiled knowing he touched a nerve with some folks in the group but he wanted to press his point and a heated debate was just the way to do it.
Christine spoke her piece, obviously trying not to sound too annoyed. “Come on Keith it isn`t that simple, a lot of members just don`t have the confidence to take on a risky action yet. Having an executive member leading the charge isn`t going to change that. Folks need to learn and that only happens by taking risks yourself“.
Keith nodded, “people look up to their union leadership though and that is just a fact we have to deal with. It’s only natural that the union officers are seen as the people who need to make the decision to take action”.
“Isn’t that part of the problem though? I mean we have seen people question the union in a way they haven’t before and that’s healthy. We don’t want people to simply follow the union we want people to fight for something because they believe in the cause”.
Keith shot back. “You have to admit it is confusing to people when half of the stewards are saying one thing and the union leadership in the office is saying something else with regards to these actions. We need to be able to take these actions on through the proper channels. In order to do this we need to have a clear majority on the executive.”
“What if that executive buckles under the pressure too? What if they get scared when someone gets fired or the Labour Board steps in and threatens fines? Having strong leaders is great but why do we isolate them in an office and put them in meetings with management all day?”
Christine took a long sip of water and looked out the window. Pete, after reminding everyone that there was a rules of order, told folks that they should probably get back on track and take care of some business too. “You have the floor Christine.
“It looks like the ban is holding across the city, what we need to be ready for now is discipline in retaliation for our actions.”
Pete nodded, “definitely, the first hint of any discipline we need to see coffee break meetings across the city to discuss what to do”. Pete looked around the room, “seeing no more discussion on this item let`s move on to our discussion on putting on the next round of direct action courses“.
Trade Union Discipline
Typically the question that dominates workplace strategy is how the radicals on the floor should orient themselves towards the union leadership. When things really start to move in a shop another question arises: how is the union leadership is going to orient itself towards the actions on the floor? Our approach was a challenge to the traditional idea of what “discipline” means in a trade union. All unions rely on a strong degree of unity among their members. One way to get this unity is making a big deal out of leadership at the top. In almost all unions they say that the highest authority of the union is the membership. That is to say that most unions are democratic.
The basis of trade union democracy is the local meeting. Naturally the General Membership Meeting (in CUPW this is a monthly GMM) cannot meet all the time so there is a special committee, called the Executive Committee that reports to the General Membership meeting and acts on behalf of the membership at large between meetings. In CUPW there is also a corresponding regional executive committee and a national executive. These two groups have general meetings (conventions) every few years to decide policy and direction but otherwise the executive has the power to act in the name of the membership.
Now because the National Executive Board represents the will of the national membership represented by the National Convention their decisions are binding on all bodies below them, this means regions and locals. All decisions made by the regional office are binding on the locals in that region. This means that discipline flows from the top to the bottom of the organisation. The check on this discipline is the fact that the leaders are elected and criticised in meetings. (This practice is very similar to Democratic Centralism as practiced by various left wing political parties, particularly those that come out of the traditions of European Social Democracy such as the Bolsheviks or German SPD.) So there is open debate and contested leadership and a vibrant democratic culture but ultimately many decisions in regards to strategy and tactics are made at the top levels of the organisation and are binding on every one further down the chain of command. That is to say that traditionally many unions are what is called centralist. These practices rarely exist inside the bylaws of most unions due to a century and a half of social democratic union practice they are simply assumed.
Our organising on the floor through rank and file committees was a challenge to this system because in our organising the workers at the shop level decide on strategy and call out for solidarity from other workplaces. We encouraged members to act without permission and to take the initiative independent of the leadership. One informal motto some of us took up was “it’s better to ask for forgiveness afterward than to ask for permission first.” This lead to the committees being accused of being undemocratic because the workers themselves were usurping the power of the democratically elected local, regional and national executive bodies.
Ultimately this was a question of the kind of democracy our union or even society at large should practice. On one hand you have a democracy based on freedom of initiative, the democracy of our committees that is constituted by the participation of those involved towards a common goal. The Organising Committee meetings act as a check on everyone’s activity but everyone also assumes that folks have the freedom to act on their own behalf and not wait for some saviour to come down from the clouds with the answer for them. On the other hand you have a representative system that is democratically managed by the members but in essence acts as a workplace government in miniature. Many of these practices are implied but not outright stated, and in the long history of wildcats and independent action at the post office there has also always been a strong tendency towards independent action.
Some critics have said that direct action is a set of tactics and not a strategy. This is true when we’re talking about individual actions in isolation. When we organize ourselves around direct action, though, and the capacity to take direct action then it’s different. In that case, there is something special about direct action in that it cannot be managed from above and it chafes at every encounter with an idea of discipline that is based on strong leadership at the top of an organisation. For this reason it is not a strategy in itself, but it is does effect the kind of strategy you are going to use.
In order for workers to have real control over their own activity leadership needs to be built through action on the job, this leadership needs to be accountable to workers on the job, and for the leadership to remain accountable the source of that leadership has to stay on the job. We aim to build leadership on the shop floor and have the shopfloor be the place where our union makes decisions about how to fight bosses. This is also why many of the larger job actions began with a “coffee break meeting” where the workers would hold an assembly on the job and vote by show of hands on the course of action to be taken. From this starting point you build towards a sense of unity and discipline that does not feel external to the workers but comes from their shared struggles and interests. Discipline then becomes a horizontal force, not something from above. It becomes something that everyone exercises on each other instead of something imposed by leadership with a mandate from convention. The question is not simply one of organisational form or a crisis of leadership, and it’s certainly not about getting the right people elected to officer roles. It’s a matter of developing the spirit of solidarity and horizontal discipline in the struggle itself. Effective direct action requires this, and produces this.
The Local Executive
Sam stood in the hallway shaking with rage, “There’s a process Ike!”, he shouted. Ike was grinning ear to ear as the labour relations rep continued his tirade. “What is the board going to say about this? You’re going to get fined! This is Delton all over again!” The Delton wildcat (see “My Introduction“) was part of a previous wave of job actions a few years earlier.
Ike smiled calmly and said “the office had nothing to do with this Sam, though we were obviously happy to see everyone take so much initiative and show so much solidarity but this happened outside the union meetings. The workers did this themselves. Over a thousand of them took action themselves without our direction.” Sam shook his head and walked away briskly shouting, “fines, Ike! You better be ready to pay those fines!”
Later that day Ike was sitting between myself and Harjit listening to Craig, another executive member express his concerns about the job actions.
“I have no idea what is going on, I hear about a job action in one station after it happens, sometimes I hear about the job actions a week after they have happened. No one is asking us if it is alright- its total anarchy!”
Ike looked at Harjit and stifled a giggle, but the local President was not impressed either. I raised my hand and she gave me the floor.
”None of us know when an action is going to happen, to a certain degree we just have to trust the member’s judgement”. I paused. “None of this is political there are folks from all over the place in the local planning these job actions”.
”What if the members are wrong?” asked Craig out of turn.
”Is that any worse than if we are wrong?” heckled Ike.
Craig continued, ignoring Ike. “Look, we need discipline we can’t just have everyone running around doing as they please. We need to enforce the contract, if the language isn’t strong enough we have a democratic way to negotiate new language”.
I continued. ”I think we would do well to follow the lead of the floor on this stuff, give them the power to act and we do our best to back them up and give them support. We do not need to be the stars of the show, if Delton taught us anything sometimes things need to be done that the executive cannot take the lead on and that is alright.”
“Look, the members elected us to make decisions for them, there is a process and we have bylaws”, Craig was clearly not convinced.
Ike’s turn. “No one has broken any bylaws, it may be how things were done in the past, but no one is breaking the rules with independent committees. Show me the language in the constitution that says this if they are breaking rules”.
Sharon, continuing her slow pace and turns to lecture Ike, “so do these people, who are acting outside the constitution and outside the contract expect to be protected from discipline if the corporation tries to fire them?”
“Yes”, I said, “and they are justified in feeling this way, we don’t just give Solidarity to those we agree with when we fight the boss”.
Good Clean Wins
When radicals move from unfocused activism to real organising they usually go through a phase where they talk about winning a lot. It’s a way to show that they’re Serious Radicals Who Understand These Things. “What would it take to win?” “We need a victory.” Good clean wins don`t really exist, at least in our experience with direct action campaigns on the job. Everyone wants to think of labour struggles as like a backyard wrestling match where the opponents square off against each other. Eventually we pin the boss and they cry `uncle` and we get our concession.
What actually happens is you agitate like hell and the boss mocks you the whole way and does everything he can to make you feel powerless. Then the boss will come down really hard and try and punish the bad ones among you and buy off the folks who he can identify as wavering in their commitment. Then he will quietly address some of the concerns, usually without publically stating what is going on and if he has to acknowledge the change he will get professional help in crafting a plausible story as to why these changes were coming anyway.
With the forceback campaign we only found out the boss was hiring in response to everyone refusing overtime because one particularly dedicated militant was checking the job boards every day on the CPC website and noticed that Edmonton was hiring in a time of year when Canada Post does not usually hire. Eventually we found out our campaign was so successful Canada Post was hiring hundreds of workers. They have never publically acknowledged this victory to this day. They don’t want us to get bolder; they hope workers won’t learn or won’t remember the power we have collectively. Some members of senior management quietly conceded it was unrest on the floor that led to this course of action in private discussions with union officials. It was obvious anyway, but it feels good that management had to admit it, at least to themselves.
Claiming Our Victories
Harjit looked at the new kid next to him as he clumsily pushed the mail into the old wooden sorting case; he was slowly memorising the streets in case he had the same run tomorrow. He was moving much quicker, but slowed down for a second and turned to him, “you know why you got hired here don’t you?” The kid looked at him confused. “Let me tell you about what happened last winter”.
Note: This is one of several pieces on struggles at Canada Post. For more of these articles, click here.