By Mike Palecek and Aalya Ahmad with contributions from CUPW members and retirees
The “Save Canada Post” campaign was launched by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers shortly after Canada Post announced drastic postal cuts and rate hikes, including ending all home delivery, in December 2013.
This announcement sparked massive and ongoing public protests. A profitable public service was trying to kill a basic service like door-to-door delivery in a country with severe winters and an aging population.
Indignant letters and editorials flew, petitions were started, and a Charter challenge was filed by CUPW, along with seniors’ organizations and advocates for persons with disabilities.
With such costs as snow removal, theft and litter being downloaded onto municipalities, city and town councils have also been vocal in their opposition to the cuts. So far, over 600 municipalities, including the Big City Mayors’ caucus, have passed resolutions, while the mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre, famously took a jackhammer to one mailbox slab.
Elsewhere, residents have engaged in sit-ins and occupations, while garden boxes and barriers have sprung up to resist the installation of the hated mailboxes.
Not surprisingly, the Conservative government has simply ignored or dismissed the concerns of the
hundreds of thousands of people who have spoken out, signed petitions and written letters. As the federal election drew nearer, with a chance to turf the government responsible for the cuts, the union knew it was time to try something completely different.
CUPW’s renewed fight has taken the struggle from the office to the streets, in the form of a 31-foot RV with “Save Canada Post – Stop the Cuts” emblazoned across the side in both languages. Both elected leaders and rank-and-file members have been travelling across the country, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, bringing the message that the Conservatives and their austerity agenda can be beaten. The tour has been turning the heat up on the Conservatives since it began in early July. It has successfully propelled postal cutbacks from being a “done deal” to a major election issue and irrevocably linked the Conservatives to the loss of postal service, an issue that has cut across partisan lines and stayed in media headlines week after week.
The tour has mobilized members on work floors, generated plenty of local and national media attention, and drawn public support like a magnet wherever the Save Canada Post bus goes. “Whenever we stop at a gas station or a coffee shop, soon there’s a knock on the door and somebody is asking if they can sign a petition or get a lawn sign,” said Mike Palecek, president of the CUPW, who has been travelling with the Save Canada Post campaign. Workers on the tour have used street theatre, humour and creative tactics to get the message across, including a giant mailbox costume, Stephen Harper masks, performances of a “Stephen Harper” song written by Palecek, skits, and impromptu demonstrations at Tory rallies.
“I met up with the Save Canada Post Caravan in Mission, B.C.” said Ed Nicholles, a retired postal worker and lifetime CUPW member who drove the RV through Vancouver Island. “We had great support from the members and the community at large. At the Campbell River Farmers’ Market, over 2000 people stopped by the caravan throughout the day; most of them signed our petition.”
Opposition party candidates, mostly NDP but also some Liberal and Green Party, have been eager to come out to the events organized around the tour and have their photographs taken with the RV. Locals have organized public events such as BBQs and town hall meetings around the arrival of the bus in their communities. The show of support has meant a lot to union activists. “As we were
getting ready to leave Nanaimo, we heard a knock; it was the President of the riding association from one of the other parties wanting to sign our petition but not wanting to be seen doing so,” said Nicholles.
When asked about some of the most memorable moments of the tour, another retired postal worker, Peter Whitaker, said “Having the members thank us for the work we were doing bringing the message to the shop floor and all wanting to have their picture taken with the RV and the Union leadership. Members came up to their local leaders and volunteered to become shop stewards to get into the fight.”
Often, nervous managers at Canada Post would attempt to prevent the Save Canada Post caravan workers from visiting shop floors or contacting members. As Whitaker said, “The fun we had breaking every rule management would bring to try and prevent us from communicating with the members or walking out on to the shop floor was a blast, just like the old days.” To date, management has backed down every time and this has been energizing for rank-and-file members to witness.
Kathleen Mpulubusi, a Route Verification Officer from the Edmonton Local, who travelled with the Caravan in Alberta, said: “In Red Deer, we had a work floor meeting with brothers and sisters. A sister turned to me and said, “I have been with Canada Post for 20 years and this is the first time I’ve met the national president or anyone from the national office.” This is what has made the Caravan so special. It’s a simple idea that has become very powerful. Particularly for those of us working far away from the centre, one can easily get the feeling that we are isolated and don’t matter. The simple gesture of having the national president get out, travel and meet with members all over the country has connected us and strengthened the membership for the continuing struggle.
We all do matter and we are the union…” Mpulubusi concludes: “It was a good feeling to be part of something bigger and to meet with so many like-minded union brothers and sisters. We are all connected by our passion and desire to stand up, fight back and demand a better way forward.”
Wycliffe Molah, another rank-and-file CUPW member who travelled with the Caravan through the prairies and Northern Ontario, summed it up nicely: “We Liberate, Unify, Mobilize, Resolve! The Struggle Continues!”
For more information about the Save Canada Post tour, visit the CUPW website at cupw.ca – FB – CUPWSTTP – Twitter @cupw #savecanadapost