The NDP Inevitably Lost their Fight for Postal Workers

Julian Wolfe
June 27th, 2011

Canada Post promises mail delivery Tuesday

Jack Layton imposed a 58 hour filibuster to try to stall a Conservative back to work bill that would do more than just send postal workers back to work with a lower pay increase than the management’s last offer. As a result, Canadians can expect to get their mail on Tuesday and can expect a return to regular service. The bill easily passed in the house of commons on Saturday and easily passed through the senate on Sunday as both houses are held in majority status by the Conservatives.

Canada Post said in a news release that “With unprocessed mail in the system and accumulated mail received from other countries that has not yet entered our system, it will take some time to stabilize [their] operations and to return to [their] normal delivery standards.”

The 48,000 postal workers were locked out on June 14 after 12 days of rotating strikes. Canada Post reported that it will take 24 to 48 hours to call them all back.

It is rare that a Senate sit on a Sunday, but after 7 hours of interviewing witnesses and looking at the back to work bill, they passed it 53-26.

“I’m happy to be working for Canada post, but I want to be treated fairly for the work I do,” postal worker Pierre Brisson of Montreal said after the bill was enacted.

The law imposes a four year contract on the workers, specifies a lower pay increase than what the management last offered, and leaves other disputed issues to binding arbitration. It also imposes a $1000 per day fine on any worker that does not comply.

In the senate, Liberal James Cowan accused PM Stephen Harper of using a “sledgehammer” approach to solving a dispute.

“His solution was clear: break the monopoly of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.”

The senator read a quote from Harper’s past which suggests that this was inevitable as it was part of Harper’s overall strategy.

In 1997, Harper stated that ending the monopoly in the postal service “will ensure that Canadians are never held hostage by another postal strike.”

Canada Post CEO Deepal Chopara told senators that the corporation “wants to welcome back employees in a special manner” and begin “long-term healing.”

CUPW vice-president George Floresco said that he would comply with the legislation but insisted the union would “carry on the struggle for a just collective agreement and just working conditions” amidst the stiff fines that will be charged if they don’t comply. 

“We’ll deliver the mail, but this isn’t the end of it,” Floresco told CBC News from Ottawa. “We’ll continue to work with our allies who have been out on the street with us and supporting true negotiations, and we’re not going to let this die.”

The strike lead to the clash of two opposite parties which lead to Jack Layton’s filibuster that held parliament hostage for 58 hours. Jack Layton fell for the Conservatives’ bait as they fought an unwinnable war and as they bought or lost political points in the process, they proved that they have the guts to take the government hostage for what they believe in but that their beliefs are relatively extreme.

The conflict could have been dealt differently by the NDP that could have found compromise to improve the law instead of poking the bear and having it passed in full condition without amendments. While this dispute was mainly between the Conservatives and NDP, there are many Canadians and companies who rely on the mail for money transfer and government and important documents.

Inflating an already bad situation will not help the NDP and slapping labor in the face won’t help the Conservatives either. While we did not hear much from the Liberals, now the third party in the house, they did release a statement on their website that stated the way they would have handled the situation.

Instead of hammering out a filibuster and war, they would have proposed amendments to remove the ‘bias’ from the existing bill.

Liberal Amendments:

  1. Remove “guiding principles” in Section 11(2) to allow parties to fully and fairly bargain
  2. Remove Section 13(3) in order to allow the parties to come to a negotiated settlement on salaries once the bill has passed.
  3. Remove the defined salary ranges in Section 15 which are lower than management’s last offer.

While this may not have been the best solution to the problem, it certainly been a lot more effective than the circus that was created to end up in the Conservatives’ favor.

“The Conservatives threw gas on the fire at Canada Post in order to provoke confrontation, and the NDP took the bait hook, line and sinker,” said Liberal Human Resources & Skills Development and Labor Critic Rodger Cuzner. “Now we’re stuck, and the only way out of this mess is to allow for a constructive debate on specific amendments to the legislation – because what we’re doing now clearly isn’t working.”

“While the Conservatives and NDP are locked in a stubborn ideological debate, Canadians want to know when they can expect their mail,” said Liberal Leader Bob Rae. “The sterile and hopelessly polarized debate between left and right cannot go on forever. It’s time for parliamentarians to put an end to this shambolic debate and find a solution to the impasse.”

The best solution, regardless what any of these parties would have said would have been to have a meeting between the government, management and CUPW and define an agreement from these negotiations.

At the end of the day, postal workers are left with a losing deal and maybe a more subtle approach would have been better. However, while these workers will dub the NDP their guardian party, it is worth noting that the situation wouldn’t have escalated if the NDP didn’t try to wage a war to make the bill oppositely polarized and impose left-wing ideology.

On behalf of the Conservatives, it seems that their right-wing bias and ideology was not only a way to wipe their hands from dealing with the issue, it was a strategic and clever way to downplay the intelligence of the NDP in a manner to play an ideological fight at the expense of workers and the economy. The big losers at this point are the postal workers, and it wouldn’t have gotten this far if the NDP took a more realistic and diplomatic approach.

With that said, the winners coming out of this crisis are the Liberals because they wanted to find a way to find compromise rather than have an ideological war and in time, they will look a lot more appealing given that Jack Layton and Stephen Harper will look like the same person on different sides of the spectrum. Although, one must give Layton for credit for having faith in the idea that the filibuster would give the two sides more time to get a deal before the vote took place but the result was inevitable.

As a result of having two oppositely polarized parties at the highest ranks of power (government and official opposition), Canadians can expect more partisan games and wars that will continue to try to tug the country and its people in opposite directions based only on ideology and the quest for power or the maintenance of power. The question now is, how strong is that rope?

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