In this piece Phineas Gage recalls the challenges of organizing under punitive back to work legislation and the effect it had on shop floor organising. As tensions grow over a dispute about the safety of various parking arrangements around renovated facilities the shop again begins to mobilise. Then tragedy strikes and the workers are reminded that sometimes the cost of a partial victory can be as great as any defeat.
Workers gather over one thousand strong to protest back to work legislation.
Concluding Phineas Gage’s three-part series on struggles at the Canada Post during 2011, we present ‘Snake march’. In this final installment, he describes the moral as the lockout drags on. Parliamentary filibusters and symbolic occupations fail to turn the tide on contract negotiations. The postal workers return to work, determined to not let management bulldoze them in the shopfloor.
Check out here Part 1 of the series and also Part 2.
A truck pulled up to the parking lot in front of the main downtown Post Office. Christine and I jumped up and started unloading signs from the back. Camera people were setting up all around the truck and The Local President was going over the notes her people helped her prep for the interviews. Slowly the crowd swelled as people walked in from the bus stops, then a big bus from the Nurses union pulled up and people filed out. Half an hour later the crowd was huge spilling out of the parking lot. Around 1,000 people showed up.
Gil McGowan, the President of the Provincial Labour Federation, took the microphone from a local executive member who was managing the speakers list. The shopfloor committees huddled on the other side of the crowd, largely ignoring the people who had their faces in the television cameras.
Sheila was chairing the committee meeting. “Okay so what’s the plan?”
Last week we brought you the first in a series of articles by Phineas Gage about a strike at Canada Post. This week as the strike rolled on the workers faced a common challenge of workplace battles. The government, employers, and national union began making moves to diffuse the situation and try to control the actions of the workers. Viewed from inside the strike at one local we see the decisions workers were wrestling with to try and combat the cut backs, austerity, and attacks being leveled against them on the job, and at the same time responding to the real possibilities of further losses, repression, and possible sabotage from above.
I had only slept a few hours when I returned to the Mail Processing Plant the morning after they locked us out. As I parked my car I watched a crowd of Postal Workers gathered around a Lexus with the doors open, the trunk open and a bunch of chanting. I saw Sheila hauling a tire out of the trunk of the Lexus and bounce it a few times on the ground. I guess a few workers had this done to their vehicles when they took road trips across the border to the USA, the guards were seeing if there were drugs inside it, and thought that was how a proper search was done. The man in the suit got into his car and Sheila slammed the door hard behind him. He pulled out of the crowd safely but when at the edge of the mob he squealed his tires.
The mob covered their ears and a few plastic bottles were thrown at the car as he sped away.
Postal Workers rally around the plant after being locked out.
This week we proudly present you the first of a three part series that detail a set of organizing actions by postal workers in Canada during 2011. It is written by fellow Recomposition editor Phineas Gage who expounds on the actions that led up to the CUPW strike, the predicaments that workers faced challenging management, and the indelible memory of seeing management flee an angry mob of strikers.
Enjoy, and check back next week for Part 2!
Turning up the Heat
by Phineas Gage
Craig stood inside the Mail Processing Plant doors, just about to punch in. His phone rang – the number for National.
The voice on his cell phone spoke excitedly. Craig nodded slowly.
“Almost ready, we have a couple depots that are slacking but this will light a fire under their ass,” he said.
The voice from the National Office spoke again.
“Okay, I’ll pass that on. So the strike could start tomorrow, it could be in a few weeks, you will keep us posted but we probably won’t hear much until you tell us to go”. Craig talked into the phone loudly enough that the other people standing near him could hear. Grand standing while no one is supposed to be paying attention is the oldest trick in the book.
“For all their talk about ‘direct action’ Depot 2 sure seems to not be interested in the big job action we have planned for a few weeks from now. You remember that one, right? The strike? That’s a pretty big job action, right?”
Rage – contribution by M. Kostas
This week’s piece comes to us by fellow editor at Recomposition, Phineas Gage. In it, he analyzes three instances in different organizing scenarios where bluffing, whether premeditated or spontaneous, helped leverage reactions that would not have otherwise happened. A running theme through these experiences is the desire to struggle, but to struggle together, paired with the glaring fear that people won’t have each other’s backs when push comes to shove. His insight not only lets us in on the small details that can make or break actions, but also shines a light on how every step we take in our organizing, as in our life, is a gamble.
This entry is the second part in a two-part story from contributor Phineas Gage about a wildcat strike by contractors at the Canadian postal service, and continues our coverage of struggles within Canada Post.
The phone rang irritatingly early, early enough I ignored it the first time. Apparently Lise-Anne called several other executive members after she left a message for me. I later found out the message she left me said: “they’re cutting our pay by 30%, we had a coffee break meeting and we vote unanimously to walk out in response, what do we do now?”
The phone rang again, this time I picked up. “We just walked out, we’re sitting across the street in the Tim Horton’s”. Eight months prior I had talked to the workers at this depot about racial discrimination and harassment one co-worker was facing. They marched on the boss with eight people that sent a strong enough message it put an end to that issue. Even if the racist supervisor was still around he was a lot quieter. The workers became more assertive, and very strong on the floor. A series of small actions built the solidarity among the rural workers to the point where they felt strong enough to fight a change to the work measurement system that was going to cut their pay by almost a third.
“Did you make any demands?” I asked groggily, sometimes folks are so angry they forget to say what they want.
“Yeah, we wanted a repeal of the policy and he told us that the union was going to be upset we did this”.
“What did you say to that?”
“I said we didn’t need their permission to do this, but the local President and Sharon are coming down to talk to us and see what they can do to help”.
This entry is a two-part story from contributor Phineas Gage about a wildcat strike by contractors at the Canadian postal service, and continues our coverage of struggles within Canada Post. In the course of the strike, union workers had to figure out how to relate to contractors and where scabbing starts and solidarity ends. The experience of life under capitalism can reveal both the potential divisions that destroy struggles and the commonalities that can overcome them. These next two pieces can help us understand and try to go beyond the barriers class throws at us.
Abraham looked down the row at everyone else sorting mail. Their heads were bowed, occasionally rubbing their eyes they worked slowly but steadily- the only way you can when you work fourteen hours every day. He reached over to the letter that was left on his desk for him by a Canada Post Supervisor, he was in late because his daughter was up all night with a cough. The letterhead was from Reynolds Diaz, the private contractor that hired him on behalf of Canada Post.
By P. Gage
The first permanent job I got at Canada Post was in the early weeks of the spring of 2007.
It was an ‘inside job’ processing and splitting up flyers between one hundred or so letter carriers. I had been working for Canada Post as a Term (read temp) for a year before getting a permanent position. Because of the labour shortages in Alberta I moved up in seniority quickly.
Being the flyer guy in the depot made me far from the most popular person. Letter carriers like delivering flyers even less than their customers like getting them, they see them as a waste of time and not worth the $0.15 piece rate they get paid to deliver them. It did mean that I got to talk to almost everyone in the depot and hear their opinions on everything. Sometimes those opinions were not just about how much they hated seeing me every morning.
It Takes Two to Tango
by P. Gage
As I pulled the gearshift into drive my cell phone was flashing telling me that I had a voicemail. When I got to my next stop I saw I had three messages on my phone now and my voicemail was full. I rubbed my hands together over the vent trying to forget about December in Edmonton. I got curious so I opened my voicemail box as I listened to each message my heart sank further.
“Hello, this message is for Phinneas, my name is Steve and I’m a driver in the same department as you. I understand management has cancelled all of the Christmas overtime for the rest of the month because of the fight you had with them this morning over paying the correct overtime hours.