(from Communist Voice #16, Jan. 20, 1998)
. In the closing months of last year, Canadian working people were stirring. The teachers strike on the province of Ontario was the largest teachers strike in North America ever, while the postal workers went out on a national strike. Despite the solid unity of the strikers, both strikes had disappointing ends: they were called off by the union leaders under government pressure. In both cases, the union leaders said they weren't really ending the struggle, but just changing its form. In both cases, the struggle has since fizzled out.
. These strikes hold a serious lesson for workers everywhere. They show that we need not just
militancy, but to build an independent workers' movement that is free from the reformism of the
pro-capitalist labor leaders. We reprint below articles from Detroit Workers Voice #17 supporting
these strikes, and an additional article discussing how the postal strike ended.
. 45,000 Canadian postal workers launched a strike on November 19, shutting down the postal system. The efforts of the management of Canada Post to drive down postal workers is something we U.S. postal workers are only too familiar with. Canada Post is trying to eliminate jobs, replace career jobs with part- time jobs (casuals), lengthen letter carrier routes, and drive down wages and benefits. Here our union leaders tell us that nothing can be done to protect ourselves against postal management except to utilize a grievance procedure that is a joke and accept contracts decided by arbitrators who couldn't care less about our steadily declining conditions. The Canadian postal strike shows that another way is possible. It shows that workers have the potential to take powerful actions against postal management. If we want decent contracts, then we must prepare for such mass actions. If we want to be able to fight back effectively on the daily crimes of postal management, we must begin to band together for all sorts of collective actions.
. While the rank-and-file postal workers in Canada have dug in for a serious fight, the leaders of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) are trying to reach a dirty back-room deal with management. They are indicating that if the Canadian government passes "back-to-work" legislation, they will most likely capitulate to it and end the strike they called. Canadian government officials have already threatened that such legislation is imminent. Meanwhile, CUPW negotiators have been busy trimming their demands. The have slashed their original modest wage demands. As well, they are willing to let an arbitrator decide the fate of letter carrier routes which plays into management's hands. It is far from clear that Canadian postal management will accept these concessions. Seeing the wavering of the union officials, they are pressing for complete surrender.
. So while the Canadian postal workers have shown their potential might, they also face a very difficult situation. In the U.S., postal workers have no right to strike while in Canada they do. Yet the "right-to-strike" in Canada does not prevent the government from eliminating this right with legislation if the strike is effective. Such is the lack of democratic rights for workers in capitalist democracies such as the U.S. and Canada where the governmental institutions are in the hands of the wealthy corporations. As well, Canadian and U.S. postal workers see their struggles undermined by their so-called labor leaders. The fate of the Canadian postal strike will be in jeopardy unless the rank-and-file can makes its will felt and avoid being railroaded into a poor settlement by the CUPW bureaucrats.
. Postal and other workers in the U.S. should take to heart the lessons of the strike. The Canadian strike gives us a glimpse of what our own potential power could be. It shows that another way exists besides just "taking it" or trusting our fate to the rotten grievance procedure and callous arbitrators. We have the possibility of taking our fate into our own hands. Our weapon is that of collective action. To utilize this weapon means we must begin to build links among the rank-and-file and not depend on the frightened union officials.
Solidarity with the Canadian postal workers!
Get organized to resist the attacks of the USPS!
By Mark, Detroit
. Since the above article appeared in Detroit Workers Voice, the strike, which began on November 19, has ended. Here we will update the reader on subsequent events.
, While the DWV article supported the motion toward struggle of the rank-and-file postal employees, it warned that the fate of the strike would rest on whether the postal workers were able to defy the government's "back-to-work" legislation which was being threatened. Likewise, the postal workers would have to be on guard against the leaders of the Canadian Postal Workers Union (CUPW) who were giving indications of abandoning the struggle.
, On December 2, the Liberal government of Jean Chretien pushed through anti-strike legislation.This action revealed the capitalist class nature of the Canadian government which grants postal workers the right to strike but then takes it away whenever the workers' actions begin to become effective. (Of course in the U. S. no such hypocrisy exists as postal strikes are simply banned!) Strike-breaking legislation was similarly passed in the postal strikes of 1991, 1987 and 1978.Canadian law provides for huge fines of $1,000 per day to each worker that defies anti-strike laws, $50,000 per day for union leaders that do so, and $100,000 per day for the union overall.Such are the wonders of Canadian "democracy. "
, The strike-breaking bill also imposed a miserly wage settlement of a bit over 5% over three years. This was less than the wage package offered by Canada Post in negotiations! Meanwhile, other major issues will be settled by an arbitrator within three months. Through such arbitration, the government will almost certainly make headway in their attempt to slash jobs, lengthen letter carrier routes and otherwise ruin working conditions.
. While Canada Post is officially supposed to be non-profit, in fact it has made sizable profits.Government officials want to squeeze even more profits from Canada Post at the expense of the workers and poorer service for the ordinary customers. Indeed, government officials have been openly trying to impose high-profit targets. CUPW union officials have correctly noted that imposing these profit targets may hasten privatization as they would make the postal service a tempting buy for private investors. (In the U. S. , postal management and the postal unions perpetrate the hoax that profitability of the post office is the best way to insure against privatization. ) Indeed, during the strike, bulk mailers and certain other capitalist interests were screaming for privatization, or at least a complete ban on postal strikes. This does not necessarily mean that Canada Post is soon to be entirely privatized. But piecemeal privatization of postal services has been occurring around the world.
. The strike breaking of the Liberal government was wholeheartedly supported by the right-wing Reform and Conservative parties. The allegedly "socialist" New Democratic Party and the bourgeois nationalist Bloc Quebecois posed as sympathetic to the postal workers. But when and where they rule, both these forces carry out a pro-capitalist agenda. For instance, the NDP government that ruled in Ontario a couple of years ago attacked the working conditions of teachers and began dismantling the social safety net. As regards Chretien's present assault on postal workers, the NDP and Bloc Quebecois voted against the back-to-work legislation. But they also agreed to expedite the passage of the bill by agreeing to let the legislature meet around the clock if necessary. Indeed, NDP members argued that they could not support the legislation because the strike had not yet created a serious national emergency. Thus, the NDP was providing a rationale for breaking the strike while debating the exact moment to do so. How pro-worker!
. While the bourgeois parties plotted against the postal workers, the CUPW leaders issued a lot of militant-sounding rhetoric. Prior to the passing of the "back-to-work" legislation, they promised a massive campaign of civil disobedience against it. The CUPW bureaucrats promised this would paralyze commerce in various ways such as tying up streets and airports. In fact, the CUPW officials only organized a few scattered protests with little effect. But even had a larger civil disobedience campaign been organized, the CUPW leadership's attempt to substitute this for militant strike action was treachery.
. When the anti-strike bill passed, the CUPW bureaucrats dutifully obeyed. Having given up the powerful weapon of the strike, the bureaucrats continued to try to look militant. They promised resistance would continue once the postal workers returned to work. For instance, they said that for a time postal workers would process mail without postage. This tactic might serve as a symbolic expression that would appeal to the average citizen. But beyond the symbolism, there wasn't much chance that many people would risk not having their mail delivered. As well, it appears that workers were not really organized to carry out this threat in a collective way. Nor does it appear that other forms of "in-house" mass resistance have developed very far.
. The undermining of struggle by the CUPW leadership is nothing new. In 1991, for instance, they ditched the idea of a nation-wide strike in favor of one-day rotating strikes where the bulk of the postal system could carry on as usual. In the present struggle, the turn from striking to a few scattered civil disobedience actions marks a further abandonment of serious means of struggle.
. The anti-strike bill and the capitulation to it by the CUPW leaders has been a heavy blow to the
hopes of the postal workers. They may well get saddled with odious new work conditions. But
these deteriorating conditions will continue to fill the workers with anger and thoughts of
resistance. What is key is that the rank-and-file must begin to organize itself independent of the
trade union bureaucrats. The Canadian postal workers have seen how much potential power they
have when they strike. Now they face the task of building a militant trend that is organized to
defy government strikebreaking. This will take time, but the small skirmishes that are bound to
break out in the upcoming period will provide opportunities for work toward this end.
. On October 27th, 126,000 teachers in Ontario, Canada launched a two-week strike against the provincial government's assault on education and the teachers' collective bargaining rights. The conservative Harris government is pushing these attacks through legislation called Bill 160. This strike action was a resounding reply to this bill and began the largest teachers' strike in the history of North America. The strike effectively shut down the primary and secondary school system for some 2.1 million students. Janitors, secretaries and teachers' assistants refused to cross picket lines.
. Today, however, the strike is over as the provisions of Bill 160 go ahead. What happened? Did the strike fail because it was beaten down by government police actions? No. Did the rank-and-file grow weary of the strike and was unable to continue? No. The strike was killed by the weak- kneed leaderships of the five striking unions. On November 6, as a rally of 15,000 teachers and their supporters demonstrated the rank-and-file enthusiasm to fight the bill, the leaders of three of the five protesting unions announced they were ending their protest and returning to work. The other two unions quickly followed suit. What makes this betrayal by the union leadership especially galling is that the Harris government had just failed to get a court injunction to force an end to the strike. Had the injunction been granted, the success of the struggle would have depended on defying it. But as it turns out, the union bureaucrats surrendered voluntarily. What a disgrace!
, The capitulation of three of the union leaderships is a clear indication of the meek nature of the
trade union officialdom in Canada whose overall class collaborationist stand is similar to that of
the labor traitors of "our" AFL-CIO officials. Many teachers expressed outrage at the stand of
their so- called labor leaders. Unfortunately, they were unable to organize themselves to
overcome this betrayal. The task of building fighting organizations independent of the union
bureaucrats is a pressing task for teachers and workers on both sides of the border.
Canadian workers are stirring
. While the workers in Ontario generally remain under the sway of the labor bureaucrats, they have nevertheless begun to stir. The Harris government, and the wealthy capitalists it represents, are in the midst of a big offensive to drive down the working class as a whole, making it easier for employers to smash strikes and fatten their profits. While Canadian workers suffer double- digit unemployment, Harris is gutting social programs at every chance. This is the heart of the Harris "Common Sense Revolution. "
. But the workers in Ontario have a different idea of what common sense is than the fat-cat
business interests and their government stooges. There have been a series of major worker
actions against the Harris government's program in recent months. Only ten days before the
teachers walked out, workers shut down some 200 workplaces for one day in protest in Windsor
and its suburbs including the city transit system, the "Big 3" auto plants, and the casinos.Teachers
also joined this action and the school system in Windsor and surrounding Essex county was shut
down that day. As well, the mass protests of workers has recently forced the Harris government
to back off its efforts to impose anti-strike legislation on the public sector workers.
. The teachers' strike was a just response to Bill 160. The bill would restructure school financing
so that the government can continue slashing the already-thin education budget, this time lopping
off another seven percent. By the government's own conservative estimates, the new budget cuts
aim at reducing the number of teachers by 7,500. The bill would also help increase the
percentage of non-certified teachers and non-union employees. Another provision would
eliminate part of the preparation time used by teachers for class preparations, counseling
students, etc. As well, the teachers' current rights to fight for better teaching and learning
conditions would be replaced by government decrees on these matters. The Harris government
pretends that its decrees will provide more uniform conditions among schools. For example, it
claims to want a smaller uniform class size and chides teachers for allegedly bargaining for larger
classes. Actually, teachers have been fighting for smaller classes while it's the Harris budget cuts
that have led to larger class sizes. The government budget-cutting shows that they are aiming to
lower educational conditions, not improve them. Meanwhile, the Harris regime has floated the
idea of moving to a voucher system in education which would result in wholesale inequalities
between rich and poor schools.
. The situation faced by the workers in Ontario looks very familiar to workers in the U.S. We too are faced with an employer's offensive to drive down our living standards and working conditions. We too see the government slashing the social safety net and using its courts and cops to put down resistance to their plans. In the U.S., the war on the workers is not merely a Republican plot, but a bipartisan effort as the Democrats. Likewise in Ontario, the allegedly "pro-labor" New Democratic Party which preceded the Harris conservatives took up the conservative social budget axe with a vengeance.
. The large workers actions that have hit Ontario in response provide a glimpse of the potential
power that the workers have. Workers don't have to be passive victims ground up by big business
and their political representatives. But in order to really be able to fight, the rank-and-file is faced
with the task of organizing itself as a force that can operate independently of the trade union
misleaders. The task of reorganizing our class as an independent fighting force is going to be
protracted. But even small steps in this direction today are what is needed to pave the way for the
mighty class organizations of the future.
Last changed on October 17, 2001.