5.30.2011

why i support the canadian union of postal workers and why you should, too

Earlier today, we put a sticker on our mailbox.


It's meant to be a message for our letter carrier, to show support for her cause.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has filed notice to strike at one minute before midnight on June 2. The overwhelming majority of its membership wants to strike, and from what I hear, have been pushing leadership to reject concessions and authorize the walkout.

The posties' fight is not only about their own right to decent working conditions. It's for our rights, too: our right to good public services that put people before profits, our right to decent jobs that raise our standard of living, rather than force us to work ever harder just to stay afloat. Indeed, the posties' fight has echoes for our entire society, because as the income gap widens, our world becomes scarier, less safe, and less civil.

During the Toronto municipal workers strike, many of us were horrified at the anti-labour, anti-human spew emanating from most of the media and many of our co-workers and neighbours. Yet when activists marched in the Pride parade holding signs aloft reading "We support Toronto's striking workers!" they were greeted with huge cheers throughout the parade route. Could it be that most people understand what's at stake?

We must not be afraid to reject the politics of envy, to reject the mindset that says, "I don't have it so good, why should that guy have it better than me?" As good jobs disappear - jobs with salaries that can stave off poverty, benefits that can bring a bit of comfort and security, and (have we forgotten the concept?) pensions that provide a dignified retirement - as those jobs disappear, we will all suffer. The closer we are to the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder, the greater that suffering will be, but increasing numbers of us will slide closer to that bottom rung.

On the other hand, the more those jobs do exist - even if they're not our jobs - the greater the possibility that more of us will have decent jobs. If unions had not raised the standard of living for their own members through decades of struggle, the prospects for all of us would have been very grim indeed.

This, it seems, is what so many people do not understand.

Were it not for the battles of the auto workers, miners, steelworkers, teachers, nurses, textile workers, sanitation workers, and all other union workers, none of us - none of us whose parents and grandparents were not born into wealth - would have been able to enjoy a middle-class standard of living.

You may have heard the expression, "Enjoy your weekend? Thank a union." That's only part of the story. I once posted this from Oot and Aboot with Some Canadian Skeptic:
Do your children have to work anymore? Thank a union.
Does your workweek cap at 40 hours? Thank a union.
Do you get health benefits? Thank a union.
Do you get maternity leave? Thank a union.
Do you get sick leave? Thank a union.
Does your workplace have safety-precautions? Thank a union.
Have a weekend? Thank a union.
Do you have more time off than time at work? Thank a union.
Do you get to retire one day? Thank a union.
Ever have a paid holiday? Thank a union.
Take a day off and not been fired? Thank a union.
Not been fired for being gay, black, or a woman? Thank a union.
Do you get overtime pay? Thank a union.
Have a minimum wage? Thank a union.
Has that minimum wage risen since the 1970's? Thank a union.

You can visit CUPW's website to send a letter to Canada Post in support of postal workers. And when you see your letter carrier, you can show her your support. If you don't see the letter carrier for your house or building, consider leaving a note in your mailbox or a sign in your window. Tape a sign to your nearest red or gray Canada Post box:

I SUPPORT PUBLIC SERVICES
I SUPPORT PUBLIC WORKERS

For another take on the importance of the coming postal strike, please read my friend and comrade Dr J: 5 reasons to support postal workers.

14 comments:

allan said...

"I don't have it so good, why should that guy have it better than me?"

The more important question: "Damn, that guy's got some pretty good benefits, why don't I have them, too?"

Various industries will look at this battle and if the union loses, they will feel more confident to fuck their own workers over later on. And you might be working in one of those industries, or in the second or third ripple of cuts.

Sooner or later, you *will* be affected. So be selfish & support the postal workers!

Kim_in_TO said...

This argument ("they shouldn't have a certain benefit because I don't") came up during the city workers' strike. I heard a couple of friends refer to it as "the race to the bottom". I like that phrase. I also like "the politics of envy".

M@ said...

I'm a private contractor -- though a lot of my work (not all of it) has been for the public sector -- and I have almost none of those things. (I am also very well compensated, and I chose to take the route I took, so this isn't a complaint.)

Yet I do not begrudge those who have them, even though I pay a very healthy share into the public kitty through the taxes which I and my corporation pay.

This makes me wonder whether the problem is one of class instead of philosophy or politics. My income puts me very firmly in the middle class; I don't begrudge others gaining the same status (through union or non-union jobs); I don't begrudge the taxes I pay (though, yes, they do hurt) or the wages and benefits that public sector workers draw from them, because I do understand the ways I use those services, all the time.

People in the employer or shareholder class push away from fair compensation for workers out of self-interest; for them, there is a zero-sum game at heart, which isn't true but it certainly looks like it when it comes to quarterly P/L statements.

People in jobs that do not have the wages or benefits of union jobs are the real conundrum. They want to pull others down to their level, they vote or speak against against their self-interests. It kind of sounds like they have lost hope, and that's why they're lashing out; they don't realize that better things are achievable.

I hate to talk like there are "those people" and so on, especially since I have enjoyed a life of relative privilege. But I can't help but see parallels with people who are born into situations where drugs and crime are inevitable, because those are the only way forward, when all the legitimate avenues are blocked off. I don't see it as the politics of envy, but the politics of despair.

Is this possibly the case? And if so, what do we do about it?

laura k said...

Thanks for these excellent comments, my friends.

People in jobs that do not have the wages or benefits of union jobs are the real conundrum. They want to pull others down to their level, they vote or speak against against their self-interests. It kind of sounds like they have lost hope, and that's why they're lashing out; they don't realize that better things are achievable.

I wholeheartedly agree. In our present system (meaning, under capitalism), we learn that other workers are our competition. We are all scrambling for our tiny piece - or crubms - of the pie. Add to the politics of envy and the race to the bottom: divide and rule.

One of our greatest challenges - if not, perhaps, the greatest challenge - is helping people understand that we benefit more when we work together for the good of all, rather than when we kick each other down to get "our share" before someone else takes it.

laura k said...

they vote or speak against against their self-interests

Regarding certain political parties that convince people to vote agianst their own interests, Allan got a big laugh at one of the talks we attended when he alluded to "getting chickens to vote for Colonel Sanders".

Someone in the US used to say this, we couldn't remember who, but it's a great line.

johngoldfine said...

Once a year, and only once, can faculty join the union--and several times as union steward or secretary, I've had to go around and try to persuade colleagues to come aboard. Since we are (for a few more weeks still) a state where non-members have to pay a 'fair share' (slightly less that actual union dues), money was never the argument they trotted out to explain their unwillingness to join.

Usually they had some variation of this: 'The last contract sucked; you didn't get a big enough salary increase so I'm keeping every penny now,' or, 'You didn't win my grievance (and the grievances these losers bring are always loser-grievances), so I'm not supporting you.'

I love that 'supporting you.' As if joining the union was a personal favor to us fatcats running the damn thing. I say to them: 'The first question any new administrator wants to know is what percentage of faculty are members. Why do you think that's important to them?'

And they answer with some polite version of 'Go fuck yourself.'

Teaching is full of dark, petty souls, too dumb to understand the phrase 'cutting off your nose to spite your face.' That's my best explanation.

My students, too, despite all of them reading Howard Zinn in their American History course, usually feel that unions are just another rip-off in a life where they can see already they have the shitty end of the stick.

johngoldfine said...

I have a comment I wanted to make about a friend who is in the US border patrol, but I can't make it--because I would hate for my comment to ever cause him any difficulty, which perhaps is an indicator wmtc will appreciate of the atmosphere here in the land of the free.

Kev said...

As a devoted trade unionist all I can say about your post is thank you and hallelujah

Gunner said...

I'm just on my way home from my lovely minimum wage temp job so I don't really have time to comment but this video would seem to be appropriate:h

ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=184NTV2CE_c

laura k said...

Gunner, thank you!

Kev, you're welcome. :) When I went back to find some earlier links, I was surprised at how often I blogged about the Toronto municipal strike. I was SO angry about all the terrible anti-labour, selfish crap I was hearing, reading, running into everywhere.

laura k said...

My students, too, despite all of them reading Howard Zinn in their American History course, usually feel that unions are just another rip-off in a life where they can see already they have the shitty end of the stick.

That's the sadder part.

Although my father represented university professors for many years and I know they need unions too - big time.

But your students... they need unions more.

laura k said...

John, if you don't use your friend's names or initials or say where s/he works...?

impudent strumpet said...

And then they turn around and say in the throne speech "We will get back to work on the things that matter most to Canadians: good jobs, security for our families and a prosperous future."

laura k said...

Yes, classic right-wing lies.