Sometimes the neighbourhood bully pushes too hard and people fight back. That’s the scenario unfolding before us. Recently announced cuts to Canada Post, driven by the Harper government’s appointed henchman Deepak Chopra, have thrown down the gauntlet. The question is: will postal workers, retirees, and their communities rise to the occasion? Our task is not only to defend and to expand postal service but to galvanize a much needed victory against a corporatist, dictatorial government that has demonstrated no moral authority to govern. This past week points to some tantalizing possibilities for those who oppose the Harper agenda.
Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra is just one in a long line of Harper cronies, appointed to turn public services into feeding troughs for the privileged. Although Canada Post is a profit-generating crown corporation, according to Mr. Chopra, times are so tough that Canada Post needs to be the first postal service in the industrialized world to eliminate door-to-door delivery. This despite Chopra’s own 33% performance bonus and the generous bonuses handed out to his corporate co-conspirators at head office. Such is the arrogance and entitlement of yet another Harper appointee. In Mr. Chopra’s case, this is a government appointee who was recruited from his position as CEO at Pitney Bowles, one of the largest private mail supply companies in the world: a U.S. corporation that could reap a massive windfall from the gutting of Canada’s public postal service.
Nevertheless, it’s understandable why the rhetoric of fear about the health of Canada Post resonates with some. There’s a logic to the assumption that because people use email, the postal service is becoming irrelevant. Yet, millions of people use and depend on Canada Post for mail delivery. Canada Post generates a profit, it creates decent jobs, and like public postal services the world over, it is a cornerstone of modern society. But as Canada Post continues to turn a profit and pay executive bonuses, under current management, it chokes its employee pension plan and then claims there is a crisis.
Our post office is not in good hands. But those placed there to run it into the ground and then scurry back to the private sector with their chunks of public loot are facing something new. They have unleashed a powerful force of unity and strength that seeks not only to maintain services but to extend them. This mounting force taps into a frustration that is much bigger than union jobs or the post office. It tells us that it is okay to dream again; it says that people deserve a victory in this land. Drawing on the inspiration of the Quebec student movement and Indigenous defenders of the land, we want to create a continuous chain of action that reveals new possibilities, developing our capacities as we go.
We must remember that, pushed to the wall, postal workers and communities have risen to the occasion in the past. There is a reason why Canada Post hasn’t been fully privatized yet. The proposed cuts are simply another round in a long fight. And we will need to shift gears if we are to succeed.
As I write, actions are mounting: occupations, door-to-door canvassing, circulation of petitions and postcards, letter writing, phone calls, meetings with seniors and retirees, and strategic assemblies are taking place. This is more than speeches and panel discussions. As we mobilize, we can increase our effectiveness by adopting non-patriarchal approaches to our assemblies and breakouts, so that all voices are valued and contribute to the whole. We don’t have to compete within our activism but instead can find the best roles for everyone.
This is not simply a struggle for postal workers: people should not wait for permission to save their post offices and push for increased service. These are times of possibility. Imagine if we stopped living in fear and stepped out from our private silos to fight for something that belongs to all of us. How many things are there left that we hold in common, public goods that benefit everyone? It is these public assets that our political rulers want to carve up and destroy, taking with them our ability to think big, to build a different society.
So now is the time for seniors, postal workers, the differently abled – for all the generations that have built this society and the post office – to organize, to agitate, and to contribute to an overdue victory. This is not merely about saving good jobs and a vital public service. This could be our line in the sand. Imagine if this was the place where we finally refused to acquiesce to corporate edicts concocted in office towers that we built and paid for. It is not enough for them that we have been atomized into lonely spheres, a society that either works too much or not at all. We live on a steady diet of fear that extends within and without the workplace. Postal clerks, for example, are now like cattle in factory farms, working in divided cases so they have no contact with other human beings working right beside them day after day.
At this time, we must not allow our souls to be diminished by uncertainty. Within each and every one of us, in our own capacities, smoulder sparks that can become infernos in the hour of our freedom, in that moment when we just say “no.”
A winning movement does not contract out its resistance to a few leaders. Instead, those leaders must inspire and tap into the resistance, helping coordinate tactical battles and acting as accountable focal points. If we can do this, while opening strategic spaces and priorities along the way, we can shift our culture, and we can give this gang of thieves a battle they never saw coming.
If the post office belongs to everyone, then this is a call to action, a collective opportunity in the making. We are a restless people, diverse and proud. We are tired of being on the ropes; we are tired of Prime Minister Harper and his cynical appointees. We may have been on their hit list, but now they are surely on ours.
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