June 15th 2011 By P. Gage
Last weekend Canada Post declared a series of service cuts that reduced the Letter Carrier work week down to three days a week. On the first day of the service cuts there were several early morning actions where hundreds of Letter Carriers showed up for work and demanded to deliver mail that had piled up inside their depots. In Edmonton several depots took this one step farther by sitting down inside the depot and refusing to leave. Several other depots rallied outside and marched around outside their workplaces.
Following these actions the Canadian Union of Postal Workers held a demonstration on Whyte Avenue where over 300 Postal Workers marched on Depot 9, one of the largest and most militant depots in the city. When the workers arrived at the depot they used the password on the door, which had not been changed, to storm the depot with camera phones in hand. Again the workers staged an occupation with management locking themselves in their office to hide from the angry mob. Workers with cameras photographed piles of mail stuffed into the depot exposing Canada Post Corporations lie that there was no mail to be delivered.
Workers banged on the walls to make noise, flipped over trash cans to use as drums and banged on metal racks with sticks. This episode went on for a while before the crowd retired to Gazebo Park down the road for speeches and a short rally. Although rowdy, the event was entirely non violent if not very confrontational. Many workers said afterwards that this day was the best moment of their lives, but the day was not even yet over.
Across town the facilities still operating were extremely tense with major confrontations reported with management across the board often involving groups of workers. As the afternoon wore on the public was told that the Air Canada Workers were about to be legislated back to work. Emboldened by this move and in retaliation for militant action across Canada by Postal Workers the Canada Post Corporation locked the CUPW out at 9:15pm.
As the workers filed out of the plant they noticed that about ten members of management were staying behind, many putting up tarps over the windows so no one could watch them operate mail equipment. Incensed the crowd went on to erect barricades out of metal construction fences at the back gates, they turned around any trucks coming in and parked a 5-ton Canada Post vehicle in the truck gate and padlocked the mail inside.
Several hours later the management team started sending their people out to go home. The pickets locked arms and chanted “no one in, no one out”. Management was informed that the workers sincerely hoped management had brought pyjamas. The bosses looked dejected. Then the police arrived. They sincerely wanted to not have to intervene but said we couldn’t hold management forever and at some point it became unlawful confinement and suggested we open up negotiations.
The pickets decided that an apology was in order from the Labour Relations team and Senior Management. If one person from the top of the management team came out and announced to the crowd that they were sorry for disrespecting the picket line that evening and the previous week during the rotating strikes the workers would not stop them from crossing the line in order to leave. Management categorically refused. Our next offer was to have them come out and walk through a small gap in our lines and board cabs waiting outside. Their personal vehicles were to remain outside and over 100 angry postal workers would see them off. We agreed on a path of travel, the crowd agreed to stick to where they were and heckle.
When management left the building they quickly veered to the right and made for a gap in the side of the building walking past their personal vehicles but not entering them. The police officer in charge was visibly displeased at them breaking the agreement. The crowd surged forward with camera phones in front jeering and heckling the bosses as they left the building. The event was rowdy but no one was even shoved, the workers remained disciplined, not by some outside force but by their own rank and file members giving each other encouragement.
This day was the high water mark in years of struggle for several militants in the Post Office and there is no doubt we will carry this story with us for the rest of our lives. But it is also just the beginning. Yesterday workers got a taste of their own power and made the first step towards taking back control over their own work. This won’t end with a new collective agreement and it will continue when we all walk back into the post office with our heads held high.