IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Atamanenko on the PM steamrolling workers’ rights

NDP MP Alex Atamanenko thinks Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper damaged collective bargaining with the passing of back-to-work legislation for Canada Post employees.

Early in June, I had the honour of speaking at a public rally near to Parliament Hill that had been organized by People for Postal Workers, a network of organizations and individuals united in solidarity with our Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).

With overwhelming support from 95 per cent of the membership, CUPW had just begun to take legal rotating strike action after seven months of negotiations and no deal.

Twelve days later Canada Post Corporation (CPC) locked the doors on its employees nationwide, following which the government introduced employer-friendly, back-to-work legislation in the House of Commons.

In order to allow more time for negotiations to continue, the New Democrats began a record 58-hour filibuster against a government bill that would establish a whole new blueprint from which to roll back workers rights.

In a revolting display of buffoonery, high-fives and backslapping, Harper and his majority government voted against every opposition amendment that would have brought a bit of fairness to the legislation. The bill has now passed through the Senate and into law.

Canada Post workers are justifiably opposed to CPC demands that would put in place a two-tiered wage system, effectively demolishing decades of collective bargaining to end this type of discrimination.

Workers doing equal work would be paid different rates, with the corporate goal being to create resentment and divide the workforce. Also at stake was a 40-year-old sick leave plan which the corporation wanted replaced with a short-term disability plan that would provide inadequate coverage and threaten workers’ medical privacy rights.

CPC also wants to reduce rural service with over 50 B.C. communities targeted for reductions in hours, while increasing the workload to unsafe limits for the already overburdened postal workers.

Our CPC is required by law to make a profit and to pay part of this back to the government. Canada Post has made $1.7 billion in the last 15 years and paid us $1.2 billion in dividends and income tax.  Even so, we get a bargain 59-cent stamp compared to Germany at 78 cents, Austria at 88 cents and Japan at 94 cents.

Clearly, our Canada Post Corporation is both profitable and productive and postal workers are the key drivers of that success.  They deserve nothing less than full support and respect by their government and the Canadian public.

Emboldened by Harper’s majority right-wing government, the radical anti-union voices have become shrill, no doubt inspired by the moves of Wisconsin and other U.S. states to strip public servants of all collective bargaining rights.

These moves are clearly meant to pave the way towards privatization of assets that belong to each and every citizen – the common wealth from which we all benefit immensely.

Studies show that countries with the strongest unions have the highest quality of life, the strongest economies and the best democracies.

Compare countries like Columbia and Mexico, where just thinking of organizing into a union will get you killed, to Scandinavian countries where a strong labour movement has brought about the highest standards of living on the planet and you will see how true this is. I believe that this horrendous attack by the government against our postal workers is a sneak preview of things to come.

The government’s intention to use its majority power to sell off our collective assets to private interests couldn’t be clearer.

In fact, they’ve already promised to hand over the Canadian Wheat Board to their corporate pals by 2012.

I was proud to stand in the House of Commons alongside my fellow New Democrats to defend our public postal service.  Even so, it is clear that without a lot more public engagement it will be impossible to stop Harper and his gang from gutting our institutions and leaving us all poorer in the end.

– Alex Atamanenko is a member of the federal NDP party and MP for the B.C. Southern Interior