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Not exactly a shock, I suppose, since I worked at CUPW for seven years. But I’m reading a bunch of stuff online about how we ‘must’ support postal workers because of all the great things CUPW has done for workers everywhere, how what Canada Post workers deliver has an important social policy function (aka universal access etc etc), and how important solidarity is etc etc.

And this is all true, in my opinion. But it’s not enough. Not for me anyway. So I’m going to give at least one more reason.

Hard copy postal communication may be in decline, but it’s the union that’s been trying to make the corporation evolve. Now that may contradict most common-sense notions of what unions in general and CUPW in particular are about. We’re often seen as atavistic and handbrakes on the locomotive of change.

But in the early and mid-1990s it was CUPW that was pushing Canada Post to modernize. At least insofaras dealing with the internet was concerned. CUPW proposed a pilot project where post offices would provide free public access to the internet. The corporation fought it every step of the way.

CUPW proposed providing truck drivers and letter carriers with sales training so they could pitch the corporation’s products and services to the customers they encountered every day. I was at a consultation meeting where this project went off the rails.

After settling on what the employer would provide in Canada Post facilities to help employees ensure they were presentable during client visits (a mirror, for example) the Canada Post labour relations offer rolled her eyes and said it wouldn’t help because postal workers were white sock-wearing oafs. My recollection is that we walked at that point.

Usually when the LRO detonates a grenade like that you know the operations people (who liked the project) are going to stop returning your calls.

CUPW also pushed the corporation to cut deals with Amazon and other online retailers to become the company of choice for delivering online purchases. Canada Post made some visible moves in this department and I’m sure the union had supporters in Canada Post management on this initiative. Otherwise it wouldn’t have happened.

CUPW has a well-deserved reputation as a tough union that shies away from no fight.

But it also has a very practical, strategic side that doesn’t get as much attention. Through all their efforts to fight technological change in the 70s and 80s their mantra wasn’t ‘no machines’, it was ‘workers must benefit equally from new technology’.

Similarly here, they’re not asking for an internet tax or to put stamps on SMS messages. They’re asking to help modernize Canada Post without impoverishing themselves.

I do sincerely hope CUPW and Canada Post settle without a work stoppage. I don’t know the players on management’s side these days, but I do think the union’s bargainers are exceptionally skilled and smart. If there’s a deal to be found, they will find it.