Saturday, June 18, 2011

Going Postal - Canadian Style

For those who haven't noticed, there is no mail in Canada. It is not a strike, but a lockout. That's right, the post office closed itself down. For those who wonder how this could happen, I should point out that Canada Post does not use the slogan "Neither rain nor sleet..." or whatever it is. In fact, if Canada Post had a slogan, it would be, "What do you expect for 59 cents?" But I digress.

They are fighting over the usual suspects - wages, working conditions, benefits, and history. History, because the company wants to roll all of those back to the days of the early industrial revolution. I should point out here that I am not generally pro-union; I applauded WalMart when they closed their first ever store to have been unionized. However, these are exceptional times that call for exceptional opinions.

The union, in a rare stroke of brilliant strategy, started with rotating strikes, wherein various urban centres would lose mail delivery for one day at a time. This had the double benefit of not terribly inconveniencing the mail-receiving public at the same time as causing Canada Post major administrative headaches.

This (a public service union going after its employer without holding the public hostage) would not do, of course. So Canada Post did the only thing it could (other than actually taking steps to reach a negotiated settlement) - it attempted to provoke a full strike by announcing that mail would only be delivered three days a week.

When the union didn't bite, the company complained that its reduced service was costing it too much in lost revenue, so it did the logical thing and shut down altogether, because no revenue is better than some revenue, apparently.

In any case, the point of all of this has become clear to me. The current government has hinted at its desire to privatize the post office, an idea that has generally been met with a mix of raised eyebrows and instinctive disdain. By running itself into the ground, Canada Post will become a drain on the public purse, and thus a fair target to be a sacrificial lamb in some future round of budget cuts - the public will be less likely to oppose the sale of a money-losing crown corporation.

As a side-effect, this situation may turn out to be the best thing that little Stevie Harper has ever done for the environment - the vast majority of folks who will now use the internet to get around the lockout (for example, switching to online billing and payments) will not come back to snail mail, and this permanent drop in Canada Post's market will save countless forests.

My favourite part of the whole mess, though, has been the laughs, like the one I had when the company's CEO announced the lockout/shutdown at the same time as telling employees that he hopes they will come back to work soon. You can't pay for that kind of slapstick.

Oh wait, I guess we are paying for it.