Canada's postal strike: crocodile tears?

Posted 11.23.18

SHAWVILLE, QC | News of the stalemate in the labour dispute at Canada Post includes an announcement that 550 tractor trailer loads of parcels are waiting across the country to be sorted and delivered. With the union applying pressure where it would be most effective -- at Canada Post's few centralized big sorting centres -- the labour dispute has become something more.

Whoops, shopping on line, ordering our once-local purchases from sweatshops around the world, doesn't work. No time saved! This backlog can't be delivered in time for Christmas, even with back-to-work. Canada Post might wonder if centralizing all at a few locations was such a great idea.

It sure isn't a great idea where I live, a small town in Quebec outside Gatineau/Aylmer. If I wish to send a Christmas card to the town down the road, twelve minutes away, that letter will be back-shipped to Ottawa, there sorted and shipped to Pembroke or Renfrew in Ontario, and from there shipped back over to my neighbour. Three days later, maybe four.

If that seems like an fool's way to deliver mail quickly, it tells us that efficiency isn't the prime motivation. These centralizations allowed for more automation, hence, fewer employees. There's CanPost management! And backward mail delivery!

Two considerations jump out from this mess.

First, that local stores may not be such a bad idea after all. How convenient is on-line shopping when instead of next-day delivery, our purchases can be shunted around the country to maximize automated sorting? Walking into a real shop with human beings to serve us suddenly seems like the efficient idea. We walk out with our gift purchases fifteen minutes later.

No need to list the benefits from a lot of local stores: jobs, secondary spending on support services, municipal tax revenues, summer employment for our kids, donations to clubs, sports teams, parades and municipal celebrations -- for starters. But it seems if we can save five bucks and shop in our pajamas, what else is more important? Who cares about communal consequences? Smart folks aren't we, smart citizens strangling our own communities ... and they tell us the internet is making humanity smarter?

I do hear friends complain about unions and managers unable to compromise, but why do we give this single dispute such power over our lives? Because we love convenience? That's worth a thought as we prepare our seasonal shopping.

The second consideration is media complaints about work stoppages. Aren't they are natural to a free market and to be expected? Especially when we learn that, apart from the six-figure earnings of CanPost's top-dog political appointees, all postal workers do not make top-of-the chart salaries, most face mandatory overtime, and a work load that has quadrupled with online parcel deliveries.

We ought also remind ourselves that union gains on an industrial scale raise everyone's standard of living, unionized or not. Each advance raises the earnings of all the employed, and their increased spending in turn benefits local businesses, in communities where we live.

We might reflect upon our own life-style choices, but through a community lens. Where and how we each spend our revenues have huge effects. The postal dispute is making that obvious. It's also pointing out a structural bottleneck in our economy, given the reach of our post office.

So are these complains more like crocodile tears?


Copyright © 2018 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/11.23.18