Today Sunday December 1, 2013.
On October 16, 2013 the Canadian Union of Postal Workers publicly launched its campaign to have Canada Post pursue banking services as a future area of business. The campaign was launched on October 16 to coincide with the 32nd anniversary of Canada Post as a Crown corporation.
“We thought Canada Post’s anniversary would be a good time to talk about what our public post office needs to do to survive and prosper in the future”, said Denis Lemelin, CUPW National President. “There is support for this move and compelling evidence that it would help the corporation preserve service and improve its financial picture”, he added.
At a press conference called for the occasion, postal unions and groups stood before a 12 foot-high inflated piggy bank emblazoned with the slogan “Banking on a Future for Canada Post” and demanded the corporation start providing various forms of financial and banking services at its retail outlets.
Participating in the conference was Brenda McAuley, National President of the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, Diane Rochon of ACORN Canada (an anti-poverty group) and Paul Slomp of the National Farmers’ Union. A statement was read on behalf of Duff Conacher of the Canadian Community Reinvestment Coalition.
Since the campaign was launched, many events such as town hall meetings, marches and discussion forums have been organised throughout the country by various CUPW locals to help popularize the union’s position. CUPW representatives say the union wants Canada Post to add revenue-generating services like bill payments, insurance and banking instead of slashing public postal service and jobs.
The campaign to have Canada Post pursue financial and banking services as a future area of business was stepped up by the union after a recent study by the Conference Board of Canada “The Future of Postal Service in Canada” called for massive cuts in postal services due to “declining transaction and letter mail volumes” affecting the operating revenues of the corporation. The study was commissioned by Canada Post Corporation (CPC). Noteworthy is the fact that CPC’s CEO Deepack Chopra is also a board member of the Conference Board.
The union counteracted and commissioned a study of its own to be performed by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) which was released on October 9, 2013. The study “Why Canada Needs Postal Banking” authored by researcher John Anderson made the case for postal banking in Canada. He argued that Canada Post has the largest network of retail outlets (roughly 6,400 outlets of which 60% are located in rural communities) already in place across Canada and that offering postal financial services would allow the millions of Canadians without local bank branches or easy access to banking, the access they need.
Between 1990 and 2012, some 1,700 bank branches in Canada have closed, many in rural and low-income areas. Concomitantly, there has been a notable growth in fringe financial institutions like pay day lenders, who charge ultra-high interest rates, often well over 500 per cent on an annual basis. The CCPA study also noted that Canadian Aboriginal communities are underserved by traditional banks and credit unions, which have only 54 on-reserve branches for Canada’s 615 First Nations communities.
In announcing the release of its study, the CCPA asserted that “postal banking systems are proliferating around the world and are prominent in most developed countries. They have shown themselves capable of generating the additional income needed to preserve the postal system as traditional letter volumes decline”. The study recommended that the federal government and Canada Post immediately establish a task force “to determine how to deliver new financial services, and determine priorities for delivering new products”.
In a bulletin dated October 25, 2013 the union points out: “Canada Post has so far been unwilling to seriously consider this proposal, instead entertaining proposals to adapt to a reduction in mail volume by cutting back service and moving to alternate-day delivery”.
The bulletin also quotes the United Nations’ Universal Postal Union as saying that “after banks, postal operators and their postal financial subsidiaries are the second biggest world-wide contributor to financial inclusion, far ahead of microfinance institutions, money-transfer organizations, co-operatives, insurance companies, mobile money operators, and all their providers of financial services”.
CUPW representatives argue that a Canada Post bank would not only provide a good banking alternative for Canadians, but would also generate strong profits for the government. They give the example of Italy where apparently 67% of the Italian postal service’s profits come from its banking and insurance services. They also refer to New Zealand where the country’s postal service generates 70% of its profits via its KiwiBank.
At the campaign launch, Lemelin said that “in today’s economic environment, countries like Switzerland and France have added financial and banking services to their national postal services, which have generated revenues to help balance their budgets and save the public service in these locations”. “Cutting is not the answer”, he said. “We’re counting on Canada Post to find its future, and we think just maybe this big inflatable snout can help point the way. Postal workers want the same thing that a majority of the public want— a self-sustaining public post office that will be there for the long haul”.
Aside from the study it commissioned from the CCPA, the union also released a paper on June 12, 2013 “Banking on a Future for Posts?”—A financial assessment of postal banking and financial services at various postal administrations, which was prepared by Katherine Steinhoff and Geoff Bickerton. The paper was also presented at the 21st Conference on Postal and Delivery Economics which was held from May 29 to June 1, 2013 in Dublin, Ireland.
Two weeks ago, CUPW announced that it will be holding an International Symposium on Postal Banking this coming spring. The following is the integral bulletin released on November 14, signed by Denis Lemelin announcing the event which is to be held in Ottawa.
APRIL 26-27, 2014
BANKING ON A FUTURE FOR CANADA POST
Around the world, people use postal banks. Over one billion people on the planet do their banking at the post office. Yet in Canada, as we are told our public post office is in financial trouble, the idea of expanding into new revenue generating areas such as banking and financial services hardly gets a mention. We need to change the conversation.
We know from examples around the world that postal banking works and works well. So we have decided to invite experts from our sister unions in some countries where postal banking is working. We will hold a two day event in Ottawa from April 26-27, 2014 to hear from these experts. They will tell us about their experience with banking through the post office and some of its benefits for postal workers and society in general.
CUPW will be inviting politicians, policy-makers and some of our allies to come to the table to learn about this important subject. Together, with help from postal workers around the world, we will show that there are positive options. Canada Post can not only maintain its current services. It must also bring new services to people across the country and we aim to prove it.
While the union reports that its campaign is gaining in momentum across the country, many postal workers remain uncertain and do not think that this in itself will be sufficient enough to stop the CEO of Canada Post Corporation and the Harper government from further destroying the Canadian public post office and demanding wage and contract concessions from the workers. Aside from the introduction of banking and financial services at Canada Post, a new direction for the economy is what appears to be greatly needed at this time.
Note: All studies mentioned in the above article can be obtained online by visiting the respective websites.
CUPW MUST ALSO TAKE UP THE FIGHT FOR A NEW DIRECTION FOR THE ECONOMY AS IT IS THE ONLY WAY TO GUARANTEE A DECENT AND SECURE FUTURE FOR POSTAL WORKERS!
There is no doubt that banking and financial services would greatly benefit many Canadians who currently do not have banking service in their own communities and that Canada Post with its vast retail network is well positioned to provide such services. Banking and financial services would also generate added revenues for the corporation and would contribute to improve its financial well-being. It could also benefit society in general if the campaign promoted in conjunction a modern nation-building project. The post office, as a centre for the transportation of goods and services throughout the country and even abroad, should indeed be a thriving hub for public financial transactions. This economic activity would be both efficient and useful in serving the needs of the people and society.
However, it would not change the fundamental aim of the CEO of Canada Post, its Board of Directors and that of the Harper government which is to increase the growth of capital as much as possible and as fast as possible for itself and for the capitalist class. In order to achieve this aim, these representatives of capital espouse a capital-centred outlook which considers the workers as a cost of production and the services they provide to the Canadian people also as costs affecting the corporate “bottom line”. They say in unison that they must constantly “reduce and contain these costs” in order to ensure the making of maximum amount of capitalist profit and in this way, avoid becoming “a burden to the Canadian taxpayer”.
It is precisely this capital-centred outlook which is at the source of all of our problems at this time and which is giving rise to the destruction of the post office as a most valuable public asset and infrastructure capable of providing indispensable postal services to the Canadian people. This capital-centred outlook is actually threatening to drastically cut postal services by resorting to alternate-day delivery as a result of a speculative capital-centred accounting made last March by the Conference Board of Canada which claimed that “declining transaction mail volumes” would result in Canada Post losing $1 billion in operating revenues by the year 2020.
Canada Post has since accelerated the opening of privatized postal outlets all over the country, seriously undermining its own retail network and depriving it of revenues needed to keep it in operation. The Harper government is also considering further privatization by opening up lucrative parts of the post office to the private sector which would reap huge profits as a result and deprive the public post office of necessary revenues to sustain postal services to the Canadian people. By undermining its own business, Canada Post is facilitating the growth of capital for its competitors in the private sector and for the capitalist class as a whole.
Deepak Chopra, the CEO of Canada Post worked for the U.S monopoly Pitney Bowes for most of his professional life and rose to the position of CEO of Pitney Bowes Canada and Latin America before his appointment by Stephen Harper in February 2011 as head of Canada Post Corporation. Since his appointment, Mr. Chopra has been actively advocating and implementing policies favouring privatization and deregulation in favour of corporations like Pitney Bowes, UPS, FedEx and others to the detriment of postal workers and all Canadians.
The capital-centred outlook of these representatives of capital does not stop there either. It is the very same capital-centred outlook which has Canada Post claiming in all of its financial reports that “labour cost” represents 70% of its operating revenues. In order to bring down its so-called “labour costs”, it has systematically demanded significant wage and contract concessions from the workers since the time it was converted from a government department into a Crown corporation in 1981. During the last round of negotiations, this capital-centred outlook prevailed throughout the entire process and was facilitated by the Harper government who used the Canadian parliament and emergency legislation setting fines in case of a challenge by the workers and the union to shamelessly impose this retrogression on the society and deprive postal workers of their rights.
Workers are the producers of all the wealth. They are not a “cost of production”. In the course of taking part in social production at mail processing plants and of providing postal services to the population, postal workers create an incredible amount of added-value not only for Canada Post but for the entire socialized economy. However, this fact is not recognized by the capital-centred outlook of the corporation and as a consequence, the corporation denies the workers the right to make their claims on the added-value they produce. When the workers make their claims on the added-value they produce, it interferes with the making of maximum capitalist profit and also reduces the amount of added-value available to be claimed by finance capital and other business relationships including the state who also demands that dividend payments be paid out from the added-value produced by the workers.
In Canada, a clash between the workers and capital is taking place on this question and the workers are demanding a new direction for the economy from one of serving monopoly right to that of serving public right. At the heart of this clash is the demand by the working class for a human-centred outlook which considers the claims of the workers on the added-value they produce in the course of work as both necessary and legitimate and something which serves the general interest of the society since it allows the workers to spend, stimulating in turn the circulation of goods and services and creating a demand for increased manufacturing of the material blessings the workers and people need to keep them healthy and flourishing throughout their lifecycle.
The Canadian economy must first and foremost serve to satisfy the ever increasing material, cultural and other needs of the people and guarantee the rights of all, both in practice and in law. The right of the workers to make their claims on the added-value they produce in the course of their work must be firmly guaranteed as the basis upon which all other rights are recognised. In order to achieve this, a new direction for the economy is needed. Only by fighting for a new direction for the economy will we be able to stop the wrecking ball of neo-liberalism and actually save the post office as a public institution in the service of the Canadian people and ensure a decent and secure future for postal workers. Expanding postal services to include banking and financial services on its own will simply not cut it.