Thursday, October 3, 2013

Edmonton posties' success with direct action against forced overtime


An interesting master’s thesis came through my inbox this morning. In Intensified Work, Intensified Struggle: Solidarity Unionism and the Edmonton Postal Workers’ Fight Against Forced Overtime, McMaster MA student Scott Thorn provides an accounting of the 2011 Canada Post labour disruption in Edmonton.

An interesting aspect of Thorn’s analysis is his focus on the workers’ direct-action campaign against work intensification (i.e., forced overtime). Rather than getting caught in the “work now, grieve later” dynamic of the formal labour relations framework, workers directly addressed concerns with their supervisors. Direct action has an immediacy effect: an issue is addressed before it becomes entrenched practice and front-line supervisors (who must carry out management edicts) are confronted with intense social pressure and workplace disruption in the form of browned off workers putting down their tools.

Chapter three details some of the effects of forced overtime on the posties. Chapter 4 (beginning at page 80) describes the frustrations of the workers with the traditional approach to grievances (including how their union dealt with their concerns). Chapter 5 sets out some of the shop-floor activities the workers engaged in to successfully limit forced overtime, including the effect of dual-card members using solidarity unionism as preached by the International Workers of the World (the Wobblies).

This kind of direct action has a lot of appeal to rank-and-file trade unionists frustrated by the formal grievance process. In my own unit, the threat of unpleasantness (via boycotts and perhaps more direct public actions) at an employee appreciation day (caused by the threat of yet another round of layoffs) led to the employer “postponing” the event. While hardly a victory for the ages, it does speak to discomfort managers face when confront with, well, confrontation. This, in turn, reflects the knowledge (however tacit) that groups can only be governed with their cooperation and pushing groups too far often ends at the metaphorical (and sometimes literal) guillotine.

-- Bob Barnetson



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