Mr. Speaker, first I would like to wish everyone in my constituency of Pontiac and in Quebec a happy national holiday.
I have listened closely to the debate over the past 18 or 20 hours and have come to the conclusion that it is a debate about the role of government in civil society. On that issue, I believe this government must be reminded of the history it seems so easily to disregard. That is odd for a conservative party.
The 19th century proved that unbridled capitalism was unrealistic. We have learned that we cannot rely on the good faith of big business and management when it comes to workers' conditions. There are good reasons why we have unions. I would remind the government that the higher the degree of capitalism, the more abuses there are. Sometimes the “big bosses” decided all issues for workers, sometimes even life and death matters.
The work week in the 19th century varied from 60 to 70 hours. It was 60 hours in the secondary sector and 70 hours in the tertiary sector. Fifteen-hour days were not unusual. Workers generally did not even have enough time to eat. Children made up 8% of the labour force in Quebec in 1891 and were such cheap labour that demand exceeded supply. They worked to the point of exhaustion in unsanitary conditions, exposed to all risks and without supervision. It was in those extremely difficult conditions that workers established unions to protect themselves from the vagaries of the new, impersonal labour market.
Although the first unions were small, local organizations, they immediately triggered hostile reactions from governments and employers. Governments in fact declared the unions illegal. Union movement sympathizers were blacklisted and constantly subjected to intimidation. That is why legislation was introduced to protect workers. Despite the strength of this opposition, the poor wages and the dangerous working conditions, strikes and protests increased, and the unions became established. It is a heroic story, I think.
The government often played a negative role in this story, and we have learned a great deal about the nature of government thanks to the union movement. The dark hours in the history of the union movement show that the role of the state should be to protect its citizens and to remain neutral in labour-management disputes, but, instead of remaining neutral, this government shows contempt for workers and their hard-won rights.
The truth is that the workers of this country and of the world, the ancestors of the vast majority of us, have bled for the right to organize and protect themselves.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers began a series of rotating strikes last week. They have a right to do that. The union nevertheless offered to end the strike if the company allowed the old contract remain in effect during the negotiations, but Canada Post refused to do so.
At midnight on June 15, Canada Post decided to lock out its employees and to shut down mail service. That is no longer a strike; it is a lockout, an unjustifiable lockout because Canada post is profitable and provides high-quality service.
Let us compare the cost of sending a letter in Canada with the alternatives in the private sector. We pay 59¢ to mail a standard letter. In Germany, it costs 77¢, in Austria it is 88¢, and in the Netherlands it is 64¢. Therefore, why put workers into a corner and force them to accept concessions regarding their salaries and benefits, when the corporation is making $381 million in profits and its CEO is paid over $600,000? It does not make any sense.
It is difficult not to conclude that Canada Post is taking a hard line, to the point of putting services in peril, particularly in rural and remote areas such as mine. Again, the role of the state is to remain neutral and to facilitate an agreement. It is not to side with the employer.
I, like many others in the House, have heard concerns from constituents in my riding about receiving cheques and payments. These concerns are well-founded, but the reality is that they are not caused by striking workers.
The rotating strikes by CUPW were designed to ensure that the essential mail was delivered, but Canada Post has chained the doors. The workers cannot get in to do their essential work. They did not ask for this. Canadians did not ask for this.
I invite Canadians and the people of my riding to see the situation for what it is: a tactic on behalf of Canada Post and the government to exert pressure. Instead of acting to bring both parties back to the table and restore good faith, the government has chosen this labour dispute to stomp on the rights of all workers.
It is Canada Post and the government which have attacked the most vulnerable. It is this lockout and this bill. They are the ones depriving single mothers of their monthly child tax benefit cheques. They are the ones depriving seniors of receiving their GIS or OAS payments. They are the ones depriving Canadians who depend on CPP disability benefit payments and low-income Canadians waiting on tax return cheques or, in the case of some of my constituents, their disability cheques and business payments, both of which Canada Post refuses to give them. Those are tactics.
We should also realize that this legislation is not an accident. The fact that the first great labour battle with the government is with CUPW is not an accident. I, for one, salute the great work postal workers have done in the past to ensure social progress in our country. They have been at the forefront of many progressive struggles.
CUPW was the first Canadian union to pass a boycott resolution against South African apartheid. It has also taken stances against the Iraq war, as well as against NAFTA and FTAA. CUPW is also a major reason why we have maternity leave benefits in our country.
If the government is neutral, as it repeats ad nauseam, as if repeating it will make it true, why impose a lower wage than offered by the management of Canada Post in the bill. This goes against the entire principle of collective bargaining. We call for this section of the bill to be removed immediately.
Finally, I will add my voice to that of my colleagues. Take the locks off and give Canada Post workers a decent wage, decent pensions and dignity.