Bless The Post Office
Last week, we discussed why billionaires’ visions of the future aren’t going to serve the working class. I concluded by asking how might we wield institutions (or imagine new ones) that do serve the many, not the few? We should start by expanding the post office.
Canada Post is a staple of Canadian life. Sure, every now and then you might have to go pick up a package or it might get delayed — especially during a pandemic — but the service is so reliable it can be easy to forget all the work it takes to get your mail into your mailbox. Not only should we more greatly value the post office and its workers, we should also be thinking about how its infrastructure may be used to even better serve Canadians in the future.
Last month, Canada Post reported it lost $153 million in 2019. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau probably won’t try to privatize it like the Donald Trump administration wants to do to the United States Postal Service, we must recognize three things.
First, it’s ridiculous that the government expects an essential service to operate on “a self-sustaining financial basis,” as stated in the Canada Post Corporation Act. The post office’s mandate to serve Canadians from coast to coast, in cities and rural areas alike, shouldn’t be linked to a need to break even. There will always be parts of the country that can’t be profitably served.
Second, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and various other labour and left-wing groups have presented plenty of ideas over the years for Canada Post to improve its services to Canadians and make more money — but they’re never allowed to implement them.
Third, Canada Post has a unique infrastructure that touches rural communities all across the province, making it the ideal institution to expand the public services offered to Canadians.
The services it could provide take many forms, but a big focus by unions, advocacy groups, and even the NDP in recent years has been getting Canada Post to start a postal bank.
When I lived in New Zealand, I set up an account with KiwiBank, a subsidiary of New Zealand Post. All across the country, you can go into a post office and do banking transactions with low fees. Plus, you know that the profits are being used to improve the public service, not line the pockets of wealthy shareholders.
Canada Post is finally considering some postal banking pilot projects, but they’re very limited. They would only occur in rural communities and offer few services, including money transfers and cashing government cheques. But when at least 45 per cent of small towns and rural communities in Canada have post offices but no bank branches — more than 80 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador — it’s clear we need a nationwide public bank, and the post office is the perfect institution to roll it out.
Many people may not remember it, but Canada Post has a long history of offering banking services. The Post Office Savings Bank opened in 1868, just a few months after Confederation, and operated for a century before being done in by a government decision to lower interest rates and incessant lobbying from private banks to kill their competition.
The Savings Bank not only served Canadians well, especially those in rural areas, but the money in its coffers was used to finance the construction of the railroads — a massive infrastructure project at the time. A new postal bank could serve a similar role, and CUPW, in partnership with Friends of Public Services, has already laid out an expansive vision for Canada Post’s future.
In the Delivering Community Power campaign, this partnership advocates for a postal bank that would not only provide better financial services to rural and Indigenous communities, but also fund the electrification of the postal fleet, the rollout of public electric vehicle charging stations, green building retrofits and renewable power generation. This would allow Canada Post to play an integral role in the decarbonization that must occur across the country.
And given that Canada Post has the largest retail network in the country — 1,500 branches more than Tim Hortons! — it can do much more than provide better banking services and be the vanguard of the green revolution. The authors also propose that we copy Japan and France to have mail carriers check in on seniors and people with limited mobility so they aren’t isolated in their homes.
But that could be taken even further. Postal workers could offer a grocery delivery service that all grocery stores can participate in, with free deliveries for seniors, people with limited mobility, new parents and other groups. It could also bring back the Food Mail program to make healthy food affordable in the North.
In cities, Canada Post could also help to ensure the increase in deliveries from online shopping doesn’t make traffic much worse. Instead of having a bunch of different companies making deliveries, it could offer a consolidated last-mile delivery service that all delivery companies must use to get packages to their final destination. It could also use a combination of electric trucks and cargo bikes to make it more friendly both to the climate and to urban life.
These are exciting ideas for a renewed Canada Post that better serves Canadians across the country — but that doesn’t mean it should stop there. Our reliance on the internet and new technologies isn’t going to end anytime soon, and the post office could play a role in ensuring that tech serves the needs of the public, not of CEOs and their powerful clients. But that’s for next week.
Perspectives from around the world
Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work, explains Canada doesn’t face a labour shortage; businesses just aren’t paying good enough wages to entice people to take the jobs.
Martin Lukacs, author of The Trudeau Formula, writes that Canada’s border agency shouldn’t be allowed to use the pandemic to force surveillance onto migrants.
Ronan Burtenshaw, editor of Tribune, beautifully explains why the essential workers who build up society should run it, not the capitalists who tear it down.
Penney Kome, award-winning author and journalist, argues we need to stop focusing on GDP and adopt metrics that focus on wellbeing.
Max Ajl, in conversation with James Wilt, provides a leftist critique of the Green New Deal.
Meagan Day, staff writer at Jacobin, writes about how the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, a partnership between the United Electrical Workers and the Democratic Socialists of America, is helping essential workers organize during the pandemic.
Luke Neher, a student at the University of Melbourne, argues COVID-19 is dissolving the fantasies and abstractions of modern capitalism.
Gal Kirn, author of Partisan Ruptures, talks about the history of Yugoslavian socialism and its experience with worker self-management.
This week on Tech Won’t Save Us, I talked to OneZero senior editor Brian Merchant about how Amazon’s response to COVID-19 put its workers in danger and how big tech companies are partnering with oil and gas companies. I also wrote about why we need to decommodify services, not implement a basic income, for Tribune, and why we need to plan the post-pandemic transportation system for Jacobin.