Early in the month of February residents of 103 and 105 West Lodge, two mega-apartment complexes in Toronto, were informed via memo from Canada Post that mail delivery would be suspended for both buildings due to inadequate safety precautions and a need to protect mail carriers from unsafe work environments. The decision was announced in a memo that cited inability to maintain proper distancing and non-compliance for mask wearing in the delivery areas of the building (mask-wearing being a municipal bylaw requirement for apartment buildings and condos in Toronto that has been in place since August). This decision has left thousands of tenants without accessible mail delivery, and has created a feeling of animosity between Canada Post mail carriers and tenants who are rightfully displeased about the change in service.
The work refusal on the grounds of unsafe conditions is of course valid; residents of the West Lodge towers have long known that the health and safety conditions in the buildings have been lacking, at best, since long before the start of the pandemic. The two buildings, located in the low-income neighbourhood of Parkdale, are notorious in Toronto for providing among the hardest and most slum-like living conditions in the city. Routine elevator outages that pack tenants into cramped spaces combine with overcrowded living conditions for the largely immigrant and marginalized population. On top of that residents have reported a flippant attitude taken by management and property owners to physical distancing and mask-wearing when working or traveling through communal spaces of the buildings. It is no surprise that this attitude of disregard towards health and safety carries over to the attitudes of a section of the tenant population in the complex.
A work refusal with good reason
Canada Post workers have more than enough reason to fear for their health while on the job. And an urge to preserve their own health and safety comes with a deadly justification. The Crown corporation has seen some of the worst outbreaks by any single employer in the province since the start of the pandemic. The last few months have been a particular example of the dangerous conditions postal workers face, as infections in Canada Post processing plants continue to run rampant, largely going unchecked by the employer. A recent outbreak at a mail processing plant in the suburb of Mississauga resulted in the death of a young mail processing worker earlier this year.
However what this memo from Canada Post fails to address is the responsibility of the monolithic corporate owner of the buildings on West Lodge avenue for their lack of compliance with health and safety accommodations. Hazelview Properties (formerly Timbercreek Communities) is the real-estate giant that purchased the complex in 2018 in a $170-million deal, during which they came under criticism for using abusive and shadowy tactics to force tenants out of their units in order to drive rent prices up. With similar slum complexes all across the country, Hazelview has built a reputation as a particularly brutal and exploitative landlord: willing to use petty tactics to cut every corner possible to bolster their bottom line.
Low-income tenants asked to pay the price
Due to the cancelation of mail service, tenants are being forced to cross the city to a Canada Post mail facility located in the Portlands district on the city’s east end. Being nearly an hour of travel each way by public transit, the journey to cross the city to receive every single piece of mail, every bill or health notice, and every parcel they receive is simply not an option for many residents of the West Lodge complex. Not to mention that the trip itself, on cramped public transit, is a health hazard.
As well as housing a large population of recently arrived immigrant workers (a hyper-exploited layer of the working class), the buildings also house a large population of disabled, formerly homeless and otherwise marginalized sections of the population. On top of this is the fact that, to this day, Hazelview themselves have failed to provide any communication about the change in mail delivery, much less any support for tenants who are unable to adapt to the changed conditions. It is clear that for these layers of the population, a lack of accessible mail delivery could be an issue of life or death.
Due to this confused placement of responsibility on the part of Canada Post (the memo issued to tenants concludes with a paragraph condescendingly reminding tenants to “wear their masks and keep their distance”), the landlord has been allowed to conveniently wash their hands of any responsibility for providing safe living conditions, and a safe alternative for mail delivery within their own building. Dangerously, this has left Canada Post workers and building tenants pointing fingers at each other for non-compliance for mask-wearing versus the added burden on the lives of already strained working people. These groups should instead be recognizing the common enemy they share: the property-owning class that sits at the top of both Canada Post and Hazelview Property Holdings.
Make the landlords pay! Workers and tenants unite!
The billionaire slumlord corporation should be the one putting up the cost for providing a safe alternative for mail delivery for the majority of the residents who are following masking rules. With proper resources provided there should be no reason why a solution could not be found that would maintain accessible in-building post delivery for the residents of West Lodge, while ensuring the safety of postal workers. This of course would directly challenge the interests of the property owners at Hazelview Property Holdings—members of the capitalist class who collectively make all economic decisions in capitalist society.
Adequate social distancing measures, thorough building maintenance, and a staff that takes these safety measures seriously should be provided to enforce the use of masks and social distancing. If there are parts of the physical living environment that make distancing impossible, then rehousing accommodations for residents should be provided at the expense of the landlord. Tenants themselves should be allowed to lead decision-making in their own homes through democratic meetings that strive to involve as many tenants as possible. Tenant unions are a great starting place for organizing the struggle for tenants’ control, a struggle that has cropped up in other neighbourhoods in Toronto during the course of the pandemic.
However, the movement for safer conditions inside low-income housing cannot be a struggle of the tenants in isolation. The workers of Canada Post must stand hand-in-hand with those similarly oppressed by the conditions of capitalism. It is the responsibility of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to help their members recognize the common enemy they and tenants face—capitalist private ownership—and to recognize their common interest with the tenants whose mail they deliver. The union has issued solidarity statements in recent times for the struggles of similarly oppressed people, but they must turn those statements into action. They must lead their members to victory in winning safe working conditions with the traditional tools of the working class.
While bosses and landlords have made record profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, working class people have been asked to pay the price for the crisis. Workers and tenants must stand united in the struggle against capitalism, and in this struggle we must utilize the tactics that paralyze the profits of the capitalists. Only then can we rid our lives of the oppression, exploitation and parasitism that capitalism is built on.